The old fellow in the corner of the Fog Island Tavern had been sitting there, quietly, for several hours. At first, the regulars at the bar had been looking at him, saying a few words signaling that he’d be welcome at the counter; they were curious: A new neighbor on the island, having bought a house from one of the just-weekend-owners who had given up on the demands of island life? Or just another visitor? But he hadn’t responded, just ordered another glass of wine, off-and-on scribbling in a little notebook in-between periods of merely looking around with a kind of vacant far-away stare. Thinking? Hmm.
But suddenly he came up to the bar, eyes blazing, arms held wide in a gesture of exasperation, calling out from ten feet away: “What are you doing!?”
“Huh? What are we doing?” One of the fellows asked. “Just sitting here shooting the breeze. What’s it to you?”
“I heard it!” He gasped. “And you guys just shrugged and went back to bitching about the weather and how bad things are and how corrupt the government is and how the president, or his predecessor are the worst president ever, and…”
“Heard what?” Vodçek asked, the tavern owner behind the counter. “Well, don’t you agree that things are not as they ought to be?”
“Heard what? Didn’t this gentleman here –” he pointed at Renfroe, who seemed taken aback for having said something significant enough to evoke such attention — “just tell you about this thirteen-point plan or agenda that could change everything? And pooh-poohed it as just another of the crazy schemes of this Abbe something he was ridiculing?”
“Well, I guess you haven’t met or heard about Abbé Boulah and his overactive imagination and inventiveness. But the story ol’ Renfroe here was relating, he had just heard it from Abbé Boulah, not sure who came up with it originally. What about it?” Bog-Hubert tried to calm both of them down.
“And you guys didn’t recognize it for the ray of hope it is, finally, and went right back to blah-blah about the weather and the mess we’re in?!”
“Well, yeah, I guess we did. Out here, weather is kind’a the first thing we worry about getting up in the morning, and we don’t have any big hopes about being able to change the course of history any more than the weather, you know what I mean? But what’s so important about that thirteen-point scheme?”
“It’s the way we should go about meeting all those crises everybody keeps talking about. But I guess the way it sounded was still too dry, not inspiring enough to get people to get off their lazy butts… I guess it didn’t tell you what you actually can do – even out here!”
“Oh, I guess that calls for some explanation, my friend. Why don’t you join us – Vodçek, what’s he drinking? Could you get him a glass, on me? Thanks — And try to enlighten us some?”
“Enlighten: I’m not sure I’m the one for that job. But – thanks for the wine – where do you get that great Zinfandel out here? – that pamphlet or whatever it was, don’t you see how it opens up a great opportunity? For you, for all of us, for the world?”
“Opportunity? How so? Opportunity for what?”
“Okay, good question. Let me backtrack a little. You realize, don’t you, that this country and many others, all of us, are not only facing all these big problems we got ourselves into, out of idealism and greed and over-eagerness and foolishness. But for the first time in history, we also have these terrific new tools — technology for communication, for collecting and making the history and experiences and wisdom and errors of all the people in the world accessible – to learn from it, — learn, you hear me? learn! — and to work together to develop better ways of living together on this planet?”
“If you put it that way…”
“Right. Most of the time, it isn’t put that way, but perceived and presented as tools for the old ‘survival of the fittest’ attitude, meaning the strongest, biggest, richest, the ones with the faster guns’ game, beating out all the weaker ones. Greatness of a nation, whatever than means, beyond the residents of a plot of earth surface within some arbitrary borders, seen as the ability to tell other nations what to do and not to do, and if they don’t, bomb-em back to the stone age… – Heavens, what a narrow kind of perspective!”
“So what should that perspective be, in your opinion? If greatness is what it’s about? Some of us just want to be left in peace and go fishing…”
“Well, start with that idea in your declaration of independence and in most modern constitutions, in one form or another: people’s right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Is it enough for a ‘great’ community to make sure that all its members ‘have’ that right? Like: You ‘have’ the right to become the greatest race-car driver, the greatest opera singer or the funniest circus clown? Even just reputable amateur fishermen? But what do you do if there are no race tracks, no races, no operas being performed, no circus? And no teachers to help you get those skills? No fish in the ocean? Your ‘right’ doesn’t count for much then, eh?
“Hmm. I see. But…”
“What you need to acknowledge is this: For all your individual responsibility, there are some conditions for taking advantage of your ‘rights’ that don’t depend on the individual: they must be present in a person’s environment.”
“So how does that apply to a nation, a community?”
“I assume you’d say that a society, through its government, should make sure that a person can go about such pursuits in peace, free to do so, as long as it doesn’t interfere with other people’s right to go about their pursuits?”
“Sure Sound about right.”
“But wouldn’t you also say a society that can offer more appealing opportunities for such pursuits, more interesting, noble, challenging as well as enjoyable opportunities, would be better – even ‘greater’ if you prefer that word – than one that just declares that you have all kinds of rights that you can’t take advantage of because the conditions for pursuing them aren’t there?”
“I get it: you say that a great society is one that offers great opportunities – and the right as well as conditions enabling all its members to pursue them?”
“Yes. And the opportunity to create new opportunities, new and more interesting ways to live.”
“Okay. So what does that have to do with that thirteen-point statement Renfroe was talking about? Wasn’t it aimed at how we might deal with all the crises and challenges that are beginning to threaten humanity’s survival? What got you all excited about that?”
“Good question – getting back to that one. See, the traditional assumption about threats and challenges to a society was that its government should be set up to organize its ‘defenses’ — that is, it would maintain some institutions made up of people willing and able to use force against any ‘enemy’ threatening it. Military and police ‘forces’. Remember that notion: ‘enemy’: it was an assumption that an ‘enemy’ was some other society or group of people.”
“Right. Interior or exterior. Like it says in the pledge of allegiance.”
“Yes. I’ll come back to that enemy notion in a minute. Now, these institutions were organized, we have to assume with good reason, according to rigid hierarchical principles. The top guys, the generals, the commander-in-chief giving commands and the lower ranks carrying them out.”
“Of course: don’t you have to make sure that the regiments and platoons are all following a coherent defense plan (or attack, if they adhered to the idea that the best defense is an attack) and aren’t marching in the wrong direction ending up attacking each other?”
“Sure: it made sense to the people. If they had a say in the matter. So much so that the other governance institutions were organized according to similar hierarchical principles and command structures. Yes, yes, I know what you are going to say: we have elections that determine who the folks in our governance systems are going to be, to make sure they are ‘defending’ our interests and not their own. Which history teaches us is a real temptation if you give people too much power. Wasn’t that what you were going to say?”
“Something like that, yes.”
