Innovative community discussion on housing in the San Juan Islands

Participants’ opinions help shape the direction around housing topics in real time

Please join the effort here to address housing issues in the San Juans and lay the groundwork for decisions that will impact the islands, now and for future generations.

The Comprehensive Plan is the centerpiece of local planning in the County and provides the framework for how our community will grow. As stated by the County, “Community input is vital to ensure that the Comprehensive Plan reflects the aspirations of all county residents.” However, this process is coming up on its sixth year overdue. While the official update is in its final stretch, it doesn’t mean the community conversation must stop as the issues—particularly issues around housing—are far from resolved in our County.

Following his successful project for the San Juan County Land Bank, Spring Street International School Senior Kaj Litch is now launching an exciting community conversation about housing issues in the islands, including affordable housing, vacation rentals, and land use. “Using deliberation to stimulate and capture community thinking,” says Litch, “we hope to inform the outcomes of our County’s decision makers.”

The discussion is taking place through the online tool,, which is maintained by the Computational Democracy Project, an organization where Litch has interned over the last few years. was created to turn online debating on its head and make it easier to successfully decentralize power in organizations and decision-making processes. Like many social media platforms, it allows participants to share their opinions and reflect on others. As they do so, one of the platform’s innovations is that it draws a map of the discussion and shows participants where their opinions lie in relation to others’ opinions. To bring the groups closer together, has reengineered many of the features we take for granted on social media. The lack of a reply button, for instance, discourages trolling, and “echo chambers” are replaced by graphics that reveal the whole ecosystem of perspectives as it evolves. Instead of highlighting the most divisive statements, as is often the case in social media platforms and town halls, gives visibility and emphasis to the most consensual ones. Litch hopes this approach will build on other current survey efforts in the islands, while providing a unique opportunity for new ideas to be generated and offer nuanced community feedback.

Here’s how it works: A series of short statements are presented, and each participant can select “agree,” “disagree,” or “pass/unsure.” Participants are then encouraged to add their own statements about the topic or policy being discussed. As the statements accumulate and receive votes, algorithms sort participants into clusters and reveal areas of strong consensus.

“One of the things I appreciate most about this approach,” said R. Brent Lyles, Executive Director of Friends of the San Juans, “is that it helps compensate for the bias that can sometimes plague traditional surveys. The outcomes depend on the input from the participants, and Mr. Litch comes at this from a neutral, third-party perspective.”

This is a chance for all voices to be heard. The discussion is now open for your participation, CLICK HERE to join, or copy this link into your browser:

If you have any questions, please email Kaj Litch at