A hypothetical ‘perfect’ artificial argumentative systems planner — D R A F T

A tavern discussion looking at the idea of an artificial planning discourse participant from the perspectives of the argumentative model and the systems thinking perspectives, expanding both (or mutually patching up their shortcomings), and inadvertently stumbling upon potential improvements upon the concept of democracy.

Customers and patron of a fogged-in island tavern with nothing better to do,
awaiting news on progress on the development of a better planning discourse
begin an idly speculative exploration of the idea of an artificial planner:
would such a creature be a better planning discourse participant?

– Hey Bog-Hubert: Early up and testing Vodçeks latest incarnation of café cataluñia forte forte? The Fog Island Tavern mental alarm clock for the difficult-to-wakeup?

– Good morning, professor. Well, have you tried it? Or do you want to walk around in a fogged-in-morning daze for just a while longer?

– Whou-ahmm, sorry. Depends.

– Depends? On what?

– Whether this morning needs my full un-dazed attention yet.

– Makes sense. Okay. Let me ask you a question. I hear you’ve been up in town. Did you run into Abbé Boulah, by any chance? He’s been up there for a while, sorely neglecting his Fog Island Tavern duties here, ostensibly to help his buddy at the university with the work on his proposals for a better planning discourse system. Hey, Sophie: care to join us?

– Okay, good morning to you too. What’s this about a planning system?

– I’m not sure if it’s a ‘system’. I was asking the professor if he has heard whether Abbé Boulah and his buddy have made any progress on that. It’s more like a discourse platform than a ‘system’ – if by ‘system’ you mean something like an artificial planning machine – a robot planner.

– Oh, I’m relieved to hear that.

– Why, Sophie?

– Why? Having a machine make our plans for our future? That would be soo out of touch. Really. Just when we are just beginning to understand that WE have to take charge, to redesign the current ‘MeE’ system, from a new Awareness of the Whole, of our common place on the planet, in the universe, our very survival as a species? That WE have to get out from under that authoritarian, ME-centered linear machine systems thinking, to emerge into a sustainable, regenerative NEW SYSTEM?

– Wow. Sounds like we are in more trouble than I thought. So who’s doing that, how will we get to that New System?

– Hold on, my friends. Lets not get into that New System issue again – haven’t we settled that some time ago here – that we simply don’t know yet what it should be like, and should try to learn more about what works and what doesn’t, before starting another ambitious grand experiment with another flawed theory?

– Okay, Vodçek, good point. But coming to think about it – to get there, — I mean to a better system with a better theory — wouldn’t that require some smart planning? You can’t just rely on everybody coming to that great awareness Sophie is taking about, for everything just to fall into place? So wouldn’t it be interesting to just speculate a bit about what your, I mean Abbé Boulah’s buddy’s planning machine, would have to do to make decent plans?

– You mean the machine he doesn’t, or, according to Sophie, emphatically shouldn’t even think about developing?

– That’s the one.

– Glad we have that cleared up… Well, since we haven’t heard anything new about the latest scandals up in town yet, it might be an interesting way to pass the time.

– Hmm.

– I hear no real objections, just an indecisive Hmm. And no, I don’t have any news from Abbé Boulah either – didn’t see him. He tends to stay out of public view. So it’s agreed. Where do we start?

– Well: how about at the beginning? What triggers a planning project? How does it start?

Initializing triggers for planning?

– Good idea, Sophie. Somebody having a problem – meaning something in the way things are, that are perceived as unsatisfactory, hurtful, ugly, whatever: not the way they ought to be?

– Or: somebody just has a bright idea for doing something new and interesting?

– Or there’s a routine habit or institutional obligation to make preparations for the future – to lay in provisions for a trip, or heating material for the winter?

– Right: there are many different things that could trigger a call for ‘doing something about it’ – a plan. So what would the machine do about that?

– You are assuming that somebody – a human being – is telling the machine to do something? Or are you saying that it could come up with a planning project on its own?

– It would have to be programmed to recognize a discrepancy between what IS and what OUGHT to be, about a problem or need, wouldn’t it? And some human would have had to tell him that. Because it’s never the machine (or the human planner working on behalf of people) hurting if there’s a problem; its only people who have problems.

– So it’s a Him already?

– Easy, Sophie. Okay: A She? You decide. Give her, him, it a name. So we can get on with it.

– Okay. I’d call it the APT – Abominable Planning Thing. And it’s an IT, a neuter.

– APT it is. Nicely ambiguous… For a moment I thought you meant Argumentative Planning Tool. Or Template.

– Let’s assume, for now, that somebody told it about a problem or a bright idea. So what would that APT do?

Ground rules, Principles?
Due consideration of all available information;
Whole system understanding guiding decisions
towards better (or at least not worse) outcomes
for all affected parties

– Wait: Shouldn’t we first find out some ground rules about how it’s going to work? For example, it wouldn’t do to just come up with some random idea and say ‘this is it’?

– Good point. You have any such ground rules in mind, professor?

– Sure. I think one principle is that it should try to gather and ‘duly consider’ ALL pertinent information that is available about the problem situation. Ideally. Don’t you agree, Sophie? Get the WHOLE picture? Wasn’t that part of the agenda you mentioned?

– Sounds good, professor. But is it enough to just ‘have’ all the information? Didn’t someone give a good description of the difference between ‘data’ (just givens, messages, numbers etc) and ‘information’ – the process of data changing someone’s stat of knowledge, insight, understanding?

– No, you are right. There must be adequate UNDERSTANDING – of what it means and how it all is related.

– I see a hot discussion coming up about what that really means: ‘understanding’… But go on.

– Well, next: wouldn’t we expect that there needs to be a process of developing or drawing a SOLUTION or a proposed PLAN – or several – from that understanding? Not just from the stupid data?

– Det er da svœrt så fordringfull du er idag, Sophie: Now you are getting astoundingly demanding here. Solutions based on understanding?

– Oh, quit your Norwegian bickering. I’ll do even more demanding: Mustn’t there be a way to CONNECT all that understanding, all the concerns, data, facts, arguments, with any proposed DECISION, especially the final one that leads to action, implementation. If we ever get to that?

– Are you considering that all the affected folks will expect that the decision should end up making things BETTER for them? Or at least not WORSE than before? Would that be one of your ground rules?

– Don’t get greedy here, Vodçek. The good old conservative way is to ask some poor slobs to make some heroic Sacrifices for the Common Good. “mourir pour des idées, d’accord, mais de mort lente…”  as George Brassens complains. But you are right: ideally, that would be a good way to put the purpose of the effort.

– All right, we have some first principles or expectations. We’ll probably add some more of those along the way, but I’d say it’s enough for a start. So what would our APT gizmo do to get things moving?

Obtaining information
Sources?

– I’d say it would start to inquire and assemble information about the problem’s IS state, first. Where is the problem, who’s hurting and how, etc. What caused it? Are there any ideas for how to fix it? What would be the OUGHT part — of the problem as well as a bright idea as the starting point?

– Sounds good, Bog-Hubert. Get the data. I guess there will be cases where the process actually starts with somebody having a bright idea for a solution. But that’s a piece of data too, put it in the pile. Where would it get all that information?

– Many sources, I guess. First: from whoever is hurting or affected in any way.

– By the problem, Vodçek? Or the solutions?

– Uh, I guess both. But what if there aren’t any solutions proposed yet?

– It means that the APT will have to check and re-check that whenever someone proposes a solution — throughout the whole process, doesn’t it? It’s not enough to run a single first survey of citizen preferences, like they usually do to piously meet the mandate for ‘citizen participation’. Information gathering, research, re-research, analysis will accompany the whole process.

– Okay. It’s a machine, it won’t get tired of repeated tasks.

– Ever heard of devices overheating, eh? But to go on, there will be experts on the particular kind of problem. There’ll be documented research, case studies from similar events, the textbooks, newspapers, letters to the editor, petitions, the internet. The APT would have to go through everything. And I guess there might have to be some actual ‘observation’, data gathering, measurements.

Distinctions, meaning
Understanding

– So now it has a bunch of stuff in its memory. Doesn’t it have to sort it somehow, so it can begin to do some real work on it?

– You don’t think gathering that information is work, Sophie?

– Sure, but just a bunch of megabytes of stuff… what would it do with it? Don’t tell me it can magically pull the solution from that pile of data!

– Right. Some seem to think they can… But you’ll have to admit that having all the information is part of the answer to our first expectation: to consider ALL available information. The WHOLE thing, remember? The venerable Systems Thinking idea?

– Okay. If you say so. So what to you mean by ‘consider’ – or ‘due consideration’? Just staring at the pile of data until understanding blossoms in your minds and the solution jumps out at you like the bikini-clad girl out of the convention cake? Or Aphrodite rising out of the data ocean?

– You are right. You need to make some distinctions, sort out things. What you have now, at best, are a bunch of concepts, vague, undefined ideas. The kind of ‘tags’ you use to google stuff.

– Yeah. Your argumentation buddy would say you’d have to ask for explanations of those tags – making sure it’s clear what they mean, right?

– Yes. Now he’d also make the distinction that some of the data are actual claims about the situation. Of different types: ‘fact’-claims about the current situation; ‘ought’ claims about what people feel the solution should be. Claims of ‘instrumental’ knowledge about what caused things to become what they are, and thus what will happen when we do this or that: connecting some action on a concept x with another concept ‘y’ – an effect. Useful when we are looking for x’s to achieve desired ‘y’s that we want – the ‘ought’ ideas – or avoid the proverbial ‘unexpected / undesirable’ side-and after-effect surprises of our grand plans: ‘How’ to do things.

– You’re getting there. But some of the information will also consist of several claims arranged into arguments. Like: “Yes, we should do ‘x’ (as part of the plan) because it will lead to ‘y’, and ‘y’ ought to be…” And counterarguments: “No, we shouldn’t do ‘x’ because x will cause ‘z’ which ought not to be.”

– Right. You’ve been listening to Abbé Boulah’s buddy’s argumentative stories, I can tell. Or even reading Rittel? Yes, there will be differences of opinion – not only about what ought to be, but about what we should do to get what we want, about what causes what, even about what Is the case. Is there an old sinkhole on the proposed construction site? And if so, where? That kind of issue. And different opinions about those, too. So the data pile will contain a lot of contradictory claims of all kinds. Which means, for one thing, that we, –even Spock’s relative APT — can’t draw any deductively valid conclusions from contradictory items in the data. ‘Ex contradictio sequitur quodlibet’, remember – from a contradiction you can conclude anything whatever. So APT can’t be a reliable ‘artificial intelligence’ or ‘expert system’ that gives you answers you can trust to be correct. We discussed that too once, didn’t we – there was an old conference paper from the 1990s about it. Remember?

– But don’t we argue about contradictory opinions all the time – and draw conclusions about them too?
– Sure. Living recklessly, eh? All the time, and especially in planning and policy-making. But it means that we can’t expect to draw ‘valid’ conclusions that are ‘true or false’, from our planning arguments. Just more or less plausible. Or ‘probable’ – for claims that are appropriately labeled that way.

Systems Thinking perspective
Versus Argumentative Model of Planning?

– Wait. What about the ‘Systems Thinking’ perspective — systems modeling and simulation? Isn’t that a better way to meet the expectation of ‘due consideration’ of the ‘whole system’? So should the APT develop a systems model from the information it collected?

– Glad you brought that up, Vodçek. Yes, it’s claimed to be the best available foundation for dealing with our challenges. So what would that mean for our APT? Is it going to have a split robopersonality between Systems and the Argumentative Model?

– Let’s look at both and see? There are several levels we can distinguish there. The main tenets of the systems approach have to do with the relationships between the different parts of a system – a system is a set of parts or entities, components, that are related in different ways – some say that ‘everything is connected / related to everything else’ – but a systems modeler will focus on the most significant relationships, and try to identify the ‘loops’ in that network of relationships. Those are the ones that will cause the system to behave in ways that can’t be predicted from the relationships between any of the individual pairs of entities in the network. Complexity; nonlinearity. Emergence.

– Wow. You’re throwing a lot of fancy words around there!

– Sorry, Renfroe; good morning, I didn’t see you come in. Doing okay?

– Yeah, thanks. Didn’t get hit by a nonlinearity, so far. This a dangerous place now, for that kind of thing?

– Not if you don’t put too much brandy in that café cataluñia Vodçek is brewing here.

– Hey, lets’ get back to your systems model. Can you explain it in less nonlinear terms?

– Sure, Sophie. Basically, you take all the significant concepts you’ve found, put them into a diagram, a map, and draw the relationships between them. For example, cause-effect relationships; meaning increasing ‘x’ will cause an increase in ‘y’. Many people think that fixing a system can best be done by identifying the causes that brought the state of affairs about that we now see as a problem. This will add a number or new variables to the diagram, to the ‘understanding’ of the problem.

– They also look for the presence of ‘loops’ in the diagram, don’t they? – Where cause-effect chains come back to previous variables.

– Right, Vodçek. This is an improvement over a simple listing of all the pro and con arguments, for example – they also talk about relationships x – y, but only one at a time, so you don’t easily see the whole network, and the loops, in the network. So if you are after ‘understanding the system’, seeing the network of relationships will be helpful. To get a sense of its complexity and nonlinearity.

– I think I understand: you understand a system when you recognize that it’s so loopy and complex and nonlinear that its behavior can’t be predicted so it can’t be understood?

– Renfroe… Professor, can you straighten him out?

– Sounds to me like he’s got it right on, Sophie. Going on: Of course, to be really helpful, the systems modeler will tell you that you should find a way to measure each concept, that is, find a variable – a property of the system that can be measures with precise units.

– What’s the purpose of that, other than making it look more scientific?

– Well, Renfroe, remember the starting point, the problem situation. Oh, wait, you weren’t here yet. Okay; say there’s a problem. We described it as a discrepancy between what somebody feels Is the case and what Ought to be. Somebody complains about it being too hot in here. Now just saying: ‘it’s too hot; it ought to be cooler’, is a starting point, but in order to become useful, you need to be able to say just what you mean by ‘cooler’. See, you are stating the Is/Ought problem in terms of the same variable ‘temperature’. So too even see the difference between Is and Ought, you have to point to the levels of each. 85 degrees F? Too hot. Better: cool it to 72. Different degrees or numbers on the temperature scale.

– Get it. So now we have numbers, math in the system. Great. Just what we need. This early in the morning, too.

– I was afraid of that too. It’s bound to get worse…nonlinear. So in the argumentative approach – the arguments don’t show that? Is that good or bad?

– Good question. Of course you can get to that level, if you bug them enough. Just keep asking more specific questions.

– Aren’t there issues where degrees of variables are not important, or where variables have only two values: Present or not present? Remember that the argumentative model came out of architectural and environmental design, where the main concerns were whether or not to provide some feature: ‘should the entrance to the building be from the east, yes or no?’ or ‘Should the building structure be of steel or concrete?’ Those ‘conceptual’ planning decisions could often be handled without getting into degrees of variables. The decision to go with steel could be reached just with the argument that steel would be faster and cheaper than concrete, even before knowing just by how much. The arguments and the decision were then mainly yes or no decisions.

– Good points, Vodçek. Fine-tuning, or what they call ‘parametric’ planning comes later, and could of course cause much bickering, but doesn’t usually change the nature of the main design that much. Just its quality and cost…

Time
Simulation of systems behavior

– Right. And they also didn’t have to worry too much about the development of systems over time. A building, once finished, will usually stay that way for a good while. But for policies that would guide societal developments or economies, the variables people were concerned about will change considerably over time, so more prediction is called for, trying to beat complexity.