“Well. That pamphlet said something about the voting systems – that it didn’t exactly ensure that all of our interests and concerns would be ‘defended’, just those of the ‘majority’. So that seems to be one of the issues that we need to look into.”
“Are you questioning the idea of our democratic system? Do you have anything better up your sleeve?”
“Don’t get excited. You’re reading the papers about how it’s working, are you? Can we do better than that? I sure hope so. But we are getting ahead of things here. The crises and emergencies we are starting to worry about more these days: who’s the enemy?”
“Okay, are you going to try to defeat Nature with your drones and smart bombs and aircraft carriers? But isn’t it rather that Nature is starting to react against what WE are doing to it, out of ignorance and greed and foolishness? And what WE are doing to each other and ourselves? You’ve heard it as a joke, but the joke really is on us: the enemy is US. What we are beginning to discover is that the way we are doing things – in business, in governance, defense against crises and ‘enemies’ and in our private lives – doesn’t quite work the way it’s supposed to work anymore: we need to start thinking about doing all that differently.”
“Oh yeah: A ‘new system’, eh? We keep hearing that, yes. To tell you the truth: I’m beginning to get tired of all that talk: It seems that all they want is just power to do things ‘their’ way. Not for all of us…”
“I don’t blame you: I often feel the same way. Now, doesn’t it seem that WE – humanity — don’t have a really good idea about what that ‘new system’ should be? Do you, do WE know what works and what doesn’t work? I don’t. Look at all the different ideas about that out there: many of them are so different that people are beginning to fight each other over their preferred new system visions. We are all becoming ‘interior enemies’ to each other. So as far as I can see, there’s not much hope that we can come to meaningful agreements about that unified great new system – whether it is for a city, a nation, of the global human community.”
“You are becoming a bit of a depressing spoilsport yourself here, with all these dismal issues getting in the way of enjoying our drinks and conversation.”
“So sorry. But that isn’t my point at all: The ideas and points in that pamphlet: weren’t they actually beginning to provide some encouraging answers, if you think about it? But from my point there in the corner, it looked like you didn’t see that, or didn’t want to think about it – or knew things I don’t see why it wouldn’t work, and had some better ideas already.”
“So you think those thirteen points are some kind of solution? Come on…”
“I think that the first meaningful step is that they acknowledge that none of us have THE answer, THE solution. We don’t know enough. We need to examine different ideas, — not only the new ideas but older traditions in various human cultures: what did they know that we have forgotten? Human societies have tried many different ‘systems’: What went wrong, what worked? We tried a few major ones, they didn’t work too well, it seems. So we need experiments and analysis — all those ideas and initiatives at small scale that many people see as nuisance: we need to support them and get them to share their experience, for comparison and discussion, the results to be fed into a shared common discourse and evaluation framework.”
“I was a bit worried about that grand framework or platform: Sounded like that might just be another Big Brother kind of system?”
“Sure, if it were run as a traditional top-down hierarchical structure with insufficient controls of power. Power that would be likely to overrule legitimate concerns of how decisions would affect different people in the community; we have good reason to be suspicious of such a system especially if it gets to global scale. But didn’t that platform have some ideas for different ways of avoiding those problems? For one, it would only aim at a few overall agreements to ensure that all those small initiatives – and of course existing entities such as nations – wouldn’t get in each other’s way. And if it’s done right, with the new technology and media, it should be open to everybody’s input and participation. Isn’t that a totally new and glorious opportunity for humanity – one that we are just beginning to take advantage of?”
“Yes – and not all in very promising ways…”
“I think I see what you mean: the chaotic avalanche of opinions, repetitions, fake news, rumors and meaningless or malicious chatter on social media – it all looks like a new disaster more than a solution to you? Yes. But we haven’t worked out the needed procedures for the use of these tools in a planning and policy-making platform yet. A process that tries to ensure a better, transparent connection between the value and merit of people’s contributions to the discourse and the eventual decisions. That was what the proposal in that pamphlet was promising, wasn’t it? So shouldn’t that be something to talk about, discuss, evaluate, to try out, to see if it works?”
“Well, from the way Renfroe talked about it, I didn’t really get the idea that there were actual solutions worked out, that it was more than just wishful thinking. You agree, Vodçek?”
“No, Sophie, sorry. Coming to think about it, didn’t we actually discuss a number of what I’d call some missing pieces for that big platform, here in this lowly Tavern? Remember the stories about assessing the merit of planning arguments, about evaluation, about incentive points for contributions, and how they could be used for various purposes, even to control power with different, nonviolent tools?”
“Are you saying that those discussions had anything to do with that pamphlet and its platform proposals and issues? Is there a conspiracy afoot?”
“It looks that way. Where did you say Abbé Boulah got that pamphlet, Renfroe?”
“He didn’t really say, Bog-Hubert: now that I think about it. It could just be something he cooked up with his buddy up in town… So you think we’ve all been working on that stuff all along? And they just wrote it up?”
“Well, wherever you got it: It sure sounds like a great opportunity. Think about it: As a way to deal with all the problems, let’s use people’s need and desire to do their own thing, to make a difference in their lives, let them work on may different ideas, support them, preferably in places and ways that doesn’t put them in direct competition with the existing systems right away. Let’s use our technology to get them talking to each other in more productive ways, to learn, to evaluate the different approaches to find out what ideas we should adopt and which ones we shouldn’t. All the while contributing our insights to reach some needed global decisions that we can all support because we all were contributing to them and working them out? Is that something to support and work for? What are you guys doing with all the interesting ideas you’ve been working on?”
“So what do you think we ought to do?”
“At least keep talking about it, connect the different parts. To begin with.
“Let’s see that pamphlet again. Do you still have it, Renfroe?”
‘Here it is, a bit crumpled, sorry.”
The following notes are a response to various requests to join efforts to develop and implement a ‘new system’ or a new platform for assembling knowledge about the best practices and techniques for such a new system.
From the huge LinkedIn discussion of Systems Thinking World (STW) participants trying to come up with an answer to Ban Ki Moon’s 2011 Davos call for ‘revolutionary thinking and action to ensure an economic model for survival’, some things could be learned and summarized, briefly, that can serve as a kind of guideline or agenda for the needed efforts:
1. There are already countless initiatives for alternative ways to do things underway, or proposed.
2.To the extent these initiatives communicate with others and the public, they tend to advertise successes and articles of faith for their ideas, less on obstacles and errors.
3. There is widespread sentiment that ‘something should be done’, but no agreement about a common ‘global’ model, and considerable resistance against calls to join this or that cause. As a global community, we do not yet know enough about what works and what does not work, to embark on a cooperative global course or action or model.
