Hi Ryan, Bently, Ele and ALL!

I'm late to this discussion but it is very dear to my heart, and my mission. And I love it that we keep talking about it.

Here is a link to the prototype I have been talking about that explains in narrative and by example how I think we need to address the online discourse issue. 

http://www.civilpursuit.com/item/t8ecO/what-are-the-biggest-challenges-in-developing-constructive-online-discourse

It's just a start, but it's highly configurable (by me for now) and I'm about ready to talk with anyone who's interested in talking with people about structures for online discussion.  I have proposed one in the link, but there can be many other.

The debate model and the consensus model (of loomio) are just too simple and you wouldn't do it like that if you were facilitating a large discussion in a room, let alone a million polarized people online.   What they get right is that online, you need to structure the conversation.  What they miss is that there needs to be a lot more structure, different structures for different situations, and a lot more experimenting (Trial and Re-Trial) in what type of structures work.

Ele - I love the write up.  I've been thinking about Roberts rules of order and creating online meetings based on that model. It would be awesome if one day those city council meetings could be online and spread over time so people don't have to be in the same place at the same time.  It's on my list.

It's late for me, so that's all for now.

Thanks!!!
david.

On 1/11/2017 5:49 AM, Bentley Davis wrote:
[log in to unmask]" type="cite">

Ele,

I agree that limits and constraints in specific areas can improve the deliberation and decision making processes. Finding that balance is the focus of my current apps.

Please allow me to clarify. My use of the word shallow means that it has some depth and explicitly is not worthless. I think you will agree that of all forms of interaction a traditional yes/no vote provides the least amount of information. I believe that we can innovate past traditional voting to systems that through their design continuously gauge and clarify the participants nuanced knowledge. Voting is often polarizing and hides nuance. I can gather more information than a vote without explicit interaction from the participants which saves the critical resource of time. I am challenging us to open our minds to try new innovative deliberation tactics. NCDD is a "network of thousands of innovators" after all.

The phrase "calculated decisions aren't all that sweet a plan" discourages those of us working on improving dialogue using math. We haven't even scratched the surface of what can be done to assist deliberation with math and I don't think it is wise to stop just because it has had success in only specific areas. It is good that there are enough innovators that we can investigate several paths at the same time.

I investigate and build systems that address most of concerns your mention but the discussion is a bit long to have here. If you would like to combine our experience, please let me know.

Bentley
http://BentleyDavis.com

On Tue, Jan 10, 2017, 11:05 PM Ele Munjeli <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
I mentioned all of these features higher in the thread, I'd like to tie them down to the rest of the thread.

By Analysis I mean we can observe the results of ratings, rankings and testimony. 

I also mentioned Iteration, which is what Deb is saying in her second statement. Yet, it's neither necessary nor desirable to plot all the steps to a problem before you start deliberating however since the act of deliberation reveals next steps... to do otherwise is a waterfall process which will only increase the scope of the deliberation because until you begin you can't effectively suss out the steps. 

I also mentioned Testimony as critical as well, and it is a feature of most deliberative applications - meaning people can opine as well as vote. Testimony is more effective for users to learn the issue than Exposition actually, I wish government would figure it out. Government interactions tend to lecture rather than lead. Listening to folks deliberate, I often notice they are having a highly redundant discussion, but many facets on the same topic enable people to understand an issue better than a single voice explaining it, even when there's a lot of detail to the issue. 

Bentley, you're spot on about voting, though I don't think I would say it's the shallowest form of participation - just because it's fast doesn't mean it's worthless. Time is the critical resource in deliberation, and in order to scale a deliberative method or application needs to have a fair amount of scripted response. If you look at Robert's Rules for example, when someone makes a motion, someone else can second. They don't need to make a statement when they second, it's just a switch that validates the process to continue. Of the Rules, the ones with highest precedence are often not debatable, although the non-debatable subsidiary motions also may carry a higher quorum (like 2/3 instead of simple majority). This logic enables much faster decision making when everyone is agreed. Furthermore, when everyone is agreed, it's a bad idea to ask for testimony! It increases the risk of 'agreeuments' as I call them, which is when people start arguing about something they agree on because they agree on it for different reasons. Likewise, it speeds iteration to have an explanatory fail (if you vote against, why?) but will trip you up to have explanatory successes. Let people ride on the happiness of apparent consensus. 