– I knew it, I knew it: time’s the culprit, the snake in the woodpile. I never could keep track of time…

– Renfroe… You just forget winding up your old alarm clock. Now, where were we? Okay: In order to use the model to make predictions about what will happen, you have to allocate each relationship step to some small time unit: x to y during the first time unit; y to z in the second, and so on. This will allow you to track the behavior of the variables of the system over time, give some initial setting, and make predictions about the likely effects of your plans. The APT computer can quickly calculate predictions for a variety of planning options.

– I’ve seen some such simulation predictions, yes. Amazing. But I’ve always wondered how they can make such precise forecasts – those fine crisp lines over several decades: how do they do that, when for example our meteorologists can only make forecasts of hurricane tracks of a few days only, tracks that get wider like a fat trumpet in just a few days? Are those guys pulling a fast one?

– Good point. The answer is that each simulation only shows the calculated result of one specific set of initial conditions and settings of relationships equations. If you make many forecasts with different numbers, and put them all on the same graph, you’d get the same kind of trumpet track. Or even a wild spaghetti plate of tracks.

– I am beginning to see why those ‘free market’ economists had such an advantage over people who wanted to gain some control of the economy. They just said: the market is unpredictable. It’s pointless to make big government plans and laws and regulations. Just get rid of all the regulations, let the free market play it out. It will control and adapt and balance itself by supply and demand and competition and creativity.

– Yeah, and if something goes wrong, blame it on the remaining regulations of big bad government. Diabolically smart and devious.

– But they do appreciate government research grants, don’t they? Wait. They get them from the companies that just want to get rid of some more regulations. Or from think tanks financed by those companies.

– Hey, this is irresponsibly interesting but way off our topic, wouldn’t you say?

– Right, Vodçek. Are you worried about some government regulation – say, about the fireworks involved in your café catastrofia? But okay. Back to the issue.

– So, to at least try to be less irresponsible, our APT thing would have systems models and be able to run simulations. A simulation, if I understand what you were saying, would show how the different variables in the system would change over time, for some assumed initial setting of those variables. That initial setting would be different from the ‘current’ situation, though, wouldn’t it? So where does the proposed solution in the systems model come from? Where are the arguments? Does the model diagram show what we want to achieve? Or just the ‘current state’?

Representation of plan proposals
and arguments in the systems model?
Leverage points

– Good questions, all. They touch on some critical problems with the systems perspective. Let’s take one at a time. You are right: the usual systems model does not show a picture of a proposed solution. To do that, I think we’ll have to expand a little upon our description of a plan: Would you agree that a plan involves some actions by some actors, using some resources acting upon specific variables in the system? Usually not just one variable but several. So a plan would be described by those variables, and the additional concepts of actions, actor, resources etc. Besides the usual sources of plans, — somebody’s ‘brilliant idea’, some result of a team brainstorming session, or just an adaptation of a precedent, a ‘tried and true’ known solution with a little new twist, —  the systems modeler may have played around with his model and identified some ‘leverage points’ in the system – variables where modest and easy-to-do changes can bring about significant improvement elsewhere in the system: those are suggested starting points for solution ideas.

– So you are saying that the systems tinkerer should get with it and add all the additional solution description to the diagram?

– Yes. And that would raise some new questions. What are those resources needed for the solution? Where would they come from, are they available? What will they cost? And more: wouldn’t just getting all that together cause some new effects, consequences, that weren’t in the original data collection, and that some other people than those who originally voiced their concerns about the problem would now be worried about? So your data collection component will have to go back to do some more collecting. Each new solution idea will need its own new set of information.

– There goes your orderly systematic procedure all right. That may go on for quite some time, eh?

– Right. Back and forth, if you want to be thorough. ‘Parallel processing’. And it will generate more arguments that will have to be considered, with questions about how plausible the relationship links are, how plausible the concerns about the effects – the desirable / undesirable outcomes. More work. So it will often be shouted down with the usual cries of ‘analysis paralysis’.

Intelligent analysis of data:
Generating ‘new’ arguments?

– Coming to think of it: if our APT has stored all the different claims it has found – in the literature, the textbooks, previous cases, and in the ongoing discussions, would it be able to construct ‘new’ arguments from those? Arguments the actual participants haven’t thought about?

– Interesting idea, Bog-Hubert. – It’s not even too difficult. I actually heard our friend Dexter explain that recently. It would take the common argument patterns – like the ones we looked at – and put claim after claim into them, to see how they fit: all the if-then connections to a proposal claim would generate more arguments for and against the proposal. Start looking at an ‘x’ claim of the proposal. Then search for (‘google’)  ‘x→ ?’:  any ‘y’s in the data that have been cited as ‘caused by x’. If a ‘y’ you found was expressed somewhere else as ‘desirable or undesirable’ – as a deontic claim, — it makes an instant ‘new’ potential argument. Of course, whether it would work as a ‘pro’ or a ‘con’ argument in some participant’s mind would depend on how that participant feels about the various premises.

– What are you saying, professor? This doesn’t make sense. A ‘pro’ argument is a ‘pro’ argument, and ‘con’ argument is a ‘con’ argument. Now you’re saying it depends on the listener?

– Precisely. I know some people don’t like this. But consider an example. People are discussing a plan P; somebody A makes what he thinks is a ‘pro’ argument: “Let’s do P because P will produce Q; and Q is desirable, isn’t it?” Okay, for A it is a pro argument, no question. Positive plausibility, he assumes, for P→Q as well as for Q; so it would get positive plausibility pl for P. Now for curmudgeon B, who would also like to achieve Q but is adamant that P→Q won’t work, (getting a negative pl) that set of premises would produce a negative pl for P, wouldn’t it? Similarly, for his neighbor C, who would hate for Q to become true, but thinks that P→Q will do just that, that same set of premises also is a ‘con’ argument.

– So what you’re saying is that all the programs out there, that show ‘dialogue maps’ identifying all arguments as pro or con, as they were intended by their authors, are patently ignoring the real nature and effects of arguments?

– I know some people have been shocked – shocked — by these heretical opinions – they have been written up. But I haven’t seen any serious rebuttals; those companies, if they have heard of them have chosen to ignore them. Haven’t changed their evil ways though…

– So our devious APT could be programmed to produce new arguments. More arguments. Just what we need. The arguments can be added to the argument list, but I was going to ask you before: how would the deontic claims, the ‘oughts’, be shown in the model?

– You’d have to add another bubble to each variable bubble, right? Now, we have the variable itself, the value of each variable in the current IS condition, the value of the variable if it’s part of a plan intervention, and the desired value – hey: at what time?

– You had to put the finger on the sore spot, Vodçek. Bad boy. Not only does this make the diagram a lot less clean, simple, and legible. Harder to understand. And showing what somebody means by saying what the solution ought to achieve, when all the variables are changing over time, now becomes a real challenge. Can you realistically expect that a desired variable should stay ‘stable’ at one desired value all the time, after the solution is implemented? Or would people settle for something like: remaining within a range of acceptable values? Or, if a disturbance has occurred, return to a desired value after some reasonably short specified time?

– I see the problem here. Couldn’t the diagram at least show the central desired value, and then let people judge whether a given solution comes close enough to be acceptable?

– Remember that we might be talking about a large number of variables that represent measures of how well all the different concerns have been met by a proposed solution. But if you don’t mind complex diagrams, you could add anything to the systems model. Or you can use several diagrams. Understanding can require some work, not just sudden ‘aha!’ enlightenment.

Certainty about arguments and predictions
Truth, probability, plausibility and relative importance of claims

– And we haven’t even talked about the question of how sure we can be that a solution will actually achieve a desired result.

– I remember our argumentative friends at least claimed to have a way to calculate the plausibility of a plan proposal based on the plausibility of each argument and the weight of relative importance of each deontic, each ought concern. Would that help?

– Wait, Bog-hubert: how does that work, again? Can you give us the short explanation? I know you guys talked about that before, but…

– Okay, Sophie: The idea is this: a person would express how plausible she thinks each of the premises of an argument are. On some plausibility scale of, say +1 which means ‘totally plausible’, to -1 which means ‘totally implausible; with a midpoint zero meaning ‘don’t know, can’t tell’. These plausibility values together will then give you an ‘argument plausibility’ – on the same scale, either by multiplying them or taking the lowest score as the overall result. The weakest link in the chain, remember. Then: multiplying that plausibility with the weight of relative importance of the ought- premise in the argument, which is a value between zero and +1 such that all the weights of all the ‘oughts’ in all the arguments about the proposal will add up to +1. That will give you the ‘argument weight’ of each argument; and all the argument weights together will give you the proposal plausibility – again, on the same scale of +1 to -1, so you’d know what the score means. A value higher than zero means it’s somewhat plausible; a value lower than zero and close to -1 means it’ so implausible that it should not be implemented. But we aren’t saying that this plausibility could be used as the final decision measure.

– Yeah, I remember now. So that would have to be added to the systems model as well?

– Yes, of course – but I have never seen one that does that yet.

‘Goodness’ of solutions
not just plausibility?

– But is that all? I mean: ‘plausibility’ is fine. If there are several proposals to compare: is plausibility the appropriate measure? It doesn’t really tell me how good the plan outcome will be? Even comparing a proposed solution to the current situation: wouldn’t the current situation come up with a higher plausibility — simply because it’s already there?

– You’ve got a point there. Hmm. Let me think. You have just pointed out that both these illustrious approaches – the argumentative model, at last as we have discussed it so far, as well as the systems perspective, for all its glory, have both grievously sidestepped the question of what makes a solution, a systems intervention ‘good’ or bad’. The argument assessment work, because it was just focused on the plausibility of arguments; as the first necessary step that had not been looked at yet. And the systems modeling focusing on the intricacies of the model relations and simulation, leaving the decision and its preparatory evaluation, if any, to the ‘client.’ Fair enough; they are both meritorious efforts, but it leaves both approaches rather incomplete. Not really justifying the claims of being THE ultimate tools to crack the wicked problems of the world. It makes you wonder: why didn’t anybody call the various authors on this?

– But haven’t there long been methods, procedures for people to evaluate to the presumed ‘goodness’ of plans? Why wouldn’t they have been added to either approach?

– They have, just as separate, detached and not really integrated extra techniques. Added, cumbersome complications, because they represent additional effort and preparation, even for small groups. And never even envisaged for large public discussions.

– So would you say there are ways to add the ‘goodness’ evaluation into the mix? We’ve already brought systems and arguments closer together? You say there are already tools for doing that?

– Yes, there are. For example, as part of a ‘formal’ evaluation procedure, you can ask people to explain the basis of their ‘goodness’ judgment about a proposed solution by specifying a ‘criterion function’ that shows how that judgment depends on the values of a system variable. The graph of it looks like this: On one axis it would have positive (‘like’, ‘good’, desirable’) judgment values on the positive side, and ‘dislike’, ‘bad’, ‘undesirable ‘ values on the negative one, with a midpoint of ‘neither good nor bad’ or ‘can’t decide’. And the specific system variable on the other axis, for example that temperature scale from our example a while ago. So by drawing a line in the graph that touches the ‘best possible’ judgment score at the person’s most comfortable temperature, and curves down towards ‘so-so, and down to ‘very bad’ and ultimately ‘intolerable’, couldn’t get worse’, a person could ‘explain’ the ‘objective’, measurable basis of her subjective goodness.

– But that’s just one judgment out of many others she’d have to make about all the other system variables that have been declared ‘deontic’ targets? How would you get to an overall judgment about the whole plan proposal?

– There are ways to ‘aggregate’ all those partial judgments into an overall deliberated judgment. All worked out in the old papers describing the procedure. I can show you that if you want. But that’s not the real problem here – you don’t see it?

– Huh?

The problem of  ‘aggregation’

of many different personal, subjective judgments
into group or collective decision guides

– Well, tell me this, professor: would our APTamajig have the APTitude to make all those judgments?

– Sorry, Bog-Hubert: No. Those judgments would be judgments of real persons. The APT machine would have to get those judgments from all the people involved.

– That’s just too complicated. Forget it.

– Well, commissioner, — you’ve been too quiet here all this time – remember: the expectation was to make the decision based on ‘due consideration’ of all concerns. Of everybody affected?

– Yes, of course. Everybody has the right to have his or her concerns considered.

– So wouldn’t ‘knowing and understanding the whole system’ include knowing how everybody affected feels about those concerns? Wasn’t that, in a sense, part of your oath of office, to serve all members of the public to the best of your knowledge and abilities? So now we have a way to express that, you don’t want to know about that because it’s ‘too complicated?

– Cut the poor commissioner some slack: the systems displays would get extremely crowded trying to show all that. And adding all that detail will not really convey much insight.

– It would, professor, if the way that it’s being sidestepped wasn’t actually a little more tricky, almost deceptive. Commissioner, you guys have some systems experts on your staff, don’t you? So where do they get those pristine performance track printouts of their simulation models?

– Ah. Huh. Well, that question never came up.

– But you are very concerned about public opinion, aren’t you? The polls, your user preference surveys?

– Oh, yeah: that’s a different department – the PR staff. Yes, they get the Big Data about public opinions. Doing a terrific job at it too, and we do pay close attention to that.

– But – judging just from the few incidents in which I have been contacted by folks with such surveys – those are just asking general questions, like ‘How important is it to attract new businesses to the city?’ Nobody has ever asked me to do anything like those criterion functions the professor was talking about. So if you’re not getting that: what’s the basis for your staff recommendations about which new plan you should vote for?

– Best current practice: we have those general criteria, like growth rate, local or regional product, the usual economic indicators.

– Well, isn’t that the big problem with those systems models? They have to assume some performance measure to make a recommendation. And that is usually one very general aggregate measure – like the quarterly profit for companies. Or your Gross National Product, for countries. The one all the critics now are attacking, for good reasons, I’d say, — but then they just suggest another big aggregate measure that nobody really can be against – like Gross National Happiness or similar well-intentioned measures. Sustainability. Systemicity. Whatever that means.

– Well, what’s wrong with those? Are you fixin’ to join the climate change denier crowd?

– No, Renfroe. The problem with those measures is that they assume that all issues have been settled, all arguments resolved. But the reality is that people still do have differences of opinions, there will still be costs as well as benefits for all plans, and those are all too often not fairly distributed. The big single measure, whatever it is, only hides the disagreements and the concerns of those who have to bear more of the costs. Getting shafted in the name of overall social benefits.

Alternative criteria to guide decisions?

– So what do you think should be done about that? And what about our poor APT? It sounds like most of the really important stuff is about judgments it isn’t allowed or able to make? Would even a professional planner named APT – ‘Jonathan Beaujardin APT, Ph.D M.WQ, IDC’ — with the same smarts as the machine, not be allowed to make such judgments?

– As a person, an affected and concerned citizen, he’d have the same right as everybody else to express his opinions, and bring them into the process. As a planner, no. Not claiming to judge ‘on behalf’ of citizens – unless they have explicitly directed him to do that, and told him how… But now the good Commissioner says he wouldn’t even need to understand his own basis of judgment,  much less make it count in the decision?

– Gee. That really explains a lot.

– Putting it differently: Any machine – or any human planner, for that matter, however much they try to be ‘perfect’ – trying to make those judgments ‘on behalf’ of other people, is not only imperfect but wrong, unless it has somehow obtained knowledge about those feelings about good or bad of others, and has found an acceptable way of reconciling the differences into some overall common ‘goodness’ measure. Some people will argue that there isn’t any such thing: judgments about ‘good or ‘bad’ are individual, subjective judgments; they will differ, there’s no method by which those individual judgments can be aggregated into a ‘group’ judgment that wouldn’t end up taking sides, one way or the other.

– You are a miserable spoilsport, Bog-Hubert. Worse than Abbé Boulah! He probably would say that coming to know good and bad, or rather thinking that you can make meaningful judgments about good or bad IS the original SIN.