4. Therefore, it seems that the many partial (i.e. ‘non-global’ or ‘local’) initiatives and experiments should be encouraged and supported rather than merged into one overall model. This should be accepted as a ‘global’ policy. To draw not only on human desire for cooperation but also on the human desire (of many among us) to ‘make a difference’ in our communities.
5. For such initiatives, support could take the form of devoting part of the usual humanitarian aid for recovery from natural or human-caused disasters to the establishment of ‘innovation zones’ in areas where ‘old’ infrastructure and governance systems have been destroyed. Support should be contingent upon honest reporting of successes and failure into a global forum for evaluation.
6. There is a need for discussion and negotiation of global agreements and decisions (conventions to permit the various initiatives but ensuring that they don’t get in each others’ way or endanger the whole).
7. Decisions should based on the merit of the best of available knowledge and information (much of which is ‘distributed’ and different according to local context conditions), rather than on majority voting which is not applicable to populations extending across conventional governance borders, and explicitly allows disregard of the concerns of the losing minority.
8. There is currently no coherent set of procedures for such discourse and negotiation that includes explicit determination of the merit of discourse contributions, though ideas and proposals have been made.
9. There would be a need for both bringing ‘existing’ (documented and past) knowledge and research as well as ad-hoc investigation to bear on such a better orchestrated discourse, through appropriate information systems structured according to appropriate models of planning and policy-making processes.
10. There is currently no platform for a truly cooperative and coherent platform to support such a discourse.
11. There are currently no sufficient incentives for many citizens to participate in such public discourse — overcoming the perceived ‘cost’ and effort of participating and the sense that their contributions ‘do not really count’.
12. There would be a great need for educating a global public in the practice of participation on a better orchestrated discourse.
13. There is currently no effective set of ‘sanctions’ to ensure adherence to agreements, other than ‘enforcement’ measures implying coercion violence, by ‘enforcement’ powers which human history tells us are vulnerable to the temptation to abuse that power, and that arguably exacerbate problems and conflicts rather than solving them to mutual satisfaction. New tools for the control of power are needed.
These insights together indicate at least a significant part of the immense agenda for a meaningful global effort to ensure a ‘model for survival’, which however may not be the ‘unified’ global model many envision. The specific technological innovation needs as well as the part of ‘education’ that aim at engendering the change in ‘awareness’ and ethics needed to support such a movement: (parts of item 4?) have been left out as already widely propagated.
The well-intended effort to develop a repository of human memory as an important support of the discourse is part of item 9 of that agenda. Given the many already existing repositories, the focus should be on the issue of how to channel their content on the specific aspects of the discourse, e.g. with information systems or search instruments organized by the discourse elements (issues) rather than knowledge domains.
There has been work on the concept as well as the missing parts of the overall discourse support system, item 10, specifically on items 7, 8, looking at aspects of item 11 and 13 that could be improved by ‘collateral’ information from item 7 (merit of arguments). Some thoughts on a discourse game as one possible tool for item 12 have been put forward. A main ‘systems thinking’ task in all this, is that of tying the various parts of the agenda into a mutually supporting whole network. The systems thinking efforts we currently see are not addressing the ‘argumentative’ aspect of the planning discourse; efforts have been made to bring the argumentative aspect into systems modeling and/ or vice versa. There is a danger in the well-intended temptation of bringing more AI tools to bear on the planning discourse (part of item 9) — the need to rely on ‘consistent’ information to reach valid inference seems to be somewhat at odds with the essence of the ‘contradictory’ pros and cons of planning arguments.
Work is needed on some of these aspects; different provisions should be tried out in smaller experiments; but the main and immediate need for even carrying the development work forward is that of development of the programming integrating the several functions of a fully supportive platform for the planning and policy-making discourse.
* Say, Vodçek, esteemed keeper of this fine Tavern: where’s your prime regular Abbé Boulah? I haven’t seen him here for some time?
– I’m not sure, Bog-Hubert — but I have a feeling he’s out on this place in the ocean again. This new refugee community on that old oil rig — Rigatopia or whatever they call it. They keep trying new governance schemes out there, and Abbé Boulah seems to take an intense interest in what they are doing, if he’s not actually the one cooking up those things himself. I thought you knew more about that than what I can pick up here while I’m washing cups and glasses?
* You’re right, he often runs his ideas by me when we’re out fishing, or when he’s checking out my latest batch of Eau d’Hole in my swamp refuge — but every once in a while he just gets a new idea and takes off… Hi, Sophie — did you get a sense of what he’s up to this time?
+ No, sorry. But last time I was here, there was a guy who was trying to gather information about one of those Rigatopian ideas — a journalist, or perhaps some government snoop wondering if they are planning to invade the mainland. That was about some new kind of ‘civic credit’ scheme saving democracy or controlling power, I didn’t really understand it since I was there on the other end of the bar having an argument with Renfroe about protecting the sea turtles nesting here on the island. I wanted to join them to find out how all those issues fit together, but you know Renfroe, he just wouldn’t quit. Turtles all the way down to final call. Do you know any of that civic credit scheme, Bog-Hubert?
* Oh yes, they’ve been trying different versions of that idea for some time. I guess it gets confusing because they are trying to use it for so many different aims. Some just see it as an important part of their ‘planning discourse’ support scheme, getting people to contribute important information about a problem or plan, but not clogging the record just repeating the same points over and over. Others see it as the main tool for getting to decisions that are based on the merit of all that information. And then there are those who are most interested in how this scheme can help control power — at least they seem to think it can. To get the whole picture, you have to understand how it relates to their way of running public planning discussions.
+ Can you give us a sense of what it’s all about?
* I can try. Vodçek, can you get that air out of my glass here? I may need some more sustenance fuel to get through the whole thing.
– Sure. Sonoma Zin, right?
* Yes. Thanks. Okay. Let’s start with their planning discourse. They are trying to involve all their citizens in a discussion about important problems and issues out there, to arrive at decisions that everybody or most people can support because they had a chance to voice their opinions, develop and contribute ideas, and have all of those concerns given ‘due consideration’. Ideally, ending up with everybody being comfortable with the outcome. Even if those clean all around ‘win-win’ solutions are hard to achieve.
+ You can say that again. So?
* Okay. They want to encourage everybody who has something to say about a plan to actually bring it up, to enter it into the discussion. Questions, ideas, information about the situation, concerns, arguments pro and con. Participation. So they offer ‘contribution credits points’ for all such entries.
+ Oh boy…
* I know what you are saying: you’ll get flooded with all kinds of repetitious garbage? No; they handle that by making sure you get the point for an entry only if it’s the first of that information content; repetitions don’t get the credit.
– Ah, clever move: It encourages people to hurry up to get their information in, — it speeds up things, and also keeps the record from getting clogged up with all the repetitious stuff. Right?