Speaking of which, a very good idea is staging an exploratory deliberation before a more rulebound decision-making process; it can build apparent consensus and bring people to the table with a refined set of goals. 

I agree with Deb that calculated decisions aren't all that sweet a plan. It's highly dependent upon quality as well as quantity of the pros and cons. A really bad con is going to offset a whole lotta pros, for example. You can dual rank this, but the reality is that priorities are constantly shifting during a deliberation because of testimony; it's very dynamic. That's probably programmable, but not a great use of compute, I don't think unless it's a very simple decision. 

By writing an algorithm on Robert's Rules, I was exposed to a really refined process for large groups working in bad faith - that's why there's so many rules. However, most of the applications on the market now have very primitive algorithms around the actual decision-making; there's usually less than a half dozen rules. We really don't have any applications with a robust enough algorithm for decision-making at scale or in bad faith.

All of the applications I've seen need some human moderation or facilitation. That doesn't mean that standalone applications are impossible however. Formal decision-making procedures are highly constrained and conspicuously algorithmic. Breaking out the logic into consumable engineering communication is a problem though - very few people have the skills to do that. This always makes me pine for David Foster Wallace, if you've seen his philosophy thesis with formal analysis notation, it's brilliant. And having such applications doesn't omit exploratory deliberation, as I mentioned, it's a great first stage. The most notable issue I see in attempts at decision making applications is a lack of limit on debate, which leads to roundabout discussions, trolling, and voter fatigue.
 

On Tue, Jan 10, 2017 at 9:39 AM, Deb Blakeslee <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
Thanks, Bentley.

Regarding your statement:  "I think the biggest missing feature is how decisions are evaluated by a group."

That is the crux of any decision-making process - human or app.

For meaningful results, there is a quality improvement, or continuous improvement, component (that most likely requires time and conducting research) that needs input into the app process: identifying steps that currently happen in a concern, identifying steps that should happen (but aren't), and researching best practices/solutions (expertise beyond participants using the app).

You can't solve a problem without knowing what outcome you want (all teenagers clean their rooms by 6:00 pm) until you know all the current steps that exist. 

One teenager's steps include awake at 6:00 am, straight to school until 3:30 pm, play in after school sports until 5:30, get home at 7:30 pm. Oops - one problem identified. Maybe another has asthma attacks to dust, coincidentally rampant in his/her room. Maybe another lives in a home without electricity because caretakers can't afford it or s/he is experiencing homelessness but lucky enough to be squatting in an abandoned building.

Maybe app facilitators are lucky and the teenagers with these situations are using the app when the problem is being worked on.

How would you ensure that people who need to be in those discussions are present, or their insights?Who are we excluding purposefully, functionally, or inadvertently?  Our rural friends without internet in Maine (and other places around the country) would be excluded once again. The teenager without electricity probably has no power left in the cell phone battery to use the app.

A side note:  Obvious conclusions under the best of arguments of pros/cons don't always lead to obvious final votes.

At our annual state PTA convention, we were voting on a matter. There were 5 main points to that matter that a friend and I agreed on. After our discussion, she said, "That's why I am voting 'no'." I said, "That's why I am voting 'yes'." 

Deb
debblakeslee.com


On Sunday, January 8, 2017, Bentley Davis <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
Ryan,

Here is a features comparison chart from 2014 (https://drive.google.com/open?id=1Za9Vau47C4OIXjkNN47Fo_gCQigDB6Z7b_pKFleVPk4). It needs updating but it is a start. We have also discussed in the http://civic-innovation-slack.herokuapp.com/ group to update Wikipedia with all the apps that exist and maybe a feature comparison matrix. I believe you will find it more effective to review what has been done before writing any code. We could also use more developers on existing initiatives than creating new ones.

As Deb said "Democracy still takes interpersonal work and time." and that will always be true. Apps only automate and scale that work where possible.