– I thought he’s been excommunicated, Vodçek? So does he have any business saying anything like that? Don’t put words in his mouth when he’s not here to spit them back at you. Still, even if Bog-Hubert is right: if that APT is a machine that can process all kinds of information faster and more accurate than humans, isn’t there anything it can do to actually help the planning process?

– Yes, Sophie, I can see a number of things that can be done, and might help.

– Let’s hear it.

– Okay. We were assuming that APT is a kind of half-breed argumentative-systems creature, except we have seen that it can’t make up either new claims nor plausibility nor goodness judgments on its own. It must get them from humans; only then can it use them for things like making new arguments. If it does that, — it may take some bribery to get everybody to make and give those judgments, mind you – it can of course store them, analyze them, and come up with all kinds of statistics about them.
One kind of information I’d find useful would be to find out exactly where people disagree, and how much, and for what reasons. I mean, people argue against a policy for different reasons – one because he doesn’t believe that the policy will be effective in achieving the desired goal – the deontic premise that he agrees with – and the other because she disagrees with the goal.

– I see: Some people disagree with the US health plan they call ‘Obamacare’ because they genuinely think it has some flaws that need correcting, and perhaps with good reasons. But others can’t even name any such flaws and just rail against it, calling it a disaster or a trainwreck etc. because, when you strip away all the reasons they can’t substantiate, simply because it’s Obama’s.

– Are you saying Obama should have called it Romneycare, since it was alleged to be very similar to what Romney did in Massachusetts when he was governor there? Might have gotten some GOP support?

– Let’s not get into that quarrgument here, guys. Not healthy. Stay with the topic. So  our APT would be able to identify those differences, and other discourse features that might help decide what to do next – get more information, do some more discussion, another analysis, whatever. But so far, its systems alter ego hasn’t been able to show any of that in the systems model diagram, to make that part of holistic information visible to the other participants in the discourse.

– Wouldn’t that require that it become fully conscious of its own calculations, first?

– Interesting question, Sophie. Conscious. Hmm. Yes: my old car wouldn’t show me a lot of things on the dashboard that were potential problems – whether a tire was slowly going flat or the left rear turn indicator was out – so you could say it wasn’t aware enough, — even ‘conscious?’ — of those things to let me know. The Commissioner’s new car does some of that, I think. Of course my old one could be very much aware but just ornery enough to leave me in the dark about them; we’ll never know, eh?

– Who was complaining about running off the topic road here just a while ago?

– You’re right, Vodçek: sorry. The issue is whether and how the system could produce a useful display of those findings. I don’t think it’s a fundamental problem, just work to do. My guess is that all that would need several different maps or diagrams.

Discourse –based criteria guiding collective decisions?

– So let’s assume that not only all those judgments could be gathered, stored, analyzed and the results displayed in a useful manner. All those individual judgments, the many plausibility and judgment scores and the resulting overall plan plausibility and ‘goodness’ judgments. What’s still open is this: how should those determine or at least guide the overall group’s decision? In a way that makes it visible that all aspects, all concerns were ‘duly considered’, and ending up in a result that does not make some participants feel that their concerns were neglected or ignored, and that the result is – if not ‘the very best we could come up with’ then at least somewhat better than the current situation and not worse for anybody?

– Your list of aspects there already throws out a number of familiar decision-making procedures, my friend. Leaving the decision to authority, which is what the systems folks have cowardly done, working for some corporate client, (who also determines the overall ‘common good’ priorities for a project, that will be understood to rank higher than any individual concerns) – that’s out. Not even pretending to be transparent or connected to the concerns expressed in the elaborate process. Even traditional voting, that has been accepted as the most ‘democratic’ method, for all its flaws. Out. And don’t even mention ‘consensus’ or the facile ‘no objection?‘ version. What could our APT possibly produce that can replace those tools? Do we have any candidate tools?

– If you already concede that ‘optimal’ solutions are unrealistic and we have to make do with ‘not worse – would it make sense to examine possible adaptations to one of the familiar techniques?

– It may come to that if we don’t find anything better – but I’d say let’s look at the possibilities for alternatives in the ideas we just discussed, first? I don’t feel like going through the pros and cons about our current tools. It’s been done.

– Okay, professor: Could our APT develop a performance measure made up of the final scores of the measures we have developed? Say, the overall goodness score modified by the overall plausibility score a plan proposal achieved?

– Sounds promising.

– Hold your horses, folks. It sounds good for individual judgment scores – may even tell a person whether she ought to vote yes or no on a plan – but how would you concoct a group measure from all that – especially in the kind of public asynchronous discourse we have in mind? Where we don’t even know what segment of the whole population is represented by the participants in the discourse and its cumbersome exercises, and how they relate to the whole public populations for the issue at hand?
– Hmm. You got some more of that café catawhatnot, Vodçek?

– Sure – question got you flummoxed?

– Well, looks like we’ll have to think for a while. Think it might help?

– What an extraordinary concept!

– Light your Fundador already, Vodçek, and quit being obnoxious!

– Okay, you guys. Lets examine the options. The idea you mentioned, Bog-Hubert, was to combine the goodness score and the plausibility score for a plan. We could do that for any number of competing plan alternatives, too.

– It was actually an idea I got from Abbé Boulah some time ago. At the time I just didn’t get its significance.

– Abbé Boulah? Let’s drink to his health. So we have the individual scores: the problem is to get some kind of group score from them. The mean – the average – of those scores is one; we discussed the problems with the mean many times here, didn’t we? It obscures the way the scores are distributed on the scale: you get the same result from a bunch of scores tightly grouped around that average as you’d get from two groups of extreme scores at opposite ends of the scale. Can’t see the differences of opinion.

– That can be somewhat improved upon if you calculate the variance – it measures the extent of disagreement among the scores. So if you get two alternatives with the same mean, the one with the lower variance will be the less controversial one. The range is a crude version of the same idea – just take the difference between the highest and the lowest score; the better solution is the one with a smaller range.

– What if there’s only one proposal?

– Well, hmm; I guess you’d have to look at the scores and decide if it’s good enough.

– Let’s go back to what we tried to do – the criteria for the whole effort: wasn’t there something about making sure that nobody ends up in worse shape in the end?

– Brilliant, Sophie – I see what you are suggesting. Look at the lowest scores in the result and check whether they are lower or higher than, than …

– Than what, Bog-Hubert?

– Let me think, let me think. If we had a score for the assessment of the initial condition for everybody (or for the outcome that would occur if the problem isn’t taken care of) then an acceptable solution would simply have to show a higher score than that initial assessment, for everybody. Right? The higher the difference, even something like the average, the better.

– Unusual idea. But if we don’t have the initial score?

– I guess we’d have to set some target threshold for any lowest score – no lower than zero (not good, not bad) or at least a + 0.5 on a +2/-2 goodness scale, for the worst-off participant score? That would be one way to take care of the worst-off affected folks. The better-off people couldn’t complain, because they are doing better, according to their own judgment. And we’d have made sure that the worst-off outcomes aren’t all that bad.

– You’re talking as if ‘we’ or that APT thing is already set up and doing all that. The old Norwegian farmer’s rule says: Don’t sell the hide before the bear is shot! It isn’t that easy though, is it? Wouldn’t we need a whole new department, office, or institution to run those processes for all the plans in a society?

– You have a point there, Vodçek. A new branch of government? Well now that you open that Pandora’s box: yes, there’s something missing in the balance.

– What in three twisters name are you talking about, Bog-Hubert?

– Well, Sophie. We’ve been talking about the pros and cons of plans. In government, I mean the legislative branch that makes the laws, that’s what the parties do, right? Now look at the judicial branch. There, too, they are arguing – prosecutor versus defense attorney – like the parties in the House and Senate. But then there’s a judge and the jury: they are looking at the pros and cons of both sides, and they make the decision. Where is that  jury or judge ‘institution’ in the legislature? Both ‘chambers’ are made up of parties, who too often look like they are concerned about gaining or keeping their power, their majority, their seats, more than the quality of their laws. Where’s the jury? The judge? And to top that off: even the Executive is decided by the party, in a roundabout process that looks perfectly designed to blow the thinking cap off every citizen. A spectacle! Plenty of circenses but not enough panem. Worse than old Rome…

– Calm down, Bog-Hubert. Aren’t they going to the judiciary to resolve quarrels about their laws, though?

– Yes, good point. But you realize that the courts can only make decisions based on whether a law complies with the Constitution or prior laws – issues of fact, of legality. Not about the quality, the goodness of the law. What’s missing is just what Vodçek said: another entity that looks at the quality and goodness of the proposed plans and policies, and makes the decisions.

– What would the basis of judgment of such an entity be?

– Well, didn’t we just draw up some possibilities? The concerns are those that have been discussed, by all parties. The criteria that are drawn from all the contributions of the discourse.  The party ‘in power’ would only use the criteria of its own arguments, wouldn’t it? Just like they do now… Of course the idea will have to be discussed, thought through, refined. But I say that’s the key missing element in the so-called ‘democratic’ system.

– Abbé Boulah would be proud of you, Bog-Hubert. Perhaps a little concerned, too? Though I’m still not sure how it all would work, for example considering that the humans in the entity or ‘goodness panel’ are also citizens, and thus likely ‘party’. But that applies to the judge and jury system in the judicial as well. Work to do.

– And whatever decision they come up with, that worst-off guy could still complain that it isn’t fair, though?

– Better that 49% of the population peeved and feeling taken advantage of? Commissioner: what do you say?

– Hmmm. That one guy might be easier to buy off than the 49%, yes. But I’m not sure I’d get enough financing for my re-election campaign with these ideas. The money doesn’t come from the worst-off folks, you know…

– Houston, we have a problem …


Small scale planning discourse platform and process – Draft (‘Planning Discourse Support System’ PDSS)

I n t r o d u c t i o n

The crises and challenges facing humanity are increasingly global in scope and nature. They call for planning and policy decisions based on wide (ultimately global) participation, aiming at better understanding of the problems by all participants, best available information and evidence, and due consideration of the concerns of all parties affected by the problems and proposed solutions.

To my knowledge, there is currently no platform available that exhibits all requirements and functions of such a global platform. The following suggestions for an experimental, small scale planning discourse framework are seen as a bare-bones ‘pilot’ project for the development of such a ‘global’ (large scale) platform and process, using the provisions of current social network platforms such as Facebook. The hope is to start a discussion clarifying needed provisions and agreements for the design of the global platform, using a discussion of the setup and procedural rules of its own discussion as a vehicle. The experiences of this experiment will then guide the design of the global platform.

Overview of the Process – Main steps / phases of planning projects:

The diagram shows a rough overview of the main phases or tasks of a planning project discourse, as a framework for discussion of the needed provisions for the platform and discourse at each stage:

Project Initiation Any planning project, by an individual or a collective, is initiated in some form, leading to a discussion or discourse. The initiating move can be a ‘problem’, a proposal for a ‘solution’ (a ‘plan’) or just a question;

Discussion The discussion – contribution of information, data, exchanges of opinion, is seen as consisting of several main tasks, which may or may not be addressed in an orderly sequence;

Problem /situation ’Problem definition’, description and
Exploration, understanding of the situation, its
Understanding ‘givens’ (‘data’) and the relationships among the variables, forces, and entities involved;

Response ideas, Exploration of ideas, possible means of
Solution changing the ‘problem’ situation into a
Development desired state; solution proposals and their descriptions and refinement;

Assessment Intertwined with the other discussion
Evaluation aspects will be the examination of the
Judgment merit of contributions, the expected performance of proposed solutions

“Next step?’ The discussion will be interrupted (or ended) by calls for a decision, for returning to a previous step, for more information, f or changing a proposed plan, or dropping it;

Decision The discourse will reach a preliminary or final conclusion: a decision or recommendation to adopt or reject a plan or agreement.

Implementation, monitoring, maintenance and the need for repairs and modification are seen as extensions of the discourse, to be studied later. Aspects of these tasks may be considered in the discussion of the platform design, but the aim and focus of the current discussion at this stage is the design of the discourse platform aiming at a decision about its configuration.

The main assumptions guiding the project are the following:
Human societies are (and will be) faced with conflicts, challenges and problems for which traditional and current tools, methods and responses are no longer adequate.

Responses by societies (or parts of societies) that are not acceptable to other parts or societies will lead to conflicts

The human tradition of ‘resolving’ conflicts by force – violence, wars, coercion, or deception, — will lead to more conflicts. Given the destructive potential and long duration of the damage inflicted by today’s weapons, wars and coercion is seen as increasingly counterproductive and endangering the well-being and survival not only of the ‘losers’ of such conflicts but also that of the ‘victors’ as well as other societies – indeed, the survival of human civilization on the planet.

The ‘economies’ of human societies have relied on techniques and resource exploitation that have already led to the extinction of many other living species, endangered many more; and caused significant ecological damage. Thus, new approaches are urgently needed. They must be coordinated globally to avoid counterproductive results and more conflicts.

While scientific research and technological development have created information and tools of unprecedented quantity and quality, this knowledge is not adequately brought to bear on planning problem-solving processes. It is not contributing to development of constructive and sustainable solutions by being embedded into a planning discourse aiming at decisions reliably based on adequate understanding of the problems, on valid information and on the aims and concerns of affected parties.

To the extent meaningful discourse takes place for these challenges, current decision-making tools and methods do not guarantee that decisions are based on the merit of discussion contributions, and arguably encourage the dismissals of valid concerns of large groups by ostensibly ‘democratic’ methods such as majority voting.

The proposal aims at eventually developing a better planning discourse support system to deal with these challenges.

Current technology, methods and tools for a fully functional PDSS system are not yet available; the proposed development of a small-scale ‘pilot’ system aims at facilitating its development by means of experiments using currently available tools.

While the internet, current communication and social media technology might be expected to offer adequate resources for the needed planning discourse platform, there are significant shortcomings in current practice that call for improvement and innovation.

Examples of problems that the proposed platform tries to address:

– Discourse too often facilitated by partisan interests

– Poorly organized discourse:
– Disorganized
– ‘Debates’ focus on election of candidates not on merit of plans
– Discussions on ‘social media’ favor ‘conversation’ not conclusions, decisions – just airing ‘opinions’

– Powerful partisan institutions constrain discourse:
– By controlling media
– By controlling ‘narrative’
– By controlling ‘perspective’
– Decisions ignoring discourse

– Public participation
– Constrained by ‘voter apathy’; (a sense that participation won’t make much difference
– Insufficient incentive (not worth the effort);
Effort of participation too high
– Disciplinary ‘expert’ jargon
– Core of information drowned in repetitious comments (overload)

– Lack of adequate overview
– Of all concerns and factors (complexity)
– Of relationships between topics, issues,
forces and variables

– Confusing multitude of ‘new’ approaches, techniques
– Offered as overall framework for discourse but mostly focusing on single aspects of overall planning process

– Lack of measures of quality / merit of discourse contributions
– Even ‘fact-checking’ does not cover all claims

– Inadequate connection between discourse merit and decisions

– Decision modes allowing disregard of discussion merit
– Voting overrides minority concerns
– ‘Leadership’ authority to decide

– Inadequate provisions to ensure adherence to agreements / decisions.

T h e   p r o p o s e d    ‘p i l o t’   p l a t f o r m

Responses to a first proposal for such a framework on the Facebook page ‘Ecology of Systems Thinking’ (EoST) suggested some simplifications. A first suggestion was to keep the effort within the EoST group instead of starting a new group, though this would generate fewer options for the hierarchy of sub-threads of different discussion topics. This option remains open for discussion: the description below assumes a separate group for each new ‘project.