* Right, Vodçek. You don’t think so, Commissioner?
= How do they decide whether a piece of information is repetitive — that it is essentially the same as another one that has been entered already? Because they may be worded differently and don’t sound the same at all? Is there a machine that does that automatically?
* I guess there are ‘artificial intelligence’ programs that can do that — you’ll have to ask our digital friend Dexter about that — but in a small project where there aren’t too many participants, you can ask the people involved: ‘Hey, aren’t you both talking about the same thing? If their explanation about what their entry ‘means’ uses the same information, it’s likely the same; if not, okay, it’s a separate, different aspect.
– How do you reassure people that those points that have been entered — that can’t be repeated to make sure they’ll be considered — will actually b e given due consideration?
* Good question. It requires that in getting to the decision, there will be a process that transparently guarantees that all entries will factor into the decision judgments. This means that each item must be evaluated and given some measure of significance — plausibility and importance –, and then combined into some measure of performance of the overall issue to be decided. For example, for a proposed plan, all the ‘pro and con’ judgments people have been raising will be merged into an overall plausibility measure.
– Yes: We’ve been talking about that before: Abbé Boulah’s buddy has developed a technique for doing that. It may not be the ultimate solution, but it shows that such a process is possible.
The point is that all contributions to the discussion — all arguments and their premises — must be ‘evaluated’. They won’t all have the same ‘merit’, right?
* Precisely. Some arguments may have a flawed — fallacious — structure; some premises may not be true or plausible; they may not have sufficient supporting evidence or further arguments. We don’t have to go into detail about the details or possible variations of that process here: the outcome is that all entered information items that will be considered in reaching the decision must be given some merit score in that process. A basic claim ends up being given a ‘positive’ score if has been judged to be plausible, sufficiently well supported, or ‘negative’ if it turns out to rest on false or unsupported premises.
= Sounds complicated. But tell me: Who decides that?
* Ah, another good question. You are putting the finger on the problem that people have very different opinions about whether a piece of information has merit or not — is ‘true’ or ‘probable’ or ‘plausible’.
+ Isn’t the idea of the discourse that we hope to straighten outmost of the tricky differences? That the arguments and the evidence people offer to support them will ‘settle’ the issues, that people will end up agreeing on the ‘truth’?
* Sure, Sophie: ideally. That’s the idea behind the grand old parliamentary principle: let’s leave our Uzis outside, let’s talk, try to explain our concerns to each other, and together find the right answer. But the reality is that just as each plan will have ‘costs’ as well as ‘benefits’, a consequence of implementing a plan that is seen as a benefit by some will end up being seen as a ‘cost’ to those who are expected to endure or pay for it.
– So all participants will still end up with their own judgments about each argument and premise?
* Yes. And the question of how to put them all together is always and inevitably a controversial issue that must be agreed upon. Now it’s becoming obvious that the current predominant method for reaching a decision — majority voting — is precisely NOT living up to the aim of getting a decision based on the merit of the information and reasons contributed” the information and concerns of the minority is utterly ignored and discarded.
– I understand Abbé Boulah and his Rigatopians are looking for different ways of making decisions that have a closer and more transparent link between discussion merit and decision? That is a truly important work in progress, but it’s a different issue than Sophie’s question about the credit points, isn’t it? Can we get back to that one?
* Okay. It was just necessary to put that question into the context of the whole discourse process. Well, there may be different ways of getting to an assessment of the merit of the information items that people contribute to the discourse. But the upshot is that each contribution by a person, that has now been evaluated — by the whole group of participants, or a separate task force that will devote the necessary time and effort to do that — all those merit scores of the contributions a person has made to the project can be added up into a kind of ‘civic credit’ account for that person.
+ So? What good will that do? What are those points good for?
* That is the beauty of the idea: — yes, the account is useless and a waste of time unless it’s a game and you can boast of your credit score — but you are right: The credits have to be fungible — you’ll have to be able to exchange them for something. So how about adding them to your resume, as an added qualification aspect for jobs? Especially if you are applying for a job where you have to make decisions on behalf of the public — remember, there are many such positions where decisions have to be made that can’t wait for a lengthy public discussion. So perhaps it’s useful to have some evidence of the kind of judgment you will bring to such tasks: If your account shows a lot of entries that have gotten high merit scores (say, a ratio between total merit scores and the number of entries you made), would we be more confident that you’ll make good decisions than if you have a record of a lot of entries but a negative overall credit tally? Or no such credits at all?
+ Hmm. That may be a good basis for electing people to public office, do you think?
* Abbé Boulah couldn’t have said it better! And that idea can still be extended into some ‘unexpected corollary benefit’ opportunities.
= Huh? Not just those ‘unexpected consequences’ — usually of the unpleasant kind? Do explain.
* Well, how about two possibilities. Connected, related possibilities. One is the idea of requiring people in such ‘power decision positions’ to ‘pay’ for such decisions. With credit points.
= Oh boy. Paying for doing the job they were elected or appointed to do?
* I knew that one would get your attention, Commissioner. Don’t worry though: not with money, with credit points. Consider: Part of the reason people want to get elected or appointed to such exalted positions is because they want power. Isn’t the desire for power almost something like a human ‘need’? Or ‘right’? If you are campaigning with and for the ‘downtrodden’, what are they asking for? Empowerment! Power to the people! and all that. But in this here awkward reality, all the other needs we have, like food or housing, we are asked to pay for. So why not power? And asking people to pay for the opportunity to make power decisions with credits they ‘earned’ with plausible and useful judgments — is that too much to ask?
+ Hmm, It’s something to think about. As opposed to having them buy those positions — with real campaign money they asked us to chip in — as if they didn’t have enough money they scrounged off the profits they made from selling our work in the first place?
– You are beginning to sound like some candidate, Sophie. Are you planning to run for something? Meanwhile: What’s the other aspect you were mentioning, Bog-Hubert ?
* Right: First, let me ask you if this first idea isn’t one way to make people in power ‘accountable’: meaning that they have an account from which they put up some kind of security they’d lose if their decisions don’t work out. So the idea is this: depending on the importance of the decision: put up an amount of your credit points you are willing to bet on the success of that decision, and as a ticket for being such an important person. If it works out, you may earn more credits; if it doesn’t, you lose those credits you put up. And if you have gambled away all your credits on foolish decisions, step aside. So isn’t this scheme another — innovative and, I’d say much needed — way to control power?Not a complete panacea, of course, but then our traditional means of power control don’t seem to be working too well anymore: there’s work to do on that issue, I think. Some different thinking?
