At Hvanneyri, a small population centre in the west of Iceland, two building sites had to be chosen, one for a laboratory for the Agricultural College, the other for the farm technology department of the Agricultural Research Institute. As the property was owned by the state, the Ministry of Agriculture asked the principal of the college to recommend suitable sites. There were different opinions about possible sites. As employees of the Agricultural College and the Agricultural Research Institute, the inhabitants of Hvanneyri had to take the interest of these institutions into account; as local residents, they had to consider the implications for their community of the traffic from cars and farm machinery resulting from the siting of the new buildings.

The college principal was sure that someone was bound to find fault with whatever proposal he made, but he was anxious to retain the good will of the local people as far as possible. As chairman of the building committee, he chose to hold a referendum among the inhabitants. But how was he to express the issue when there were several possible alternatives? One way would be to get the building committee to agree to a proposal and then submit it for public approval, but the drawback with this was that no matter what the committee decided, it would probably be rejected by somebody, at least, and possibly even by the majority. Such a majority, on the other hand, would be united only in its opposition to the proposal submitted; it would be split by opposing views on acceptable sites for the buildings. The college principal decided to tackle the matter by using sequential choice to find out what people wanted. Twelve alternatives were put forward, and each inhabitant was given the opportunity of ranking them individually. A study of the results confirmed the principal’s suspicion that opinion would be widely divided.

The results of the sequential choice survey were used by the building committee and the employees of the laboratory and the farm technology department as a basis for working out a compromise agreement. In fact, the solution involved a slightly different combination of sites from the twelve alternatives proposed in the survey, but the solution was regarded as satisfactory by everyone. The college principal was convinced that this conclusion could not have been reached by any means other than sequential choice which produced the data and insights needed for reaching a compromise.

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Democracy with sequential choice and fund voting 2003