For this basic version, no provisions for contribution ‘reward’ credits are made, and ‘decisions’ will be determined by the number of ‘likes’ and negative emojis for an issue position. Nor are provisions for systematic evaluation of planning arguments included in the main process, since the FB platform does not facilitate the needed formatting. Options for these provision swill be offered as ‘special techniques.

 

A key assumption is that participants in the project discussions will be committed to reach a ‘decision’ (a recommendation, or an agreement for further coordinated work, at least a ‘resolution’ about a controversial issue). This will generate structural requirements that prevent the discourse from degenerating into the kind of interesting but rambling, poorly coordinated conversation we see on social networks even for significant issues.

The structure of the resulting revised framework will be as follows:

1 A new Group (or EoST subgroup) will be started for selected planning projects. The first project will be the discussion, refinement and testing of its own planning discourse provisions and procedures, building on the following proposal.

2 The project’s starting thread will provide a brief introduction and aim of the project. A listing of achieved ‘decisions’ for each raised issue will be added here as the discussion proceeds and yields decisions. Several ‘standard’ threads will then be started:

A ‘Procedural agreements’ thread.
These agreements outline the procedural steps and decision ‘rules’ governing the process. Participants are assumed to agree with these provisions by entering to the discussion. A ‘standard’ set of agreements can be adjusted to the requirements of each project, and can be changed later if needed. (> ‘Next step’ below)

A ‘General Comments’ thread
Participants will begin to raise questions, make suggestions, seek clarification etc. There will be no special format requirements other than general ‘netiquette’ and expected relevance to the project.

A thread for ‘candidate issues’, ‘raised issues’ and overview maps
Drawing from the material in the ‘General comments’, moderator or participants enter suggested topics or issues for detailed discussion. Simple overview maps listing the topics or issues, distinguishing ‘candidate issues and ‘raised issues’ aim to inform members of the state of the discourse. ‘Raised issues’ are questions for which members are starting a separate thread discussion. (>> #3 below).

A ‘Reference and links’ thread
Many posts and comments include links to other sources, pages, and literature. These will stay with the original post but be assembled in one comprehensive list for easy reference and to avoidi repetition.

3 Each ‘raised issue’ will receive a separate thread; participants will then begin discussion of that specific issue in that thread.
Posts should focus on the subject of the thread and avoid ‘off-topic’ comments. Comments introducing new topics should be posted in the ‘general comments’ thread.

4 ‘Next Step?’ call or motion. Within each thread, at any time, or when the discussion about an issue appears to converge or dries up, a ‘Next step?’ motion can be entered, to proceed to one of the following steps:
– Decision; (see next item 5)
– Entering a ‘special techniques’ process; (>> Special techniques examples, Appendix)
– Request for special information (research);
– Further discussion;
– Changing procedural agreements (e.g. decision criteria / voting majorities);
– Ending discussion without further steps or decision (‘dropping the issue’).
The ‘next step’ motion should specify the next step called for.
Each of these steps may have to be decided based on different rules (e.g. ‘like’ ratios) as specified in the procedural agreements.

After completing the requested steps (except ‘decision’ and ‘stop’) the process will return to the ‘Next step’ phase.

5 Decision. Within each thread or for the main project, ‘next step’ calls for a ‘decision or agreement should spell out the proposition or plan feature to be ‘voted’ upon.
While the aim of the entire effort is to eventually develop better decision procedures that will forge a closer link between the merit of contributions and the decision, the proposals for such procedures require platform features that are not yet available on social network platforms. Thus, the procedure agreements draft below only provides steps that merely ‘nudge’ a discussion group to make decisions after careful consideration of all concerns entered, (for example by presenting core concerns in concise but comprehensive overview diagrams. The decisions would then be made by conventional means such as majority-rule means, using features such as the FB ’like’ or emoji tools. Examples include agreed-upon ratios between the number of ‘likes’ and the total number of participants in a given process. Each project group is encouraged to craft its own rules – innovative or traditional – about how it will reach agreements.
Decision results will be entered in the main project overview thread, gradually building up a summary of the discussion’s outcome.

===

A p p e n d i x

A1 Procedural agreements (draft)

These procedural agreements are written for projects using the Facebook platform as a familiar example, using FB provisions, simply because the first discussions were carried out on FB. Such discourses can of course be conducted on other platforms; the agreements would then have to be adapted as necessary given the provisions and constraints of the respective platform.
It should be kept in mind that the proposed platform aims at facilitating problem-solving, planning, design, policy-making discussions that are expected to result in some form of decision or recommendation to adopt plans for action, rather than mere conversation, however insightful and enlightening those may be.

Project groups.
For each planning or problem-solving ‘Project’, a separate FB group with the respective title will be started by its moderator.

Group members
Participants or ‘group members’ are assumed to have read and agreed to these provisions.

Discussion
Project discussion can be ‘started’ with a Problem Statement, a Plan Proposal, or a general question or issue. The project will be briefly described in the first thread. Another thread labeled ‘Project (or issue)… General comments’ will then be set up, for comment on the topic or issue with questions of explanation clarification, re-phrasing, answers, arguments and suggestions for decisions. Links or references should be accompanied by a brief statement of the answer or argument made or supported by the reference.

Candidate Issues
Participants and moderator can suggest candidate topics or issues (potentially controversial questions about which divergent positions and opinions exist or are expected, that should be clarified or settled before a decision is made). These will be listed in a thread of Candidate and Raised Issues. There, participants can enter ‘Likes’ to indicate whether they consider it necessary to ‘raise’ the issue for a detailed discussion. Likely issue candidates are questions about which members have posted significantly different positions in the ‘General comments’ thread; such that the nature of the eventual plan would significantly change depending on which positions are adopted.

‘Raised’ issues
Issue candidates supported by at least __ % of the number of registered ‘member’ participants become Raised issues; highlighted as such in the thread. Each ‘raised’ issue will then become the subject of a separate thread, where participants post comments (answers, arguments, questions) to that issue.

It will be helpful to clearly identify the type of issue or question, so that posts can be clearly stated (and eventually evaluated) as answers or arguments: for example:
– Explanations, definitions, meaning and details of concepts to ‘Explanatory questions’;
– Statements of ‘facts’ (data, answers, relationship claims) to Factual questions;
– Suggestions for (cause-effect or means to ends) relationships, to Instrumental questions;
– Arguments to deontic (ought-) questions or claims such as ‘Plan A should be adopted’, for example: ‘Yes, because A will bring about B given conditions C , B ought to be pursued, and conditions C are present’).

‘Next step’ motion
Participants and moderator can request a ‘Next Step?’ interruption of the discussion, for example when the flow of comments seems to have dried up and a decision or a more systematic treatment of analysis or evaluation is called for. The ‘Next step’ call should specify the type of next step requested. It will be decided by getting a minimum number of __ % ‘likes’ of the total number of participants. A ‘failed’ next step motion will automatically activate the motion of continuing the discussion. Failing that motion or subsequent lack of new post will end discussion of that issue.

Decisions
Decisions (to adopt or reject a plan or proposition) are ‘settled’ by a minimum of __% of the total number of participants. The outcome of decisions of ‘next step?’ motions will be recorded in the Introduction thread as Results, whether they lead to an adoption, modification, rejection of the proposed measure or not.

 

‘Special techniques’
In the main ‘basic’ version of the s∏ process, no special analysis, solution development, or evaluation procedures are provided, mainly because the FB platform does not easily accommodate the formatting needed. The goal of preparing decisions or recommendations may make it necessary to include such tools – especially more systematic evaluation –than just reviewing pro and con arguments. If such techniques are called for in a ‘Next step?’ motion, special technique teams must be formed to carry out the work involved and report the result back to the group, followed by a ‘next step’ consideration. A few examples of such tools are described in the following Appendix 2.

A2 Special techniques and procedures’ – Examples

While the proposal is acknowledged to be based on a view of planning as an ‘argumentative’ process, the platform itself will have to be as ‘perspective-neutral’ as possible. This means that structural or procedural provisions of the platform should not prevent members from introducing different perspectives, paradigms, approaches, into the discourse but facilitate such efforts. Even the creation of new ways of approaching a problem situation can be an integral part of an individual or group’s response: the approach becomes an integral part of the final ‘solution’ and defines ‘who we are’ as part of the emerging situation.
The introduction of other perspectives will always occur through communication – Discourse – which therefore is the most open ‘perspective’ we can think of that can accommodate all other vocabularies.

The ‘Special techniques’ component of the platform can be seen as a ‘tool kit’ of techniques and perspectives that can be introduced into a planning process, but which require format provisions not accommodated by the Facebook platform. The following examples are just that, examples of techniques or procedures that require slightly different, more structured work and output patterns than the sequence of posts in the discourse thread.

Examples of techniques or services that cannot easily be done in regular thread discussion format include:

+ Information and data-gathering searches and experiments, including AI-based data analysis programs;
+ Idea-generating small group techniques such as brainstorming and related approaches;
+ ‘Pattern Language’ and related approaches;
+ ‘Counterplanning’ (Churchman) approaches;
+ Evaluation techniques such as
– The systematic assessment of planning arguments; (>>A3)
– Formal evaluation procedures to evaluate solution alternatives;
– ‘Benefit-Cost Analysis’ and related approaches;
– Examination of proposed plans for compliance with rules, regulations, ‘best practice’ principles;
+ Problem explorations and analysis techniques such as
– Root cause analysis;
– ‘Systematic Doubt’ analysis of a problem’s necessary conditions and contributing factors;
– Systems modeling techniques of various kinds;
+ Participation Incentive provisions (‘Contribution credits’ modified by merit assessment;
(e.g. based on plausibility or argument weight measures derived from argument assessment)

—-

A3 Evaluation of planning arguments

If the group decides (upon a ‘next step’ move) to perform a systematic evaluation of the pro and con arguments about an issue or a plan proposal, two worksheets will be prepared:
a) A listing of all the deontic claims (goals, objectives, concerns) referred to in all the arguments offered about the issue in which all arguments are listed; and
b) An argument assessment worksheet listing all arguments with all their premises stated explicitly (including premises that were left instated as ‘taken for granted’ in the original post).

Each participant will first assign weight of relative importance w to the goals in sheet (a), on a scale 0 to +1 such that all weight add up to 1.

These weights will then be entered in sheets (b) for the respective deontic premises. All premises will then be given a plausibility score pl, on a scale -1 (totally implausible) to +1 (totally plausible, virtually crtain) with centerpoint 0 meaning ‘don’t know, can’t decide’ to all premises.

From these judgments, argument plausibility scores argpl (product of all pl scores), argument weights argw (argpl times w of the respective deontic premise) and Plan plausibility Plpl (sum of all argw) will be calculated. These scores are all individual judgments. Statistics of judgments across the group of evaluators (Mean scores, maximum and minimum scores, range, variance) can be derived for analysis and discussion.
The results will be reported and explained back to the group, for another ‘next step?’ decision. How the results will be used in the decision process is a matter to be agreed upon by the group and set down in the procedural agreements ahead of running the evaluation.

A4 Discourse contribution points
The feature of awarding discourse contribution points to participants in the pilot version of the platform discourse is up for discussion. It would be desirable for various reasons, but is not yet supported by the standard provisions of the FB platform. It would therefore have to be done outside of the regular discussion platform as a ‘special techniques’ task. The basic steps involved are the following:

1 Participants in the discussion receive a ‘basic’ contribution credit point for every contribution. This is an ‘empty’ point at first; signifying that the participant has made a contribution; but the point will become an actual ‘reward’ if the content of the post is the ‘first’ to the discussion. Repetitions (posts conveying essentially the same content) will not receive awards. (This encourages not only participation itself, but also speedy contributions).
2 Either by means of other / all participants assigning ‘plausibility’ judgments (on the scale of -1 to +1) to each contribution point, or by applying the plausibility values assigned to arguments / argument premises in the course of systematic argument assessment (see A3) the reward points will be modified by multiplying them with the mean group plausibility values. (This will discourage unsupported and flawed contributions).
3 Participants will build up an ‘account’ of contribution merit points – its total value will represent a ‘reputation’ score based on the group’s assessment of the merit of a participant’s contributions.

The contribution merit accounts should become a fungible ‘currency’ used for a variety of possible purposes, but this is beyond the scope of the experimental discussions on the ‘basic’ pilot platform, where those possibilities might merely be explored in detail and discussed.

Process of contribution credit use

The feature of rewarding discourse participants with ‘contribution credits’ can take different forms, depending on the range of uses and the main priorities aimed at:
– providing incentives for speedy participation, reducing redundancy: a minimal version;
– increasing depth of consideration by adding plausibility assessment to items contributed;
– strengthening the connection between evaluated merit of contributions and final decisions.
The initial assignment of a reward marker or ‘container’ for reward is necessary for all subsequent features.

Steps:

1 The first time a participant posts a comment (e.g. a argument) to the discussion, a ‘contribution credit account is established. Subsequently, the participant is assigned a ‘neutral’ credit point for each substantial content claim of a post IF that claim is ‘new’, meaning that it (or an essentially identical but differently worded claim) has not already been entered by another participant. (Claims or proposals posted after another post has been entered but not yet displayed for other participants to see may receive partial credit.)
2 The contribution will be entered into a ‘formatted’ display such as an argument assessment worksheet, for evaluation by the entire group of participants. For arguments, each participant will assign a ‘plausibility’ score pl – on a scale from -1 (totally implausible) to +1 (totally plausible) with the midpoint ‘zero’ meaning ‘don’t know’, ‘can’t judge’, to all premises of all arguments. Deontic (ought-) claims will also be given a ‘weight of relative importance’ judgment w, on a scale from zero to +1 such that the sum of weights of all deontics equals +1. Other contributions – e.g. plan proposals, or proposals for details of plans, are just given plausibility scores.
3 A statistical value of all these (e.g. mean value) of these assessments will be used to modify the initial credit point (e.g. by multiplying the latter with the plausibility average.
4 The statistical analysis (e.g. range of scores, or variance) may reveal considerable differences of opinion about the item, in which case more discussion, more research or information search may be called for. Step 3 may then be repeated if, for example, an initial plausibility score is revised after the author has presented further evidence in its favor, or another comment has shown it to be incorrect or implausible. The ‘final’ adjusted value is added to the author’s credit account.
5 One possible use of the resulting credit account may be its use as a complement to standard voting. If the size of the credit account can be seen as a measure of the merit of a participant’s contribution, the participant’s vote might be ‘weighted’ according to the size of the account. The result would be an indication of the impact of valuable information on the decision, giving more of a ‘say’ to participants who have demonstrated not only participation but having provided valuable information (in the view of all participants).
6 The credit account can become an added criterion for the appointment of candidates for offices whose holders will have to make decisions that cannot be validated by lengthy discussions.
7 A potential tool for helping to prevent such office holders from falling victim to the temptations of power might be to require that each ‘power decision’ must be ‘paid’ for with an appropriate amount of credit points. When an officer’s credit account is exhausted, that person will have no more ‘power’ to make important decisions – unless other citizens transfer credit points from their accounts, a step that will also make those supporters ‘accountable’ for the decisions, to the extent of their own contributions.

—–


CRA Again

The curious news surrounding the CRA related agencies of the City prompt us to review a lament by Abbé Boulah from almost a decade ago, presented to the revered public among other strange tales in the book ‘Abbe´ Boulah!’ (XLibris 2009) which the revered public as the respective agencies have lamentably ignored, (just like similar reminders of unsavory real-estate goings-on in our City earlier on — actually last millennium — that were laid out, somewhat disguised in befogged discussions about architecture, building economics, planning discourse and other fascinating ruminations in a more recent book ‘Rigatopia’ – Lambert Academic Publishing 2015). Here is the premonition-laden text of the CRA chapter in ‘Abbé Boulah!:

“CRA Sticking in Abbé Boulah’s CRAw”

(From a letter by Abbé Boulah to his friend, a learned consultant on municipal government)

… By the whiskers of Holy Apostrophoulos of Kalambaka! Enlighten me on this latest conundrumous invention of the government of the City of Our Stuckness.