+ Interesting idea. We should discuss that some more, maybe tomorrow night? Any chance Abbé Boulah might be back? But for now: …
* Yes, yes, I know, Sophie: about the second point. It also has to do with accountability. But this is about the accountability of the supporters of candidates and people in power positions. Consider that, as a form of support for a candidate, people might transfer some of their own credits to a candidate’s campaign, or to a person in a power position. Instead of money that currently is just used to buy expensive repetitions of inane campaign slogans and mudslinging accusations of competitors, your transferred credit points ’empower’ the candidate with your confidence in her or his judgment. If the person starts making stupid judgments, you can withdraw your contributions before losing them all to the Caligula-infected schemes of leaders whose power has actually made them sick, poisoned their judgment. In a sense, you ‘invest’ your precious credits, your own reputation, in the candidate’s future judgment. If the decisions work out, the candidate may pay you some ‘dividends’ on your investment. If the decisions flop, you lose it. Not only the official. It makes you accountable as well.
– Ah, I can see a whole new market emerging: Candidate power decision gut-feeling futures: selling short, selling long; candidate future decisions hedge funds…
+ Good grief, Vodçek: Please pour us another round here instead of scaring us with these grim visions…
* I’ll second that. I can see you guys aren’t quite ready for this kind of creative thinking yet. But just let me ask you this: For those issues we mentioned: getting people to participate meaningfully in planning decision discourse, rewarding them for meaningful contributions, not for uninformed rehashing of others lies; for making decisions based on the merit of discourse contributions, for evaluating that merit in the first place, for reducing the role of money in politics, for developing better controls of power: do you have better schemes up your sleeves? Then let’s hear them. Cheers, by Abbé Boulah!
The idea of an unconditional basic income looks like a good idea – a plausible extension of the common concept of life-supporting infrastructure — roads, communication, water supply, sanitation, police protection, defense are all part of that concept of providing essential conditions for all citizens.
One of the most frequent arguments is that such a guaranteed basic income would replace dozens of other support programs with their expensive and dignity-destroying bureaucracy, and provide recipients ‘freedom’ to allocate their funds in the way that corresponds best to their different individual needs, and pursue their own creative preferences.
The obvious question of how it would be financed is usually brushed off with that comment on savings from replacement of those programs, and seems to shut off further questions – as well as further investigation and discussion.
Since the devil often hides in the details of such noble endeavors, it seems necessary to look at some of those questions that aren’t being discussed.
At the risk of oversimplification, would it be useful to start with some basic assumptions and a very simple diagram of the main aspects, and their specific implications?
One assumption is that such a Basic Income should be sufficient to support a citizen’s needs for living a reasonably dignified life, providing the essential means for shelter, nourishment, clothing, health care, education, and so on. It should represent an adequate ‘life support’ package of life in a civilized society. Obviously, determining the size of such an income will require some investigation and discussion; it seems that it will not be easy to settle upon one size that will adequately but not extravagantly support residents in all locations, climates, and life situations. But some analysis of basic provisions for such a program it can be assumed as settled somehow.
Another assumption is that it should be ‘universal’ – that is, that all citizens should receive it regardless of their other economic or other situation. So some proposals – such as one providing the income for citizens over 21 years of age – already seem to twist that assumption somewhat.
A somewhat obvious assumption is that this basic income cannot be taxed — it is indeed sometimes being described as a ‘negative income tax’. The obvious implication that it therefore must be financed out of government income from other sources – in an economy consisting only of the components of producing the ingredients of that basic life support bundle, but no further production of ‘luxury’ items that would not be attainable with that income, the government distributing the Basic Income would have to tax everybody’s entire Basic Income to run the program – or just print money, which would end up in the pockets of the producers, and irresponsibly cause unstoppable inflation. But this raises the question of what items should be considered as ‘luxury’ and therefore taxed to supply the revenues for the UBI.
The question of financing might be started — to reveal some disturbing issues — with some very simplified assumption about such an economy. Considering the main components: The population would consist of
1) People who are working and producing – as a first simple assumption, only the ingredients of the basic life support system; let’s call this group ‘P’;
2) People who do not produce anything: ‘NP’;
3) The Government – ‘G’– that distributes the UBI income to everybody (for the sake of simplicity, it could be assumed that this is all done by computers, and that ‘the Government’ would not also consist of people receiving the UBI;
4) An element that might be called ‘Distribution’ – ‘D’ — (it might also be just a ‘machine’; but it is necessary to assume such an institution or ‘market’ where the actual products of the life support package LS can be exchanged for the money of the UBI (and vice versa).
The simple ‘system’ of this economy could now be crudely diagrammed as follows:
Figure 1 UBI ‘self-financed’ with only LS production?
P produces (P+NP)*LS and transfer this to D,
Having receiving $P*Bi from the government, this sum is transferred to D in return for P*LS life support packages (the content of individual packages may differ according to people’s different preferences) but the entire package is P*LS and ‘worth’ $P*Bi; so P’s are ‘paying’ $P*Bi to the distributor D. The P population ‘consumes’ P packages of LS.
NP are receiving $NP*Bi from the government and buy NP*LS worth this much from D, so transferring that sum to D. This part of society ‘consumes’ NP units of LS.
G To be able to pay out the next ‘round’ of Bi payments, the Government must receive the sums $P*Bi + $NP*Bi back from the Distributor D.
So far, so good; this ‘system’ seems to be ‘sustainable’. But is it? What, if anything, is P getting for producing all the life support packages? Just the amount needed for the P people involved in production to stay alive — $P*Bi?
The UBI proponents will argue that the UBI can’t be financed (as the scheme of Fig. 1 does) from the UBI payments: it must come from the production and payments of goods and services NOT in the LS package description: ‘luxury’ items ‘LX’.
The diagram for this arrangement might now look like the following (Fig. 2):
Fig. 2 UBI financed (only?) by taxes on ‘Luxury’ products
Now P is producing not only the needed LS packages for everybody in that society, but also an indeterminate amount of ‘luxury’ goods and services. These items are also transferred (sold) to the Distributor D, and then sold back to members of the Producer group P. These people must now have earned some additional funds – of course, from their profits of having produced some of the PX goods. That is, D must have paid them for those. (Shouldn’t they have been paid something for producing the excess number of LS packages for the NP group? This would of course mean that the total sum of payments to P for LS must be larger than $P*Bi – but where does the difference come from?)
If the assumption is to be satisfied that the whole UBI scheme must be financed from the ‘luxury’ items part of the economy, this will determine the total amount of payments—and thus the price of the luxury items – involved in this sector: For the scheme to be viable under the stated assumption, the sum (LX ‘taxes’) to be paid to the government must equal (at least) $ (P+NP)*Bi – regardless of the size of this sector, the number and quality of luxury items produced and sold. Question: How can the UBI-mandated price of a luxury item be established / predicted based on how much it will contribute to the needed government UBI Payments? This seems to fly in the face of standard views of economics, such as that the price for a good or service should be determined by the cost of producing it, a reasonable profit margin, and from then on by demand.