I think the biggest missing feature is how decisions are evaluated by a group. Voting is the shallowest form of participation. A decision should be made by the reasons for and against it. That is why I created a ResonRoot (https://SettleIt.org/reason) which transparently calculates a decision based on the provided pros and cons.

A few other comments:
  • "garbage in, garbage out " is counteracted by many people looking and validating the content. the better organized the content is the better this can be done.
  • "How would the app ensure that people who are actually affected by the concern being discussed are active in the electronic dialogue" If the final decision is based on the reasons and not the opinions then there is no reason to limit the interaction to the people affected. The whole world can be involved if the system can manage the volume effectively. I know this sounds impossible but I believe it can be done.
  • 'Saying, "We do it and it works." without defining what "it" is does not mean it works'  - Well said. Maybe we should focus on what we want to achieve with these apps to have a  goal to measure them by. We would also need to say that some apps may only solve part of the issue. Sp, What is that Goal?
  • "the best product can only be a phenomenal recording, organizing, and tabulating tool, at best." - At this time in the decision space we do not even have the equivalent of a simple bank statement to measure decisions the way we know how much money is in our bank accounts. Something with all the reasons for and against that calculates the total. I think this is the start and is what I almost have with the ReasonRoot.
Thanks for participating,
Bentley



On Sun, Jan 8, 2017 at 10:53 AM Deb Blakeslee <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
Hi Ryan,

I'll opt for: "c) if you don't use a tool, share what feature or capability might convince you to try one."

For the sake of (no) argument, having not tried any software or app, I am going to assume that all apps are fantastic at massive online group dialogue and deliberation and work without glitches.

However, the best product can only be a phenomenal recording, organizing, and tabulating tool, at best.

Unless an app includes artificial intelligence (that we trust - ahem), the outcomes will not improve our democratic process that currently exists with ordinary humans:

1) Whose concerns would be addressed (Proposed)?
2) How would the app ensure root causes are identified (Debate)? The quality of a final consensus (Vote) always rests with the quality of input - garbage in, garbage out - not the quality or features of a totally wicked awesome app.)
3) How would the app ensure that people who are actually affected by the concern being discussed are active in the electronic dialogue (before the Vote)?

All of these are process and intent questions I believe no app can solve. (Looking forward to being proven wrong.)

Then, continuing what you said, who will take which actions and for how long?  I was active for two years with one education bill but was not the designer, researcher, coordinator, strategist, funder, bill writer, etc. I just showed up to lobby my state legislators on the day the coordinator set. (In other words, hundreds or thousands of hours were spent working on this bill, but not mine.)

Democracy still takes interpersonal work and time. (Once there is an app for that, then humans are no longer wanted, but some of us should still be watching the artificial intelligence that governs us ....)

I trust one or many vendors will create or have created a totally wicked awesome tool for dialogue and deliberation - one aspect of democracy that can be done well or touted as being done well by humans or apps.  Saying, "We do it and it works." without defining what "it" is does not mean it works. My windmill works (it goes round and round when the wind blows), but it doesn't draw or transport water (original intent).

Deb


On Saturday, January 7, 2017, Ryan Wold <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
Fellow Deliberators,

I started playing with DemocracyOS yesterday. The basic structure here is: Propose, Debate, and Vote. After having success getting the app to run on my computer, I was also able to get it running quite easily on Heroku. So, here's yet another well-meaning online tool. 



The meta-conversation around the proliferation of online discourse tools is what interests me. What are the commonalities of these tools? What are the makers and users of these tools trying to achieve? Where are they falling short? Where can they improve?

Clearly, many people are trying to scratch an itch, in terms of addressing dialogue via online tools. But I don't think we have a tools or technology problem, we have a social coordination, influence, and action problem.

When we come together for discourse, is it not to share, question, learn, persuade, and in some cases, move to action? Many online communication tools muddle each of these needs together, and none address `action` explicitly. Even, DemocracyOS can only imply action after a vote is recorded, reinforcing the fact that people are the system.

So, alas, my ask is that you:

a) try out DemocracyOS here
b) share which tools you prefer instead
c) if you don't use a tool, share what feature or capability might convince you to try one

Happy Saturday!

--
Ryan Wold
San Francisco



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