What elicits this degree of raging curiosity — or curious rage — about the intricacies of city governance, you ask? Today, it is the phenomenon of CRA, a device that seems uniquely suited to generate confusion in the minds of citizens. Why, isn’t it enough that those acrimonious acronyms which stick in my CRAw refer both to an agency (the Community Redevelopment Agency) AND the area (Community Redevelopment Area) designated by that agency for its selective and devious financial machinations? Wise knowleati tell me that those machinations are an instance of TIF — tax increment financing — which involve a commitment to set aside the taxes that accrue on the increase of property values as a result of the beneficial planning the CRAgency intends to unleash on the designated CRArea, to be spent solely on further infrastructure improvements in that specific area, so that it will prosper and become attractive and thereby benefit the entire community.

Sounds good, you say? I will agree that everybody should be interested in furthering the welfare and prosperity of all sectors of our town, and especially the downtown area. I do love wandering around in lively and mysterious cities, savoring their sights and smells and temptations of all senses. And I do lament, in my most high-pitched wailing voice, the way American cities seem to engage in an competition to eradicate those temptations from the walkable cityscape.

But today, dear friend and connoisseur of magistrative secrets, tell me this: Does the City not have as its main purpose to collect taxes to provide services and improvements for its residents in all its neighborhoods? And the County as well? So is the City in its entirety not a kind of CRA(rea) by definition? And the respective Government a CRA(gency)? And the same for the County?

Now, there seem to be areas in the City with problems that warrant special attention. Correct my naive ignorance: does this not strongly suggest either that those areas have been neglected (by comparison with other, better off areas) or that such special attention intends to bestow above-average benefits on those designated areas? In brief: that the government has been negligent in its duty to fairly distribute its resources, so that some areas are falling behind whatever expectations might be appropriate? Or intends to commit unfairness by future uneven distribution of resources?

While waiting expectantly for satisfactory answers to this question, there arises another in my curioucynical mind: Ready to praise and applaud the government for its insight that something has not gone right, we are stopped short, confounded and baffled by the measures taken with these CRA’s. Do the city, as well as the county governments, not have several departments toiling away on their charges to manage growth, to plan, to enhance economic development, to enforce its regulations, to attract new enterprises and financial investment here? Do we not have a Downtown Improvement Agency striving for the same admirable goals? Does the Chamber of Commerce not have committees racking their brains about the same conundrums? Did we not have blue-ribbon and zerostudded (1) volunteer citizens task forces attempting to provide our illustrious governments with guidance about all these issues?

So why do the venerable City Deadbeat Dads (Holy Chinchindra of Calcutta, forgive me for these unkind thoughts that intrude upon my inquiry) come up with this scheme of yet another agency to deal with these problems? Another agency, to be staffed and founded, housed and supplied with printer ink, toiling away making surveys one would have thought would fall under the regular monitoring duties of one or the other of the existing departments, making plans that either agree with or differ from the plans made by other agencies, which either way then have to be checked, negotiated and coordinated with all those other folks?

Why cannot the simple commitment to spend the tax money fairly and wisely on all areas of this great Town and County be achieved with a simple policy change and declaration by the governments involved — or with a statement of constitutional analysis that this is after all the basic charge of the government in the first place? Would this require too much in the way of admitting past misdeeds? We are not even asking for contrition, by all the scarecrows of Vladivostok!

Or could it be, Heaven forbid, that they are ever so slyly conceding the UNthinkable notion that such a policy declaration can’t be trusted to be adhered to in the long run? That in fact, policy statements by government aren’t worth the papyrus they are printed on, unless they come complete with fully funded new agencies and trust funds to guarantee the orderly distribution of monies? There are, to be sure, other questions besides these, that rob me of my deserved slumber. It may be too paranoid to spell them out, but some do require clarification. For example, why is nobody even conceiving of the possibility that citizens residing just outside the gerrymanderingly drawn borders of the CRA(reas) might begin harboring suspicions and concerns? To the effect, for example, that they will be comparatively less well-served by the combined efforts of governmental agencies? that they are at the mercy of the very agencies whose work has led to the deficiencies inside the CRA’s, instead of now becoming the beneficiaries of the superior wisdom, attention and benevolence of the surely infinitely more highly qualified CRAgents?

I shall not even entertain the mischievous and Danaherous (2) notion that some may be as suspicious of the competence of the CRAgents as they have by now been led (by the nose) to be of the existing agencies. What is the guarantee that there might not be areas within the respective CRA’s that might be as comparatively neglected or unfairly bestowed with preferential treatment, as the entire CRA has been in the city as a whole? I have heard the argument that the CRA is needed to instill confidence in potential investors and business leaders we’d like to attract: confidence they are now lacking? confidence that they will make a decent profit on their investment. Do we really want to attract investors who fall for this kind of tomfoolery? Unless the term ‘confidence’ be associated with ‘scheme’…

My head, dear friend, is spinning with those questions. And what makes me most suspicious is that I have not been able to pull up and read the full information the City has claimed to have posted on the CRA, on its website, and that the ‘citizen comment’ section there has a mere three brief, enthusiastic testimonials that contain no real argument or information, just pollyannic praise, posted by members of the very agency itself.

Yours in exasperation
Abbé Boulahghpfght (with a silent ghpfght).

Notes:
1) The reference is to a task force called Blueprint 2000, an entity once looking boldly forward in developing plans and priorities for big infrastructure projects around the city — but not, it turns out, looking far enough into the
future and thus inadvertently condemning itself to instant obsolescence as soon as the millennium was reached. Quite apart from the fact that blueprints themselves have been a thing of ancient history for decades…)

2) This word-butchering creation refers to the late Eugene Danaher, a self-appointed Government Watchdog who has made a considerable nuisance of himself by habitually and heroically asking such uncomfortable questions; it will never be known how much mischief he has prevented doing this. (At the time of the CRAcreation he was still around; may he rest in peace in a realm where his meritorious efforts are no longer needed).

*****


A paradoxical effect of thorough examination of planning pros and cons

In the Fog Island Tavern:

– Bog-Hubert, I hear you had a big argument you had in here with Professor Balthus last night? Sounds like I missed a lot of fun?
– Well, Sophie, I’m not sure it was all fun; at least the good prof seemed quite put out about it.
– Oh? Did you actually admit you haven’t read his latest fat book yet?
– No. Well, uh, I haven’t read the book yet. And he knows it. But it actually was about one of Abbé Boulah’s pet peeves, or should i say his buddy’s curious findings, that got him all upset.
– Come on, do tell. What about those could upset the professor — I thought he was generally in favor of the weird theories of Abbe Boulah’s buddy?
– Yes — but it seems he had gotten some hopes up about some of their possibilities — mistakenly, as I foolishly started to point out to him. He thought that the recommendations about planning discourse and argument evaluation they keep talking about might help collective decision-making achieve more confidence and certainty about the issues they have to resolve, the plans they have to adopt or reject.
– Well, isn’t that what they are trying to do?
– Sure — at least that was what the research started out to do, from what I know. But they ran into a kind of paradoxical effect: It looks like the more carefully you try to evaluate the pros and cons about a proposed plan, the less sure you end up being about the decision you have to make. Not at all the more certain.
– Huh. That doesn’t sound right. And the professor didn’t straighten you out on that?
– I don’t think so. Funny thing: I started out agreeing that he must be right: Don’t we all expect decision-makers to carefully examine all those pros and cons, how people feel about a proposed plan, until they become confident enough — and can explain that to everybody else — that the decision is the right one? But when I began to explain Abbé Boulah’s concern — as he had mentioned it to me some time ago — I became more convinced that there’s something wrong with that happy expectation. And that is what Abbé Boulah’s research seems to have found out.
– You are speaking strangely here: on examination, you became more convinced that the more we examine the pros and cons, the less convinced we will get? Can you have it both ways?
– Yeah, it’s strange. Somebody should do some research on that — but then again, if it’s right, will the research come up with anything to convince us?
– I wish you’d explain that to me. I’ll buy you a glass of Zinfandel…
– Okay, maybe I need to rethink the whole thing again myself. Well, let me try: Somebody has proposed a plan of action, call it A, to remedy some problem or improve some condition. Or just to do something. Make a difference. So now you try to decide whether you’d support that plan, or if you were king, whether you’d go ahead with it. What do you do?
– Well, as you said: get everybody to tell you what they see as the advantages and disadvantages of the plan. The pros and cons.
– Right. Good start. And now you have to examine and ‘weigh’ them, carefully, like your glorious leaders always promise. You know how to do that? Other than to toss a coin?
– Hmm. I never heard anybody explain how that’s done. Have to think about it.
– Well, that’s what Abbé Boulah’s buddy had looked at and developed a story about how it could be done more thoroughly. He looked at the kinds of arguments people make, and found the general pattern of what he calls he ‘standard planning argument’.
– I’ve read some logic books back in school, never heard about that one.
– That’s because logic never did look at and identified let alone studied those. Not sure why, in all the years since ol’ Aristotle…
– What do they look like?
– You’ve used them all your life, just like you’ve spoken prose all your life and didn’t know it. The basic pattern is something like this: Say you want to argue for a proposed plan A: You start with the ‘conclusion’ or proposal:
“Yes, let’s implement plan A
because
1. Plan A will result in outcome B — given some conditions C;
and we assume that
2. Conditions C will be present;
and
3. We ought to aim for outcome B.”
– It sounds a little more elaborate than…
– Than what you probably are used to? Yes, because you usually don’t bother to state the premises you think people already accept so you ‘take them for granted’.
– Okay, I understand and take it for granted. And that argument is a ‘pro’ one; I assume that a ‘con’ argument is basically using the same pattern but with the conclusion and some premises negated. So?
– What you want to find out is whether the decision ‘Do A’ is plausible. Or better: whether or to what extent it is more plausible than not to do A. And you are looking at the arguments pro and con because you think that they will tell you which one is ‘more plausible’ than the other.
– Didn’t you guys talk about a slightly different recipe a while back — something about an adapted Poppa’s rule about refutation?
– Amazing: you remember that one? Well, almost: it was about adapting Sir Karl Raimund Popper’s philosophy of science principle to planning: that we are entitled to accept a scientific hypothesis as tentatively supported or ‘corroborated’ as they say in the science lab, to the extent we have done our very best to refute it, — show that it is NOT true, — and it has resisted all those attempts and tests. Since no supporting evidence’ can ever conclusively ‘prove’ the hypothesis but one true observation of the contrary can conclusively disprove it. It’s the hypothesis of that all swans are white — never proved by any number of white swans you see, but conclusively shot down by just one black swan.
– So how does it get adapted to planning? And why does it have to be adapted, not just adopted?
– Good question. In planning, your proposed plan ‘hypothesis’ isn’t true or false — just more or less plausible. So refutation doesn’t apply. But the attitude is basically the same. So Abbé Boulah’s buddy’s adapted rule says: “We can accept a plan proposal as tentatively supported only to the extent we have not only examined all the arguments in its favor, but more importantly, all the arguments against it — and all those ‘con’ arguments have been shown to be less plausible or outweighed by the ‘pro’ arguments.”
– Never heard that one before either, but it sounds right. But you keep saying ‘plausible’? Aren’t we looking for ‘truth’? For ‘correct’ or ‘false’?
– That’s what Abbé Boulah and his buddy are railing against — planning decisions just are not ‘correct’ or ‘false’, not ‘true’ or false. We are arguing about plans precisely because they aren’t ‘true’ or ‘false’ — yet. Nor ‘correct or ‘false’, like a math problem. Planning problems are ‘wicked problems’; the decisions are not right or wrong, they are ‘good or bad’. Or, to use a term that applies to all the premises: more or less plausible, which can be interpreted as true or false only for the rare ‘factual’ claims or premises, or more likely ‘probable’ for the factual-instrumental premises 1 and factual claims, premise 2, but as just plausible, or good or bad, for the ought claims, premise 3, and the ‘conclusion’.
– Okay, I go along with that. For now. It sounds… plausible?
– Ahh. Getting there, Sophie; good. It’s also a matter of degrees, like probability. If you want to express how ‘sure’ you are about the decision or about one of the premises, just the terms ‘plausible and ‘implausible’ are not expressing that degree at all. You need a scale with more judgments. One that goes from ‘totally plausible’ on one side to ‘totally implausible’ on the other, with some ‘more or less’ scores in-between. One with a midpoint of ‘don’t know, can’t decide’. For example, a scale from +1 to -1 with midpoint zero.
– Hmm, It’s a lot to swallow, all at once. But go on. I guess the next task is to make some of your ‘plausibility’ judgments about each of the premises, to see how the plausibility of the whole argument depends on those?
– Couldn’t have said it better myself. Now consider: if the argument as a whole is to be ‘totally plausible’ — with a plausibility value of +1 — wouldn’t that require that all the premise plausibility values also were +1?
– Okay…
– Well — and if one of those plausibility values turns out to be ‘less that ‘totally plausible, let’s say with a pl value of 0.9 — wouldn’t that reduce the overall argument plausibility?
– Stands to reason. And I guess you’ll say that if one of them had a negative value, the overall argument plausibility value would turn negative as well?
– Very good! If someone assigns a -.8 plausibility value to the premise 1 or 3, for example, in the above argument that is intended as a ‘pro’ argument, that argument would turn into a ‘con’ argument — for that person. So to express that as a mathematical function, you might say that the argument plausibility is equal to either the lowest of the premise plausibility values, or a product of all those values. (Let’s deal with the issue of what to do with cases of several negative plausibilities later on, to keep things simple. Also, some people might have questions about the overall ‘validity’ or plausibility of the entire argument pattern, and how it ‘fits’ the case at hand; so we might have to assign a pl-value to the whole pattern; but that doesn’t affect the issue of the paradox that much here.)
– So, Bog-Hubert, lets get back to where you left off. Now you have argument plausibility values; okay. Weren’t we talking about argument ‘weight’ somewhere? Weighing the arguments? Where does that come in?
– Good question! Okay — consider just two arguments, one ‘pro’ and one ‘con’. You may even assume that they both have good overall plausibilities, so that both have close to +1 (for the ‘pro’ argument) and -1 (for the ‘con’ argument). You might consider how important they are, by comparison, and thus how much of a ‘weight’ each should have towards the overall Plan plausibility. It’s the ‘ought’ premise — the goal or concern of the consequence of implementing the plan, that carries the weight. You decide which one is more important than the other, and give if a higher weight number.
– Something like ‘is it more important to get the benefit, the advantage of the plan, than to avoid the possible disadvantage?
– Right. And to express that difference in importance, you could use a scale from zero to +1, and a rule that all the weight numbers add up to +1. The ‘+1’ simply means that it carried the whole decision judgment.
– That’s a whole separate operation, isn’t it? and wouldn’t each person doing this come up with different weights? And, coming to think about it, different plausibility values?
– Yes: All those judgments are personal, subjective judgments. I know that many people will be quite disappointed by that — they want ‘objective’ measures of performance, about which there’s no quibbling. Sorry. But that’s a different issue, too — we’ll have to devote another evening and a good part of Vodçek’s Zinfandel supply for that one.
– Okay, so what you are saying is that, subjective or objective, we’re heading for the same paradox?
– Right again. First, let’s review the remaining steps in the assessments. We have the argument plausibility values — each person separately — and the weight or relative importance for each of the ‘ought premises. We can multiply the argument plausibility with the weight of the goal or concern in the ‘ought’ premise, and you have your argument weight. Adding them all up — remember that all the ‘con’ arguments will have negative plausibility values — will give you one measure of ‘plan plausibility’. You might then use that as a guide to making the decision — for example: to be adopted, a plan should have at least a positive pl-value, or at least a pl-value you’ve specified as a minimum threshold value for plan adoption.
– And that’s better than voting?
– I think so — but again, that’s a different issue too, also worth serious discussion. Depending on the problem and the institutional circumstances, decisions may have to be made by traditional means such as voting, or left to a ‘leader’ person in authority to make decisions. A plan-pl value would then just be a guide to the decision.
– So what’s the problem, the paradox?
– The problem is this: It turns out that the more arguments you consider in such a process, the more you examine each of the premises of the arguments (by applying the same method to the premises) and the more honest you are about your confidence in the plausibility of all the premises — they’re all about the future, remember, none can be determined to be 100% certain — the closer the overall pl-result will approach the midpoint ‘don’t know’ value, close to zero.
– That’s what the experiments and simulations of such evaluations show?
– Yes. You could see that already with our example above of just two arguments, equally plausible but one pro and the other con. If they also have the same weight, the plan plausibility would be zero, point blank. Not at all what the dear professor wanted to get from such a thorough analysis; very disappointing.
– Ahh. I see. Is he one of those management consultants who advise companies how to deal with difficult problems, and get the commissions by having to promise that his approaches will produce decisively convincing results?
– Oh Sophie — Let’s not go there…
– So the professor, he’s in denial about that?
– At least in a funk…
– Does he have any ideas about what to do about this? Or how to avoid it?
– Well, we agreed that the only remedy we could think of so far is to tweak the plan until it has fewer features that people will feel as ‘con’ arguments: until the plan -pl will at least be more visibly on the plus side of the scale.
– Makes you wonder whether in the old days, when people relied on auspices and ‘divine judgments’ to tip the scales, were having a wiser attitude about this.
– At least they were smart enough to give those tricks a sense of mystery and ritual — more impressive than just rolling dice — which some folks can see as a kind of prosaic, crude divine judgment?
– Hmm. If they made sure that all the concerns leading affected people to have concerns about a plan, what would be wrong with that?
– Other than that you’d have to load the dice — and worry about being found out? What’s the matter, Vodçek?
– You guys — I’ll have to cut you off…