I am sure these and similar questions can be answered by better qualified experts. For example, the overall problem that the viable financing of the UBI system will be inexorably linked to the ratio of P to NP – which is likely to change over time – and therefore likely demand adjustments to those changes even in the amount of UBI payment the government can ‘afford’? or in the purchasing value of those payments – in violation of the ‘guaranteed’ part of the BIG promise of ‘Basic Income Guarantee’?
I’d like to see the proponents of the idea spend some effort in answering these admittedly annoying little detail questions – even to the public who may not have had the chance to review any more detailed proposals than the PR propaganda pieces focusing only on the main ‘reduce government’ and similar arguments. Including questions I have blanked out from this little inquiry: the issue of the resources going into the production of all these goods and services, the question of different amounts of time, skills, education etc. to produce them, and the role of the entire ‘distribution’ segment, including transportation, interim financing, advertising, and selling, the aspect of ‘consumed’ goods (e.g. food’) as opposed to durable goods (houses), and the whole wicked issue of insurance to deal with randomly occurring needs whose costs exceed anybody’s ability to pay for them out of an UBI Payment. It seems that the public discussion of this concept has not covered all pertinent issues yet.
In the discourse about collective plans, the process of evaluation – making judgments about whether a plan is ‘good enough’ or which of several plans is the better, — differences of opinions occur, which can be resolved by mutual explanation of the basis of evaluation judgments. The discussion here is focused on the role of ‘criterion functions’ in this process. These functions – showing how ones subjective ‘goodness’ judgments depend on ‘objectively’ measurable criteria – make it possible to explain one’s basis of judgment in much more specific detail than is usually done even in the most cooperative group processes. Some key insights of the discussion are the following:
While such detailed explanation is possible and conceptually not overly challenging, including this process in actual decision-making procedures would add cumbersome provisions to a planning discourse already calling for more structure than many participants are used to and feel comfortable with. The issues of ‘aggregation’ – of individuals’ partial judgments into overall judgments, and especially of individual judgments into ‘group’ evaluation measures are potential sources of controversy.
It becomes clear that any overall ‘measures’ or judgments that can meaningfully guide decisions cannot be derived in ‘top-down’ fashion from general ‘meta values’ and ‘common good’ concepts but must be constructed ‘bottom-up’ from individual participants’ concerns and understanding of specific situations and context.
Familiar claims of planning decision makers ‘to act on behalf of others (clients, users), with adequate knowledge of those others’ concerns and basis of judgment, but not having gone to the trouble of doing this, are unfounded and should be viewed with reserve.
Examination of criterion functions make it obvious that the quest for and claim of having found ‘optimal’ solutions is unrealistic: no plan will achieve the ‘best possible’ scores on all evaluation aspects even for individuals, and different people will have very different but legitimate criterion functions.
Considering plans or policies whose effects will occur – and change – over time, adds another level of complexity. System simulation models can track the performance of variables (criteria) over time, but do not show associated ‘goodness’ judgments (obviously, since this would either be just one person’s assessment, of some aggregated measure of judgments that have not been included in the system modeler’s data.
The examination of how evaluation judgments for different plans could be tracked over time (as a function of the simulated variable tracks) suggests a different decision guide: the (time-discounted) degree of improvement of a plan over the current or predicted problem situation under the ‘do nothing’ option.
The discussion takes place in the hypothetical ‘Fog Island Tavern’.
– Hey Bog-Hubert – what kind of critters are you guys talking about? I couldn’t quite get it coming in, but it sounds like serious wildlife?
– Good morning Renfroe. Well, I guess you could call them critters, but not the kind you mean. Actually, we were talking about criterion functions. About how we can explain what we mean when we’re making judgments about, say, proposed plans. Calling them good, so-so, or bad, or anything in-between.
– Huh. Plans, as in what to do about saving the beaches where each storm washes away more of the sand?
– Yes, or about what to do about the climate change that makes the storms worse and the oceans rise.
– What, you guys can’t even come up with a plan for beach preservation on this little island, and now you want to talk about the oceans and global climate?
– Well, Renfroe, it looks like the problems of coming to some agreements about what to do are the same everywhere, just at a different scale.
– So where do your critters come in on that one?
– I guess we need to back track a little on that. It has to do with evaluation, say of different proposed plans, to decide which one is best, or whether any of them should be implemented. You could start by looking at them and then make an offhand judgment, say ‘good’; ‘not good’. If there are several proposals, you may want to use a more detailed scale, for example one with seven points ranging from ‘couldn’t be worse = – 3, to ‘couldn’t be better’: +3, with a midpoint of zero meaning ‘don’t know’ or ‘so-so’. In a group you’ll have to agree on some common scale. Now somebody asks you why you rate proposal X so high, and solution Y so low, since they came up with very different ratings from yours. So you may want to talk about the reasons, the basis of your judgments, maybe you each know something the other doesn’t know or see, that should be considered in making the decision. What do you do? How do you explain what makes a solution good or bad, in your view?
– Well, you could look at the various costs and benefits, and how well the plan will work for what it is meant to do?
– And how good it looks, if its’ a building or some thing we are looking at or living in?
– Yes, Sophie.
– And don’t we also have to worry about those ‘unexpected side-and-after-effects’ of plans, that people always talk about but keep forgetting?
– Good point. Next we list all those considerations or ‘aspects’ and make sure that we all mean the same thing when we name them. But we can only consider what people bring up in the discourse, so it’s important to make sure that is organized so as to let everybody put in their views. Now you can give each plan a ‘goodness’ judgment score – on the same scale — for each of those aspects. Let’s call those ‘partial’ judgments – all together they make up your ‘overall’, whole judgment for each plan. You’ll then have to explain how exactly all of those scores make up the overall judgment.
– And looking at the different aspects, you may want to reconsider the first overall, offhand judgment you made?
– Good point, Vodçek. Deliberating already. Learning. Excellent. But to get to the criterion functions: You realize how an explanation of a judgment the goodness score always consists of showing how the judgment relates to something else. That something else can be another judgment – look at how Sophie suggested that her overall ‘goodness’ judgment of, say, a building, should depend in part on the beauty of that building – which of course would be another judgment, and people may have different opinions about that. But the relationship would be that of some ‘degree of beauty’ about which she would have to make another ‘goodness’ judgment to explain how it contributes to the overall building goodness judgment.
– That’s not much on an explanation though, is it?
– Right. So you could ask her what, in her mind, makes a building beautiful. What would be you answer, Sophie?
