Talking it out - startup founded by IDEA Center director seeks to promote positive outcome for political discussions

Author: Nicholas Swisher

Kelley Rich

Imagine you are with your family, having a nice time, when, all of a sudden, the experience turns negative due to a political disagreement. Anyone who has read the news knows such political altercations have been breaking out in American homes for a long time now. And you may not have needed to read the news as you may, in fact, be one of the statistics.

Count Kelley Rich, vice president and associate provost for innovation at Notre Dame and director of the IDEA Center, among the data as well.

“Such a political argument happened one day in our home, and I couldn’t believe how heated it got,” she says.

At least on televised debates there are moderators who are often able to make a difference.

If only families had such an advantage.

Well, welcome to startup Purple Nation. Founded because of Rich’s aforementioned brush with a heated political family moment, Purple Nation is an app in development with a goal to act as a facilitator of respectful dialogue between people with differing political perspectives through a text-like format driven by AI technology.

“This personal startup of mine was founded three years ago along with my co-founder Lisa Vetne, who is on the opposite political spectrum as I am,” says Rich.

The app’s development was slow until the much-talked-about ChatGPT rekindled possibilities through its AI offerings. With a team which includes Notre Dame graduate student Greg Wurm, whose research specializes in polarization, and Nathan Rich, who has a Master of Science in Analytics, the development of a prototype is now technically feasible. “We are envisioning discussion modules within the app for various hard topics which will allow users to have difficult conversations with friends and loved ones and still maintain relationships,” she says. “We are excited about the potential.”

A user of Purple Nation would start the app by answering questions to see where they fall on the political spectrum on different issues. When people want to have deep discussions together on the app, they will leverage an AI mediation tool which will provide them with a prompt that will, in turn, help them have a better chance to see the other’s point of view.

“Some rules will be in place on the app for all discussions between users, such as no name-calling and swearing, but it also can be customized for individual conversations,” Rich says. “The AI moderator helps you develop your own set of rules and has its own suggestions as well.”

But like many businesses, Purple Nation is looking for funding. Their goal at present is to first develop the prototype, which is estimated to cost around $20,000. After the prototype app is in place, the next goal will be to begin a partnership with Notre Dame, leveraging a student group to participate in a pilot app. Later, a soft launch would then need $250,000 to $500,000, followed by a national launch requiring around $2 to $3 million, Rich estimates.

“The statistics are that around 19 percent of people have damaged or strained relationships with family or friends due to politics,” Rich says. “We’d love to greatly reduce that number.”

“I enjoy helping others realize their startup dreams,” she says. “So many individuals have something potentially valuable to share, but it’s also about understanding how to take that from something in your mind to reality. We’re trying to do that ourselves with Purple Nation.”