Fog Island Tavern Spratly musings about what to be remembered for

> Hey Vodçek — are you starting a new trend in your famed Tavern — trying to revive the grand tradition of European Coffee houses a century ago, of providing daily newspapers for the customers to educate themselves on the evolution of the world’s affairs?
– Are you referring to the paper our esteemed professor Balthus is reading over there, Bog-Hubert? Sorry. He brought that over himself on his trip to the mainland yesterday. And it doesn’t seem to improve his mood, from the looks of it. So while I did think about your idea — not daily papers, but magazines like the New York Review of Books, out here people have the time to read those articles — I may have to rethink that. Even letting them bring in daily papers with bad news. Like the old rules ‘deliver your weapons and wet rain-gear at the reception desk’ Including Mullet Wrappers. Can’t have my customers get even more depressed than they are when they come in here for relief…
> Vodçek, Vodçek — you don’t even have a reception desk nor a maitre d’…
– A Tavern keeper can dream, can’t he? Well, I could have somebody carve a wooden one at the door, with nails to hang stuff on…?
> Can’t wait to see it. So do you have an idea what depressing news Professor Balthus is reading?
– Well, there seems to be a lot of it. He told me about one sad thing a while ago, sighing heavily — it wasn’t even news but an obituary.
> That can do it all right — a friend of his died?
– No, he didn’t even know the dearly departed.
> Are you worried about the fact that he’s down to reading the obits? We’re all getting there. Signs of a certain…maturity? But then again, the papers consists mostly of ever larger pictures these days, rather than news; so maybe there wasn’t much other news to read?
– Perhaps. It was the obituary relating, as the first remarkable item of his life, how the fellow had always been wearing his university baseball cap whenever he went outside. As a sign of his undying support of his alma mater, where he also worked for most of his life.
> Well, what’s wrong with that? Other than that your term ‘undying’ probably isn’t the best word here… Supporting a grand educational institution that enriches the knowledge and spirit of our young people, isn’t that a good thing?
– Now, Bog-Hubert my friend, how would you like to be remembered for the scruffy piece of headwear you use to cover up your bald spot, that you don’t even take off inside?
> Oooh, touché my substitute toupé. Sorry. Yes, perhaps you are right. Sailing off into that unknown night may be worrisome enough, especially if you don’t have much more to show for it than your cap to signal your dedication to something.
– Yes, something you can’t even claim credit for, any more that the touchdowns of your favorite football team…
> Makes you think all right. What would we want to be remembered for? Please, pour me a glass of that Sonoma Zin to think about it. Hallo, good evening, professor — Vodçek told me about that obituary you were reading in the Mullet Wrapper. Anything to help cheer you up after that depressing news? Join me in testing a glass of Zin?
o Hi Bog-Hubert, thanks. Zin, huh? Okay. In spite of the dubious alliterative associations. While we are talking about what we’d want to be remembered for?
– Well, not everybody can become famous leaders and statesmen or Nobel prize winners, eh?
> Like the great leaders who got famous by starting wars and having thousands of people killed? And then getting streets named after them? Statues in the squares? Even if some of those monuments are toppled if they lose the war, streets renamed for the general of the other army? There’s got to be a better way.
o Better way of what? Inventing an new and improved pesticide? Resolving conflicts between nations, quarrels that will be forgotten together with your name, precisely by virtue of having been resolved? Or being remembered for glorious victories?
> Putting it that way: if you were in a position to make war or peace, you’d want both? But it looks like that’s not as easy as it sounds.
o You are so right. But why is it that there seem to be more of those guys who are gambling on being the winning warmonger, than people who are successful avoiding the violent confrontations?
– More interesting boys toys? Aircraft carriers and MOABs and smart bombs and multi-million-dollar warplanes and the ultimate power gizmo: the red button for the start of the nuclear war?
> Coming to think about that — there may not be anybody around to remember even who won or lost that kind of altercation…
o Okay, so what would you do about the crises that keep coming up, that threaten to escalate into real wars? Or already have? Syria? North Korea? The Spratly issue?
* Spratly who?
o Haven’t read the paper, huh, Renfroe? No, right, it wasn’t in the paper, but in that book review magazine: the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Some small, barren islands, not much more than reefs, really, from what I hear. Where the Chinese are filling in sand and soil to make them larger and declaring them part of China, even though they are much closer to the Philippines.
> So what about that — if they are building up the islands so people can live there, what’s the crisis?
o   Well, it seems that they don’t do it just for people to build some family homes with a front and back yard. Looks like they think there’s oil underneath those islands. So the enlargements are for ports and oil rigs and airports — and for military bases to protect those.
> Wouldn’t that be a good thing too, have China a little less dependent on coal that’s now polluting the air there to the point where Beijingers have to walk around with breathing masks all the time?  That pollution is blown to other countries as well, and on the whole contributes to the weather issues that can’t be named in the US budget anymore?
– Would it be better if they’d build solar or wind power installations there, is that what you re saying? I mean, better than to replace one fossil fuel with another, that’s only a little less polluting than coal?
o Good point. But regardless what they are building there, there’s another implication that is worrying not only the countries around there but the whole international community depending on shipping.
–  Can you explain that? Ah — I think I see what you are talking about. Control of shipping lanes?
o  Excellent, Vodçek. Yes. If they ‘take possession’ of those islands, which they already claim they own, based on centuries-old records, by the way — with the customary waters extending so many miles from the shores around those islands, they will in effect control the entire South China Sea and its shipping lanes, as a kind of inland lake. Which will put them into a much more powerful position to dominate their neighbors around that sea — the Philippines, mainly, but also Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Borneo, Thailand etc. but any other nations who are using those shipping lanes for their trading and supplies.
– And make it more difficult and costly for the US, for example, to ‘protect’ the interests of those poor nations, with its aircraft carriers and battleships.
o Right. By the way, those other nations are claiming ownership of those islands, and building ports, bases, airports and the like out there, on different reefs and islands.
* Is there anything else on those islands? Do they even have drinkable water?
o   Just fish — and the possibility of oil and gas. Water? Not to my knowledge.
> Let them drink Zinfandel. But it sounds like a powder keg all right. Wasn’t there already some violent altercation some time ago, involving the Chinese and Vietnam? So what can be done about that? Is anything being done?
–   I think I heard about the Philippines complaining about that to the United Nations…
> Yeah, and with both small and big powers on the Security Council having blatantly ignored or failed to do anything about dozens if not hundreds of United Nations resolutions, are the Chinese going to pay any attention to that?
o Not likely. So our intrepid leader is sending our warships over there. For ‘exercises’.
> Really? That’s really asking for trouble, don’t you think?
* Why?
> Ah, Renfroe, that can’t be done indefinitely, can it? Not if you intend to keep your campaign promises of reducing the federal budget, eh? And is it going to ‘resolve’ the intentions of China just by sailing the carriers up and down the South China Sea, wasting money? Sooner or later, there’s going to be an ‘incident’. In response to which all the intrepid leaders involved will feel compelled to take ‘decisive action’ for which they will be remembered, remember? Which will become an expensive and bloody mess for everybody else.
– Hmm. So what would you do instead? Take over one of those islands, plant the flag there, claim it as the number fifty-something state, enlarge the size of it, and claim the shipping lanes?
> I can see building something like that one those reefs. Yeah! Collect all the garbage floating in the oceans and use it as part of the landfill. Even enlarge the existing islands with floating cities and land — fish farms, wind and wave and solar power generation, — that we can sell to the Philippines.
–   Or give the places to the Philippines outright, to manage and exploit.
>  You sly devil: you just want to make sure the Philippines will be on our side for any power struggles over there. Diplomacy, my scruffy headgear…
> Why not move the United Nations out there? Or the Eastern Hemisphere branch of it?
o   This kind of diplomacy-brainstorming is getting interesting. Next you’ll come up with a different version of that crazy idea of transforming the UN by declaring all the US states to be independent nations, with their own seats in the UN, thereby creating a very different balance of the voting balances in the UN General Assembly — wasn’t that on the platform of this weirdo who announced his run for president in the abandoned gas station in Sopchoppy? His one and only rally. Promising to dissolve the US as his first and only executive action before stepping down and out, thereby confusing all the US enemies who all of a sudden didn’t have their bedeviled enemy to cuss out anymore… Never heard about it? So now you want to create even more so-called nations to be our friends?
– Sure: just think about it: Get Abbé Boulah to sell the UN on starting many more Rigatopia-style communities out there — for refugees and as research prototypes for such settlements in many other places: experiments with alternative governance systems. Research stations, new International universities, conference centers… Ellmau and Davos are soo last millennium, eh…?
> And vacation destinations: Club South China Sea, or renamed after the glorious leader who’s going to do this. Rename the whole archipelago. Who was Spratly, anyway?
o   Some British captain who ‘discovered’ one of those islands in the 1800’s and lived to tell about it — the whole area is so treacherous for navigation that the mariners call it ‘Dangerous Grounds’, so earlier ships straying into it were not likely to get out. Now people can fly in and out; the main thing they are building is air strips. Renfroe, you seem to have an idea?
* Yeah, yeah: Gambling casinos to finance the whole thing…
> Ahh.  What’s the matter, Vodçek: you suddenly look — how do the Norwegians call it — so moolefoonk? You don’t like this?
– Sorry: I’m going to have to cut you guys off. Who’s going to come to this lowly Tavern anymore if somebody starts implementing your ideas…?


Some problems with the systematic assessment of planning arguments.

(Ref. e.g. the article ‘The Structure and Evaluation of Planning Arguments’ (Informal Logic, Dec. 2010, also slightly revised, in Academia.edu).

In an effort to explore phenomena, identifying shortcomings and errors, that can be seen as arguments against the too ready acceptance of the argumentative model of planning, I ran into a well-intentioned article full of claims and arguments that did not fit the simple clean basic model of the planning argument, and would cause some problems in their analysis and plausibility assessment. Briefly, there are three aspects of concern.

The first is the liberal use of verbs denoting the relationship between concepts that — in the basic planning argument — would be seen as plan features that cause outcomes or consequences. Reminder: the argumentative view shares the focus on cause-effect relationships with much of the systems modeling perspective: the ‘loops’ of systems networks are generated by changes in components / variables causing positive or negative changes in other variables. So the relationship constituting the ‘factual-instrumental’ premise of planning arguments is mostly seen as a cause-effect relationship.

Now the survey of arguments in the article mentioned above (not identified to protect the author until proven guilty, and because the practice is actually quite common) hardly ever actually uses the terms ’cause’ and ‘effect’ or their equivalent in arguments that clearly advocate certain policies and actions. Instead, one finds terms such as ‘reflects’, ‘advance’ (an adaptive response); ‘reinforce’, ‘seeks to.. ‘, ‘codifies’, ‘is wired to..’. ‘erodes’, ‘come to terms with…’. ‘speaks to…’, ‘retreats into…’,’crystallizes…’, ‘promotes’. ‘cross-fertilizes…, ’embraces’, ‘ ‘cuts across’, ‘rooted in…’, ‘deeply embedded ‘, ‘leverages’,
‘co-create’ and ‘co-design’, ‘highlight ‘, ‘re-ignite’. (Once the extent of such claims was realized in that article that was trying to make a case for ‘disrupting’ the old system and its propaganda, it became clear that the article itself was heavily engaged in the art of propaganda… slightly saddening the reader who was initially tending towards sympathetic endorsement of that case…)

This wealth of relationship descriptions is apt to throw the blind faith promoter of the simple planning argument pattern into serious self-recrimination: What is the point of thorough analysis of these kinds of argument, if they never appear in their pristine form in actual discourse? (The basic ‘standard planning argument’ pattern is the following: “Proposed plan X ought to be adopted because X will produce consequence Y given conditions C), and consequence Y ought to be pursued, (and conditions C are or will be given.)” True, it was always pointed out that there were other kinds of relationships than ‘will produce’; or ’causes’, at work in that basic pattern: ‘part-whole’, for example, or ‘association’, ‘acting as catalyst’, ‘being identical’ or synonymous with’, for example. But those were never seen as serious obstacles to their evaluation by the proposed process of argument assessment, as the above examples appear to be. How can they be evaluated with the same blunt tool as the arguments with plain cause-effect premises?

Secondly, the problems they cause for assessment are exacerbated by the fact that often, these verbs are qualified with expressions like ‘probably’; ‘likely to’, ‘may be seen as’ and other means of retreating from complete certainty regarding the underlying claims. The effect of these qualification moves is that the entire claim ‘probably x’ or ‘x is likely to advance y’ can now be evaluated as a fully plausible claim, and given a pl-value of +1 (‘completely plausible, virtually certain’) by a listener — since the premise obviously, honestly, does not claim complete certainty. This obscures the actual underlying suggestion that ‘x (actually) will advance y’ is far from completely plausible, and thus will lend more plausibility and weight to the argument of which it is a premise.

A third problem is that, upon closer inspection, many of the relationship claims are not just honest, innocent expressions of factual or functional relationships between real entities or forces. They are often themselves ‘laden’ with deontic content — subjective expressions of ‘good’ or ‘bad’: ‘x threatens y’, or ‘relativizes’, or ‘manipulates’ are valuing relationship descriptions: judgments about ‘ought-aspects that the proposed method reserved for the clearly deontic premises of planning arguments: the purported outcomes or consequences of plans.