– Well, if I got the sense that he just wants to annoy me with all these questions – because I can see how each answer will just lead to another one, and where will that end – I could just say that if he can’t see it he just doesn’t understand beauty and tell him to get lost. But if I think he really wants to learn what I see as beautiful, I might suggest that it has to do with, say, its proportions.
– Ah. Now we are getting closer to the criterion issue. Because proportions are really measurement relations: in a rectangle, the length of the short side to the length of the longer one. The relationship is now something we can ‘objectively’ measure. Quantitative. And many people are really adamant about making our decisions based on objective ‘facts’ and measures. So would it satisfy those folks to show them a graph that has the ‘objective’ measure on one axis – the horizontal one, say, and our judgment scale on the vertical one: If you are convinced that the most beautiful proportion is the ‘golden ratio’ – 1:1.618… the graph would touch the + 3 line at that 1.618… point, and go down from there in both directions. Like this, for example: Down to 1:1 (the proportion of the square) on one side, and down to -3 for infinitely long rectangles: 1:∞
Fig 1. A criterion function for proportion judgments
– Hey, didn’t we look at that proportion thing a while back? But then we looked at both sides on the 1:1 point – if the right side is for ‘vertical’ rectangles, the left one continues past the 1:1 point for horizontal ones.
– And if I remember correctly, didn’t somebody point out that there are many people who feel that the square, or the one based on the diagonal of the square, the √2 relationship, is the most beautiful proportion?
– You’re right. But that was in another book, a fat one, if I recall? So let’s not get too distracted by the details here. But perhaps we should just remember that there are many different forms of such functions: the one where ‘zero’ on the variable represents -3 on the judgment scale, which goes on to approach +3 at infinity, its opposite that starts with +3 at zero on the criterion scale and approaches -3 at infinity, the opposite of the golden ratio curve that goes from -3 at some value of our criterion and rises towards +3 on both sides.
– Can’t think of an example for that one though. Except perhaps weird ones like people’s appreciation for apartment levels going up towards the higher floors and +3 at the penthouse – but with a sudden drop to -3 at floor 13?
– Goes to show that people’s preferences can take strange contortions… But those are personal judgments. I guess they are entitled to hold those, privately. Now, what about collective decisions?
– Yes, Vodçek. That is the point where we left off when Renfroe came in. We can explain how our subjective goodness judgment relates to some objective measurement. And this is useful: I can ask somebody to make a decision on my behalf if I give him my criterion function to make a selection – even though I know that his criterion function likely has a different shape and the high +3 judgment score is in a different place. But the issue we started from was the idea that there should be measurements – expressing values – that everybody should agree on, so that collective decisions could be guided by those values and measurements. ‘Meta-values’?
– Yes, that notion seems to make perfect sense to many people – for example the feel that trying to stop climate change is so important for the survival of human civilization – that it is such a meta-value that everybody should agree on so that we can start taking more effective action. And that this is even an ethical, a moral duty. So they can’t understand why there are some people who don’t agree.
– Right. So we were trying to untangle the possible reasons why they don’t.
– Short of declaring them all just blindly indoctrinated by political or religious views or outright fraudulent misrepresentations, eh?
– Yes, let’s not go there. I guess there may have been some confusion because at first there was no distinction between the ‘meta-values – that were quite general and abstract – and the corresponding measures one would need to actually guide decisions: You can’t really argue against a concept like the Common Good as a guiding value – but when it comes to pin down just what that common good is, and how to get an ‘objective’ measure for it, history shows that there’s plenty of disagreement both about the ‘common’ part – my family, tribe, town, country, my religion, humanity, all life on the planet? And even more vicious: about the part what the ‘good’ might be.
– I agree; and the attempt to justify those different views have led to some pretty desperate contortions of moral guidelines for decisions to meet those good things: I remember the old ‘dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’ (‘sweet and decorous it is to die for one’s country’), or promising all kinds of heavenly rewards in the hereafter to those willing to fight and kill and die for religious ideas.
– Well, if your tribe or country or your faith is your ‘common’, and somebody is attacking it, what’s wrong with that?
– I guess it becomes questionable when these definitions lead to more of the good is ending up with some people – the fellows who are spouting these glorious quotes and values and then get to make the decisions ‘on behalf’ of everybody else, while many of the everybody else are doing the dying and sacrificing. If it becomes apparent that these value leaders and doers have actually been acting more on behalf of their own good, the trust in those values is eroded. No matter how they are justified: by philosophical theories, by divine revelations (mostly revealed only to some special prophets), by political theories, or scientific theories. Or systems thinking. Or holistic thinking and awareness.
– Even scientific and systemic investigations?
That’s the tragedy, right. You may argue that science and systems tools are our best available tools for guiding action, based on objective measurements and facts, and have all the evidence and replicable observations to support them: if they then are used by leaders, — governments or ‘movements’ — to postulate ‘meta values’ to guide actions ‘on behalf of’ others, they will run into the same trust issues as all the other attempts to do the same, — unless…
– Unless what?
Well: unless they can also offer guarantees that those leaders are not just acting on their own behalf. Even if Congress were full of scientists and systems thinkers: if they make laws to deprive people of health insurance while themselves enjoying the best insurance and health care, no matter what justification they offer for their actions, they would run into trust problems. So that would be one condition.
– One condition, Vodçek? Are there others?
– In theory, yes. Its’ actually part of the job of the legislature: isn’t it in the constitution, even, that they should make laws on behalf of their constituents. And the representative notion is, of course, that representatives should be part of the communities they represent and communicate with then so that they know what the community wants? And then go and vote for laws that realize those preferences.
– Which they should do even if they don’t agree with them? Even if they know better? Doesn’t the constitution also state that they should vote according to their own conscience?
– Right: there seems to be some contradiction there. And it’s leading to that constant tug-of-war between the principle of electing representatives whose judgment we trust — to vote in view of the common good – even if we don’t agree, — because we don’t have all the information? Or because we are suffering from doctrinaire blindness or stupidity, or ethical or moral depravity? And to the alternative of passing laws by referendum, regardless of what the representatives are saying.
– Well, there’s the practical issue: we can’t possibly make all laws by referendum, can we? And if we are too ignorant to give our representatives proper guidance about how to vote so they have to vote by their own better knowledge and information and conscience, should we be allowed to vote on laws?
– But we are allowed to vote for the representatives? Isn’t there an expectation that the representatives should provide enough information to their constituents to know and understand the best available basis of judgment for the needed actions and also be confident that the representatives’ basis of judgment is sound enough to let them vote according to their own judgment conscience if and when necessary?
