Commentary & Analysis

Sujjest: Approval Voting with Your Friends

Several years ago, fed up with trying to hash out get-together details over email threads and group texts, a couple friends and I set out to create a better tool for making plans and decisions together. Our research and testing eventually led us to develop an app with approval voting at its core, Sujjest.

Cofounding a Startup

The three of us who created Sujjest are lifelong friends who first met during grade school in the 90’s in a suburb near SeaTac airport.

For most folks, the amount of time spent with friends drops off considerably between the ages of 20 and 35, largely replaced with time at work, with spouses, and as parents.

Our social circles were no exception to these pressures and as college and work landed some of us in different states, distance made keeping in touch even harder. Still, we always made an effort to meet up over holidays and trips whenever enough of the crew was in town at the same time. 

Our desire to hang out was strong, but the more friends who had a say in planning the get-together, the harder it became to coordinate everyone’s availabilities and preferences. Part of the challenge was gauging interest for a particular idea. We’d typically go through a brainstorming phase of discussion, throwing out ideas for when and where to meet or what to do together, before narrowing down our options.

Email and text persistently felt like messy mediums for group decision-making, so in December of 2015, the three of us committed to finding an easier way to make collective decisions that was still open to participants’ suggestions and could fairly integrate everyone’s preferences.

Voting as a race of options

In contrast to slogging through a full thread of messages, using a voting system allows people to see all the information relevant to the group decision at a glance. Sujjest uses a compact visual layout that’s easy to understand and interact with to display all the critical information including the options, their relative levels of support, who voted for each option, and how many votes are necessary for an option to win.

Early in our design of Sujjest, we decided on an implementation of approval voting—a single-winner voting system in which voters are free to approve any number of options. It simply would have made no sense for us to restrict the expression of a participant’s preference to a single option if they were happy with more than one of the choices suggested by their friends. 

In Sujjest’s game-like interface, options are positioned on a “race track” that is divided into a number of steps equal to the number of voters. Newly-suggested options start out on the leftmost step (with the single vote of whoever suggested the option) and each additional vote moves an option one step further right. The voting continues until one option receives enough votes to cross the finish line, becoming the group decision.

A decisive winner

Unlike an open-ended poll, Sujjest uses a finish line, which makes it clear whether enough participants have agreed on an option for it to become a group decision or not.

The finish line always begins by the rightmost step, a position that would take a group consensus to get an option across. Each participant has the power to move the finish line one step left if they see fit, closer to the options, thus putting group decisions within reach of a majority or plurality of the voters.

Making related decisions in one session

More often than not, a group hammering out a plan together will feel the need to decide multiple related details, such as where and when to meet for dinner, or what movie to see together and which theater and showtime.

Sujjest is the first app that lets a group take a vote on multiple aspects of a plan either sequentially or concurrently in a single session. A participant who hasn’t yet agreed to a group decision will have to accept it before voting in open races. That keeps people on the same page, making it clear who’s down with the group decisions.

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Sujjest can transform people’s everyday group decision-making in the same way that approval voting can transform and improve our democracy. We invite you to try out Sujjest as a web app, on Android, or iOS.

In case you’d like to test out Sujjest without signing up for an account, we also recently released a special lightweight version of the app that makes it easier to decide the common question “Where for lunch?” as a group at www.sujjest.com/lunch.