What are the implications of these considerations for the proposal of systematic argument assessment in the planning discourse? (Other than the necessary acknowledgement that this very comment is itself a piece of propaganda…)

Apart from the option of giving up on the entire enterprise and leaving the subjective judgments by discourse participants unexamined, one response would be to devise ways of ‘separating’ the qualifying terms from the basic claims in the evaluation work sheets given to participants. They would be asked to assess the probability or plausibility of the basic premise claim, perhaps using the qualifying statements as a ‘guide’ to their plausibility judgment (like any other supporting evidence). This seems possible with some additional refinement and simplification of the proposed process.

It is less clear how the value-contamination of relationship descriptors could be dealt with. Changing the representation of arguments to the condensed form of the basic ‘standard planning argument’ pattern is already a controversial suggestion requiring considerable ‘intelligent’ assessment of arguments’ ‘core’ from their ‘verbatim’ version, both to get it ‘right’ and to avoid turning it into a partisan interpretation. The ‘intelligent computation’ needed to add the suggested separation of value from relationship terms to the already severely manipulated argument representation will require some more research — but doing that may be asking too much?

And it is not clear how these considerations can help participants deal with insidious argument patterns such as the recent beauty alleging media coverup of terrorist incidents in Sweden, and then using the objection that there was no evidence of such an incident, as a ‘clinching’ argument for the coverup: ‘see how clever they are covering it up?’


‘New System’ Priorities: Diversity or Unified Vision?

A Fog Island Tavern Discussion

– Hey Bog-Hubert – got over your post-election excitement yet?
– Not exactly, Vodçek.
– Not exactly – what does that mean, exactly? Or, well, approximately, if you don’t do exactly?
– Well, right now I’m just wondering about all the blogs and sites that are oh so urgently proposing this or that ‘new system’ that should be adopted instead…
– Haven’t they been doing that for a while?
– True. Maybe I’m just starting to pay more attention.
– And?
– And I’m getting more and more confused and aggravated.
– Why is that? Well, the confusion part I understand: there’s just too much of all that floating around. But what’s aggravating you? Isn’t it encouraging that people are starting to think about these issues some more?
– Sure, if they just were the right issues.
– So you think they aren’t? Hmm. I could use some explanation…
– Okay: I know you’ve been looking at things like that too. Briefly, what are the main groups of controversies you see?
– Main groups? You mean the political parties?
– No, Vodçek. Sorry, my question wasn’t clear. I’m talking about the groups that are basically saying those parties, and the system they’re a part of, need to be replaced with something new.
– Not all of them are suggesting something new; aren’t many of them claiming to be ‘conservative’?
– Right: but they don’t mean conserving things as they are, more like going back to some mythical previous better state of affairs, aren’t they?
– I see what you mean. Even if it’s something traditional, inherited, it wouldn’t be just like that old system, but something new based on old principles? Well, I see many ‘New System’ groups calling for a more or less radical re-thinking of how society should be organized. Ditch the current ones, all parts and subsystems. I don’t see much specific detail in those, of the New Systems, that one could examine and discuss. And then there are all those groups that are doing very specific ‘alternative’ things: the commons projects, alternative currencies, sustainable agriculture or permaculture communities, alternative energy technologies, etc. Many good ideas, but hard to see how they’d fit into an overall picture.
– I agree with your impressions there. Any of those well-intentioned causes you would want to join, become a part of to create the new society, saving the human race?
– Oh man, I have enough trouble keeping my humble tavern going from day to day. But you are right. I can’t say I share the enthusiasm some of those people seem to have.
– And do you think about why that might be? Other than that some of those guys are just trying to make you feel guilty by accusing you of laziness, apathy, stinginess for not giving them money, or worse?
– Well, do you have a good explanation? You aren’t doing much of that enthusiasm-activism yourself, am I right? Other than scribbling in your little notebook there when there’s nobody else here you can shoot the breeze with?
– Touché, my friend. But hey, there are some ideas in this little notebook, some thinking about those issues, that explain why I am not out there ‘doing’ things. Well, as long as there’s nobody else keeping you distracted here, perhaps we can discuss some of it?
– Okay. Starting with why I don’t think the world is ready for THE BIG NEW SYSTEM yet? Apart from the fact that those websites and flyers mostly consist of complaints about how bad things are and how those current ‘isms’ – capitalism, industrialism, neo-liberalism, globalism etc. – need to be ditched. As I said, few convincing specifics about what the new system should look like.
– I agree, we aren’t ready for another big system. Not sure I agree with your ‘yet’ – whether we should go for one big ‘unified’ system again. The record on the few experiments we had with those grand schemes hasn’t been too encouraging, would you agree?
– I really don’t know, Bog-Hubert. Human societies today, — technology, trade, travel, politics, communications — have developed too far to really ignore the calls for some global agreements and order. We can’t really go back to a state where we fumbled around in small isolated tribes, assuming the things we do have no effect across the globe. But I don’t think we really have any good ideas yet about what a better system should be.
– ‘Yet’, yet again – we need to get back to that. For now, I agree: Even among the people who think they have the key to the design of THE NEW system, there is precious little agreement about what it should look like. So I’d say the chances for consensus about that unified vision they all call for are pretty slim. We — if you talk about humanity as a whole – still do not know and can’t agree on what that better new system should be. We don’t really know what provisions in such a system would work and what wouldn’t.
– So?
– So we should take a closer look at those alternative initiatives, experiments. Right now, I have come across estimates of such efforts already counting in the millions. No idea if it’s true, or what the bases for those numbers are. Most seem to be small, local, and struggling with limited resources. I think we can say that most of them are working in isolation, many trying to stay under the radar of ‘official’ systems that tend to see tem as subversive or worse. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t see that they communicate well either with the outside world or among themselves. If they do, it’s mainly promotion pieces focusing on their ideas and hopes and successes, if any. Not a good basis for accumulating systematic, valid information about what works and what doesn’t.
– Don’t some of them see their main focus as the very key to making the BIG system work, and ask the entire world to awaken and accept it? And give them all more money?
– True. But okay, they are entitled to their faith. What I’m saying is that we need those experiments – many more, and as different and diverse as possible.
– I agree; that’s why I list that as a high priority. There should be a concerted effort to encourage and support those – on the condition that they are voluntary, not forcing people to participate, don’t get in each other’s or the existing systems’ ways in disruptive or aggressive manner, and most importantly that they agree to share their experiences in some coordinated and systematic fashion that allows others, the world, to learn from what they are doing.
– Hmm. Sounds good – but hey, doesn’t that already require some kind of global system?
– You are right. But that is, first off, not a BIG BROTHER governance and decision-making system, only a documentation, evaluation and discussion platform. You could say that the development of such a platform itself is an experiment. Starting small and local, but yes, aiming at involving many or all such initiatives, so global.
– The agreements of that system, or platform, as you call it, will require some decisions though. Beyond local, so: global, after all?
– Right again. But the decisions are not all-embracing whole system design decisions. Not even excluding alternative forms of communication or interaction, or replacing other institutions. So to the extent decisions – yes, ‘global’ decisions – are aimed at, they are sufficiently innocuous to serve as the basis for experiments about how to develop better decision-making modes? Because the current decision-making modes are part of the problem, aren’t they?
– Getting into treacherous territory there, Bog-Hubert.
– Perhaps. But isn’t it getting more obvious every day that Voting – the crucial element and crux of democracy — it’s more of a crutch? Simple and straightforward, sure. But I don’t think you can say it guarantees that the democratic principles of self-determination or that all concerns people may have about common plans will actually be heard nor given ‘due consideration’. Majority voting by definition permits ignoring the concerns of the minority…
– Okay, okay. So what you are saying is that thee will be a need to design such a platform, and that one of its features will have to be better decision-making methods. Well, I agree, that is an agenda that we don’t hear much about in the public media and political platforms: Can you draw a diagram of all that while I get some more coffee going?
– Sure. Got a napkin?

new-system-priorities-1a

– Ok, looks good. I see you added some issues down there — getting carried away already?
– Well, think about it. So far, we agreed that what’s needed are
• The ‘alternative’ experiments
• A forum and provisions for sharing and evaluating their experiences
• A ‘discourse’ platform for working out the global ‘road rules’ agreements
But since those agreements are not within any governance jurisdiction, wouldn’t there be a need for
• Some provisions for ensuring that those agreements are actually adhered to ?
Because they can’t be ‘enforced’ by any of the usual government policing and jurisdiction systems, they would have to be a different kind of arrangements. So that will need some innovative work. And I think that there will be a need for a better way of
• Selecting and appointing ‘leaders’ – people in positions to make decisions that can’t wait for the outcome of lengthy discussions.
And to the extent these people will wield power, won’t we have to rethink the problem of how to prevent that power from becoming addictive, leading to the temptations to abuse their power? I seriously feel that some better
• Tools for controlling power should be on the agenda. We don’t say anything about their order yet.
– Good grief, that is quite a package of work you’ve lined up there. No wonder our fearless leaders and candidates are a bit, shall we say, reluctant to even mention some of those. Hard to make meaningful campaign promises about those, eh?
– Sure. Quite controversial – which is precisely why they should be on the agenda.
– Okay, Bog-Hubert: at least there should be some meaningful discussion about those issues.
– More meaningful than their current treatment in the media, is that what you are saying? Because at least for some of the issues that are being talked about, the flood of opinions and rhetoric is already unmanageable. Almost meaningless for guiding sensible decisions.
– I agree. But…
– But — what’s bothering you?
– Well: those headings in the diagram, they are still so general that they don’t say much more than the usual complaints about problems with this and that. Calls for something to be done, but no specific details yet that one can get behind, don’t you agree? So you’d face the same kind of lack of engagement on the part of the public I think you’d want to enlist for that discussion?
– You are right. In the current form, the diagram doesn’t convey much substance yet. We’ll have to discuss some details: explaining why some new ideas and agreements are needed, sketching out what each of those components would do.
– And indicate why you think they can be made to work. We may need some help from our friends there. Let’s think about it for a while, until some of our usual suspects turn up.

– Hi guys, what’s that napkin doodle you are poring over there?
– Hello Commissioner, welcome to our little team. We are trying to figure out what the agenda really should be that you folks in government ought to be working on. Priorities…

Alternative Initiatives and Experiments

– Hmm. What’s this thing about ‘alternative experiments at the top here? Sounds subversive.
– We should have known that would look odd to you, what with all your calls for unified vision and purpose?
– Well, isn’t that what we need these days, come together to work on the urgent, common project of a more viable system to get us out of the mess we’re in, and the bigger mess we’re going to be in if we keep working at cross-purposes?
– Hear, hear, Commissioner. Yes, we need a unified vision we can all work on. It’s just what I have been saying for a long time, too.
– Hi Sophie, good morning. Amazing: you agree with our politician for a change? Well, can you tell us what that great, unified vision is going to be?
– Wrong question, Bog-Hubert: it will emerge once we get everybody to become aware of the whole system and acquire a consciousness of all of us being part of that whole together with the entire ecosystem. A new ethic…
– Oh yeah, that will take care of the economy, solve unemployment, inequality, and crime, eh?
– Whoa, Commissioner, is that a trace of sarcasm I hear, already? Suggesting a profound disagreement about the kind of unified vision we are supposed to embrace?
– Well, Bog-Hubert, it’s not the same thing. Sorry, Sophie, but that consciousness thing is just wishful thinking. Not a sound practical basis for reorganizing society. It needs negotiated compromise. Don’t hit me…
– Hey people, cool it, okay? Let’s not get into a brawl about specific Unified System Visions here. You are actually making the argument here, about why we need all those alternative experiments.
– How so? You’ll have to explain that, Vodçek.
– Okay, in principle, I’d agree: it would be great if we found that unified vision of the new and better system so many groups out there are talking about. But look at our first attempt to describe what it would be or should be like: big disagreement erupting before we even got started, about what it means and how to get there.. And I don’t’ think it’s just the two of you. Too much disagreement about it out there, all over. Doesn’t that tell us something: we – I mean humanity in general – don’t really know what that system, that vision should look like? Even if somebody really knows, too many others have different ideas about it. Too many to expect a unified consensus about the common effort we should start to get there any time soon. So… I think what Bog-Hubert is trying to say here is…
– Yes. We should just acknowledge that we don’t know. We’ve been through that before you guys came in, but it can’t be said often enough. Especially about the big, global system many think is needed. We have tried a few big systems, and so far none of them have met with universal approval, in spite of the intense propaganda from their promoters that flooded the media. Can’t we admit: we don’t really know what works and what doesn’t work for the big challenges we are facing? And spending all our chips on another big system without better evidence looks like an even worse idea than the muddling through we are doing now.
– Hmm. You’ve got a point there – and that’s why you’d let all those alternative crazies work on their separate blueprints to save the world?
– Right. I’d try to avoid the kind of name-calling though; many of those initiatives are run by very intelligent and well-intentioned people. Some of their ideas actually make a lot of sense, and I think we need to learn how they work out. The people doing that are often just working on a volunteer basis, — much cheaper and often more effective than big government contracts to big think tanks. Though to be fair, I’m sure some useful work is done there too. Most of them are small, local projects, and many are unquestionably improving matters – take the sustainability, organic and permaculture food projects – and do no harm, which can’t be said of all the big corporate activities. So they should be encouraged and supported rather than treated with suspicion and bureaucratic obstacles. The more diverse, the better. We need to learn from their experiences. But…

Sharing and evaluating experiences

– I knew it; there’s a but butting in.
– Yes, Sophie. As far as I can see, most of those initiatives and projects don’t really communicate well – not with the society and media in general, not even among themselves. So there’s little valid information available about their real experiences – what works and what does not work. Not much systematic evaluation. Much of the information they put out is just promotion — focused on the promises and whatever success they claim to have. Nothing about their obstacles and problems, other than that they really really need your donation.
– Yeah, and many of them actually are trying to sell the premises of their initiatives as THE basis for the next BIG system, for all to adopt.
– True. They should be given the opportunity to show some actual evidence for their claims, and a forum for fair but critical assessment. So the overall strategy should include encouragement and support. But on condition of sharing their experience in some organized and useful manner.
– ‘Organized’? That sounds like it will require some big system after all, Bog-Hubert? If those numbers you mentioned are real?
– Yes, that’s true. You’ll need some common format not only for compiling and documenting all that information, but also for the criteria and method for assessing the successes and failures. Big task. But there’s a significant difference: this ‘system’ can be designed and developed by those projects and initiatives themselves – not just ‘participation’ but actual decision-making, based on the interests and concerns of all the players involved.
– So there will be a ‘data base’ or documentation system for all the project information, and an ‘evaluation’ component with some common criteria and measures of performance based on what those initiatives are aiming at achieving, and a process for developing and displaying the results?
– Yes. And because that is not an all-powerful Big Brother Government system imposing its will upon all aspects of society, it will be a much less ideological and controversial process, don’t you think?
– Ah: if you are right – which remains to be seen though – it will be a good exercise project in itself – a testing ground for developing a better ‘self-governance’ system with all the aspects further down in your priority list. Sneaky.
– It was Abbé Boulah’s idea, that one, yes. He’s the sneaky one.
– So let’s look at those other parts of your list.
– Okay: which one?

Discourse platform

– The process you are talking about – developing the data base and evaluation system – already requires some common forum or platform where development ideas can be brought in, discussed, and decided upon, doesn’t it? Is that what that ‘discourse platform’ is supposed to be?
– Yes, Dexter. Glad you could join us, this gets into IT territory. And it will not just be like some of the social network platforms we know, nor a ‘knowledge base’ compilation of data, a data bank or encyclopedia-like system, but a ‘planning discourse support system’ aimed at developing, proposing and displaying, and discussing designs for the system itself, and then helping participants to make decisions based on the merit of those contributions – ideas, proposals and arguments pro and con. So that discussion must be accessible to all the participant entities.
– I see. It sounds plausible. But apart from the integration of the different programs, — feasible, but will take some work — won’t there be big practical implementation problems to do that? Just think of all the different languages all over the world, in which those contributions will be brought in. You can’t expect people will agree to one global language for that anymore – not in this post-colonial age. So there will have to be a massive translation effort to translate that discourse into all the different participant languages?
– True. And not only that. Much of the needed information will actually be in the form of scientific research, statistics, systems projects from many different disciplines? Each with their own vocabulary — disciplinary jargon, — replete with acronyms and greek letters and math equations. For a viable discussion, the content messages of those contributions must be translated into conversational language that ordinary citizens can understand. So yes, it will be a major project to coordinate that, and not an overnight process.
– And you’ll have to deal with all the problems we already know from the current scene of collaborative projects under various political systems.
– Such as?
– Well you have the ‘voter apathy’ syndrome – even in projects open to and relying on public participation. Many people just don’t participate or vote because they don’t really have the feeling that their input will count in any significant way. Then you have the ‘information overload’ problem – how can anybody digest all the information that’s flooding the media and social networks? You have the ‘trolls’ that just try to derail any meaningful discussion with irrelevant posts; personal attacks and insults and erroneous information – not even to talk about the problem of deliberately ‘false news’ – lies and distortions. And last not least the fact that the decisions — by so-called leaders or by referendum-type voting – can blatantly ignore even the most significant information and concerns of large parts of society.

New decision methods

– Yes, you are getting into the details of what’s needed to make any such planning platform work properly – in the best interest of all affected parties, in a really democratic way. So first, the system should provide some real participation incentives. And it should be organized so as to eliminate or at least reduce repetitious, irrelevant, erroneous and maliciously distractive and misleading content, and give people a good informative overview of the state of the discourse, don’t you think? Those are major design challenges – but we do have some ideas for improving things. Better decision modes for such planning systems remain a major issue.
– Hey, Bog-Hubert: all that doesn’t sound like a small local project anymore. You keep calling it a ‘planning discourse platform’ as if it were only a minor item on the agenda – but it is really a blueprint for the Big Global Discourse System, isn’t it?
– You are right in that any global governance system – as well as any local governance system if it wants to be really ‘democratic’ – will have to deal with the same issues and find acceptable solutions for them. The difference is that this is not a proposal for a ‘revolutionary’ upheaval replacing all the ‘evil’ current systems with another BIG System overnight.
– Or just a ‘get rid of the crooks’ effort that ends up just replacing the old crooks with different ones who will become just as bad and corrupted because the new systems hasn’t solved those problems you are pointing out here.
– So it looks like the ‘new decision models’ item on the priority list is really a high priority one. And that whatever the solution may be will look somewhat different from the ‘voting’ methods that are now considered as the key principle and guarantee of democracy? Can you give us some more details about what might make such methods work?
– Hey, putting a problem on the agenda doesn’t mean that we already have a solution, does it? Just that there is a problem and that we feel it is possible to fix it. But a key aspect, I think, is this: there must be a closer, more visible and recognizable connection between the merit of the information and arguments brought into the discourse, and the decision. That link is currently just a sanctimonious ideal: ‘let’s talk and then decide’.
– Sure, but a vote can, and too often does, ignore all the talk. So there’s work to do on that. But some of your Abbeboulahist ideas also justify hope – for example: if we can get a meaningful measurement tool for the merit of contributions, that measure can become a more decisive factor in the decision. And we have some ideas for that, too.

Few main ‘global’ agreements to facilitate ‘diverse’ aims

– True, Vodçek. So this system will be developed and emerge as a ‘parallel’ structure within the existing system, at first only dealing with the kinds of common agreements needed to draw useful lessons from the experiences of all those ‘local’ efforts. And aiming only at few decisions needed to facilitate the process – decisions like the ‘global, unified’ rules of the road – which side of the road to drive on to let everybody get to their ‘diverse’ destinations; or like the international rules for air or ocean traffic.
– Yeah, with all the translation and communication problems of such a global discourse, there won’t be that many decisions being agreed upon by that process, if you ask me. But I agree that some such common ‘road rule’ agreements will be needed, in this partial system as well as in the overall global system or non-system, if the Big Brother World Government is too scary a prospect.

Provisions for ensuring adherence to agreements:
‘enforcement’, sanctions?

– Hey, none of that is talking about any kind of World Government, I hope. Is it?
– Well, Sophie, think about it: Any kind of agreement or treaty or law – different names for essentially the same concept – will need some provisions for making sure that the agreement is kept, the rule is followed, and about what to do if it is violated. Deliberately or inadvertently.
– If all such agreements are reached by consensus by all the well-intentioned folks in a well-informed, spiritually conscious and aware community, and with more adequate decision procedures giving each participant’s concerns due considerations, will there still be such violations? Or at least not as many?
– Wouldn’t that be nice, Sophie. Won’t there always be people who feel that they aren’t getting as much of a benefit from a common decision as others, that they even get ‘the short end’ of it even if they couldn’t come up with sufficiently persuasive arguments to persuade the community or to justify a ‘no’ vote preventing the precious consensus decision? Peer pressure to agree resulting in a temptation to just bend the rules a little bit…? And then a little more?…
– I see where you are going here, Bog-Hubert, you cynic. You didn’t even mention all those sheer ornery or even pure evil folks. The problem isn’t just that there will still be such violations, but also that we – society – have not gotten past the traditional ways of dealing with them that we inherited from times when rules and laws were imposed by rulers who didn’t give a hoot about whether people were really adhering voluntarily to the rules because they agreed to them…
– What are you talking about, Vodçek?
– Law enforcement, of course, Sophie. The traditional approach is that laws have to be ‘enforced’ – that violators have to be punished so that they wouldn’t do it again, and to deter everybody else from even trying. And what Bog-Hubert is aiming at, — I have heard him talk about it with Abbé Boulah before – is that enforcement, prevention and application of force – requires that the enforcer must have more force, be more powerful, than any would-be violator. Otherwise, it’s not effective. So he is saying there should be different tools for ensuring that agreements and laws are adhered to – ‘sanctions’ that do not require ‘enforcement’. Am I right, Bog-Hubert?
– Couldn’t have said it better myself, Vodçek. One alternative would be something like sanctions that are triggered ‘automatically’ by the very attempt at violating a rule. Like the car ignition key that can sense if you are drunk and just won’t turn on if you are.
– Like that kind of thing can really fight crime and corruption. But what’s wrong with the ‘enforcement’ approach?
– Two things, Commissioner. One is escalation of enforcement tools. If criminals are getting better weapons than the police, the police must get better weapons, eh? Then the bad guys get even better gins, and so on… Not supportable, in the short or long run.
– Hmm. There oughta be a law…And the other reason?
– Power. You see it already at the local level, but it becomes critical on the level of international relations. It’s the reason people are very uncomfortable with the idea of World Government.
– I don’t get it.
– Well, you’ve heard the quip about power corrupting, and absolute power corrupting absolutely, haven’t you? Now if you have an enforcement agent or agency which does have better weapons, more powerful tools, than any would-be violator, what’s keeping that agent or agency from becoming tempted, ever so slightly, to bend the rules a little for itself? If the theory is true that it would take an enforcer with more power…
– Well, we have the balance of power of the different branches of government, and term limits, and impeachment rules, and so on, to constrain such power abuses, don’t we?
– True, and the claim is that they have been working adequately for quite a while. But many people are saying that those tools are getting to the limits of their effectiveness even al the local, regional and state levels. And seeing how often and how cleverly they have become ineffective, allowing power-holders to become evermore worried about the infringement of their power and their little abuses, and therefore seeking more power, and more clever, even ‘legal’ ways to circumvent their balance-of-power constraints. At the extreme, having to convince themselves that they really have the inviolate power by engaging in reckless activities – the Caligula syndrome.
– But those guys have always been brought down in the end, haven’t they? Well, most of them?
– Have they? At what cost of their own impoverished, murdered and ‘disappeared’ or otherwise oppressed citizens before they are stopped? Or that of other countries’ forces trying to bring them down? But think: if we have a World Government – one whose legitimate role is to ensure that agreements and treaties are adhered to, as we discussed – but whose tools for that are only ‘enforcement’ tools: weapons? And so-called ‘’security’ and ‘anti-terrorism’ systems that have to constrain the liberty of all citizens in order to be effective: With the kinds of weaponry we have nowadays, what could keep such a ‘government’ from falling victim to the temptations of power if there’s no more powerful agent to keep it in line?
– Right. So the concerns of people who oppose such governments are, shall we say, not entirely unfounded? And the governments who are supposed to ensure their citizens that they are not, — ‘trust me, trust me’ – in any way tempted to take some additional advantage of their power, are naturally and inevitably hesitant of divulging all the safeguards they have, so they won’t fall into the wrong hands: the secret service must be secret, after all. Mustn’t it?

Control of Power

– Okay. You’ve got us all worried, happy now? So the first conclusion is that we need some sanctions that don’t rely on enforcement, to ensure adherence to agreements. Keep it on the agenda. But what do we do about the issue of control of power itself, apart from the law enforcement aspect? Do we have any new ideas about that, or even grounds for optimism that better solutions can be found? Because I see that just the right of citizens to keep arms is not a solution, given the escalation problem and the other means of exerting power.
– No, Sophie, nobody has a brilliant solution up his or her sleeve yet. Just perhaps some different principles to bring to bear on the problem.
– Such as?
– Well, look at the concept of power itself, for starters. For the poor, the ‘disempowered’, the recurring slogan is always ‘empowerment’ – as if power were a universal human right, which we could argue is a good way of looking at it. Just like life and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness we always invoke. But we expect people to pursue, to work for, or pay for those things, not just to be ‘given’. At best, what’s ‘given’ or ‘endowed by the creator’ – or what a society agrees to grant all its members — is the right to pursue, not the right to get it without one’s own effort.
– That’s a concept that would need some discussion, my friend.
– Yes, we can discuss that, and what it means in detail. But to explore its implications here: what if we apply it to the power issue – specifically to the power to make decisions and take action on behalf of others, or that affect others in one way or the other. What if, say we’d ask people with such power to ‘pay’ for the decisions they make? Just like we expect the poorest fellows to pay for their loaf of bread they are allowed to buy at Wal-Mart to survive? By ‘paying’ we probably would need a different kind of currency than money.
– We might also look at some older forms of power control – patterns that have come to be despised lately, such as the hierarchical organization of societies.
– How did that control power? Wasn’t that the ultimate form of power abuse?
– Not always, Vodçek. See, in a hierarchy, the person at each level had a certain amount of power – the power to control and direct the activities of the subordinates, within certain limits set by their superiors. The unresolved issue was of course always the lowest and the top positions: the lowest ones had little or no power until they ‘earned it’ by whatever degrading means, and the top position had no one else to answer to – except supernatural ones in the afterlife.
– But there were some useful provisions in the form of controls by parallel boards with members from lower levels of the hierarchy, term limits and the like. They also tended to be older folks who weren’t as much tempted to certain distracting abuse as younger people. But again, the traditional controls seem to break down again and again, so the issue of meaningful and effective control for governance folks on the global level is still up for grabs. So I agree: the issue of control of power should be a high priority item.

Choosing the people for power positions

– All that sounds like you want to do away with all kinds of leadership positions. I’m not sure I can go along with that.
– You are quite right feeling uneasy about that, Sophie. But that’s not the intention at all. We do need people in positions of leadership and power.
– After all you went through show how they will be corrupted by power? I say kick the big shots out!
– Whoa, Renfroe. I understand how you can get impatient with some of their shenanigans. And how you might get the impression that with a better functioning ‘democratic’ decision-making system, we don’t need those bigwigs anymore.
– I’d say!
– But not all decisions need to run through such a process, and some can’t wait, they need a quick decision to deal with new situations. Think of a ship that finds itself suddenly on a course towards an iceberg. There has to be someone – the captain – who will have to make a quick decision: pass it on the port or starboard side? You can’t have a lengthy palaver to reach a decision: it must be done fast. And the problem is to have a process to appoint people to such positions, yes, power positions – whose expertise, skills, experience and judgment you can trust. And what safeguards have to be in place to prevent such people from getting tempted to abuse that power for purposes of his own that are contrary to the well-being of the ship and its crews and passengers.
– Okay, I see what you are saying. So do you have any trick up your sleeve for that problem? It’s what you’d call a dilemma, isn’t it? Giving a guy – or a gal – the power to make big decisions, but keeping them from making the wrong ones when they have all that power, and by definition, as you explained, no greater power to keep them in line?
– Well, can you see how that problem should have some better solutions for people in such positions in ‘global’ institutions, in world governments?
– Okay, it belongs on the list of priorities too, I agree.

Solutions?

– I still would like to know what gives you the idea that there are better solutions in sight for these problems. If a problem doesn’t have any solutions – like a genuine paradox or dilemma, why waste our time, money, and energy trying to find one?
– Good question, Commissioner. But for some of these issues, there actually seem to be some improvements in sight that should at least be explored and discussed.
– Explain that, please. I’m getting curious.
– I’ll leave it to Bog-Hubert – I think the way he drew that diagram shows how some answers to simpler questions in the list can help suggest solutions for others. Bog-Hubert?
– I’ll try to keep it simple. Take the idea we have discussed here before, of awarding contribution rewards to people who contribute ideas and arguments to the planning discourse we sketched out before. Basic credit points that simply will be an incentive for participation and providing information.
– That’s trying to get at the voter apathy issue, right?
– At least part of it. Now, the rule that only the first entry of an information item will get the credit, but not repetitions, will speed up the process. The assume we can put a process of evaluation in place, for the assessment of merit of each such entry – is it plausible, important, is there evidence or adequate support for the claims, do the arguments have weight. Then the original credits can be adjusted, upward for good merit items, downward for erroneous or unsupported, implausible claims and arguments. That will all help making better decisions, as a first effect. But in the process, participants are actually building up a ‘record’ of their contribution merit points.
– Ah, I see: and that record can be made part of the ‘qualification’ criteria for appointing people to positions of power? If they have made consistently meritorious contributions to the policy discourse for important issues, they can be considered better qualified than others whose entries have been shown to be unsupported and implausible?
– Right. Better judgment. But that’s not all. Those merit points can become a kind of alternate ‘currency’ for various purposes. One is the sanctions issue for violating agreements and ‘laws’. The penalties can be in the form of subtracting credit points from their accounts. Especially if some means can be found to identify attempts at violating agreements and laws as the attempt is started or going on, so that penalty points can be applied immediately, without having to involve heavy-duty law enforcement. So the size and extent of enforcement forces could be reduced, as well as the worry about enforcement by force and associated escalation, would you agree?
– I think that would take some fine-tuning, but yes, it’s an idea that should be explored. What about the power issue itself – didn’t you mention something about that as well?
– Yes indeed. The idea is to make people in positions of power ‘accountable’ for the decisions they make by having to ‘pay’ for each decision – again, with their merit credit points. If the decision is a flop, they lose the points – if it’s a good one, they earn them back, and perhaps more. ‘Profit’, eh?
– What about decisions that are so important, and therefore so ‘costly’, that officials can’t afford to make such decisions with their own points?
– Well, if you feel that such a decision should be made, that is, you support the leader who has to make it, how about transferring some of your own credits to his account? In that way, you are also ‘accountable’ for the decision – and perhaps less likely to let a populist loose cannon go around making disastrous decisions? If the decision is a good one, your ‘investment’ can ‘pay off’ in that you get your points back, perhaps with some ‘interest’? And if not, you lost your points just like the leader who made that dumb decision with your support…
– Oh man, you are getting way out there with these wild schemes.
– Well. It’s all up for discussion. Do you have any better ideas to deal with these challenges?

new-system-priorities-1f