– Right. Theory, perhaps; current practice of governance looks a bit different. But that’s where our question about the criterion functions come in, again: They are part of the process of not only making up our minds about what actions to take or to support, but also of explaining our basis of judgment to each other. In the extreme, so that we can trust somebody else to make judgments and take action on our behalf – because we have conveyed our mutual basis of judgment well enough, as well as made sure it does give adequate consideration to all available information and concerns.
– So what we are trying to clear up for ourselves is this question: Are there general or universal ‘meta-values’ that can give us adequate criteria to guide effective action — not only let leaders invoke those values without an way of checking whether they actually are served by the proposed actions? And how would those criteria / measures come to be identified and agreed upon?
– Even more specifically, whether those measures should be determined by objective measurement, and then used by some people who are able or entitled to initiate ‘effective action’ to not only do so, — on behalf of everybody else – but to claim that this is ethically and morally defensible and necessary.
– And to declare everybody who disagrees to be ethically misguided – really: to be ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ people.
– Do they come right out and say so?
– I think both sides are, in so many words, unfortunately. So the question of whether there are ‘meta-values’ with related performance measures that everybody should adopt and thus support the resulting actions, is an important one. The sticking part being, to support collective actions taken on our behalf, and perhaps compelling us to take certain everyday actions ourselves, in pursuit of those meta-values. Didn’t we say, a little while ago, that somebody can take action on my behalf if I have given him my criterion functions? – But now it looks like the suggestion is the other way around: that there are criterion functions people tell us we should adopt, to comply with the ethical demands of the Meta Values. So we are trying to understand what that really means.
– Okay: so, let us assume that we have persuaded the participants in the climate change debate to explain their basis of judgment to each other, as much as possible by use of criterion functions. Diagrams that explain how or subjective ‘goodness’ judgments g about proposed plans relate to some ‘objective’, measurable properties of climate change aspects. Take the example of the ‘evil’ CO2 that we are adding to the atmosphere. Assuming that there is some agreement about how much that matters – a different scientific question that also needs sorting out in many people’s minds. And assuming there’s some meaningful agreement about how and where those levels of CO2 will be measured.
– What do you mean – are agreements about CO2 needed? Isn’t that just a simple scientific fact?
– No, Sophie: It makes a difference whether you measure CO2 content in the atmosphere, and at what height, or in the oceans. All those things must be sorted out. Then: is the ‘amount’ or ‘percentage’ of CO2 a good choice of criterion for explaining our judgments about the quality of a plan to improve things?
+ Sure: Haven’t scientists found out, in may serious studies, that the amount of CO2, at the time when we began so see substantial human-based climate change, was some value ‘c*’? Whether you wish to use the actual measure of the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere or its percentage, does not really matter, at least for the sake of this question. Now, say a plan or policy P1 has been proposed to try to get things back in line, whatever that means. So a person tries to explain how her judgment score on some scale +U, to –U, say +3 to -3 depends on how close a proposed plan comes to that ‘goal’ of c*. Would you say that to get a ‘goodness score of +3 (meaning ‘couldn’t possibly get any better’, on a ‘goodness scale of +3 ‘couldn’t possibly get any better, to -3 meaning ‘couldn’t possibly get any worse’ with a midpoint of zero ‘’so-so’, do don’t know’), the plan would have to achieve a return to that value ‘c*’? So you’d draw up a criterion function with the top of the curve touching the +3 line at c*. But another person B thinks that a slightly higher level of CO2 would be OK given some measures in the plan to mitigate it faster. It looks like this:
Figure 3: Criterion functions of two persons, for a plan to return the CO2 value to a desirable CO2 level
It shows their different judgment basis regarding what that level c* should be, showing the CO2-measure on the x-axis and the judgment score on the y-axis. Any lower or higher than that would get a lower score.
– Okay; I see. And you are saying that in principle, every participant in the evaluation would be entitled to his or her own curve? Even one that doesn’t have the highest score at ‘c*’?
– Now why would you – or anybody – put the highest score anywhere else?
– Well, aren’t you guys saying that having spewed so much CO2 into the atmosphere since it was at that benign level ‘c*’ has done a lot of damage already? So to repair that damage – to get the glaciers to grow back, for example, or to cool down the oceans, – it would be necessary to reduce the CO2 to a lower level than ‘c*’ – at least for a while? If you could calculate that level, that’s where a person B might put the +3 score. And give that score to another plan P2 that would achieve that level. Does that make sense?
– Wait a minute: wouldn’t it be better to look at the effectiveness of a plan to reduce the amount of CO2 – at least, as you say, for a while, until the effects of increased CO2 level have been ‘repaired’?
– Good question, at least for showing that even the choice of criterion is a controversial issue. You could say that it might be even better to look at how close to the ideal CO2 level a plan can get with its reduction effectiveness, and show how that relates to what would happen if nothing is done? Which is always an alternative ‘plan’?
– Good. But the question is really about whether the criterion of ‘c*’ or ‘c•’ is an appropriate one to base you judgment upon: Both plans are claiming to reach those values – claims that should be assessed for their plausibility, don’t forget – but at different points in time. So which one is ‘better’?
– I guess we should say: the plan that gets there ‘sooner’ – all other aspects being equal, for the sake of the argument.
– Yes, but doesn’t that mean you really have a different criterion? Specifically: the criterion of ‘time for the plan to get to c* — or c•? Which really is a different criterion, so which one are you going to use?
– Does it matter whether we use different levels of desirable c’s as long as we all come up with a goodness judgment g, and we each have explained what that judgment depends upon?
– If the outcome is that your judgment will support P1 while –‘s score will prefer P2 as the better plan – all else being equal, as you say: the problem isn’t really solved yet, is it?
– Hey guys, aren’t you missing something essential here? Well, you did sort of stumble on it, – with your remark ‘at least for a while’.
– Huh? Explain, Vodçek. What’s missing?
– Time, of course. In your criterion functions so far, you seem to make an assumption that your plans P1 and P2 will somehow ‘achieve’ some level of CO2 one they got implemented, and that things would then stay that way? But come on, that’s not how things work, is it? Even a plan for this kind of issue would have to involve activities, policies, processes, all continuing over time. It can’t be a sudden magic spell to change things overnight. And then it would take time for the actual CO2 level to change back to whatever level you’d have in mind — if the plan works. But how long is that going to take? And is it going to stay at that level? Shouldn’t that be part of your systemic ‘due consideration’?
– You are right. So let me see – looks like we have to draw up a kind of three-dimensional criterion function, is that what you are implying?
– Right. If you are serious about this idea of ‘explaining how your subjective judgment relates to objective criteria’. Not everybody does…
– Okay, I see your point. So we draw the diagram like this: Time on the horizontal right-left axis, CO2 – level on the horizontal up-down axis y, and your judgment on the vertical axis z.
– And before you ask, I think Dexter would say simulation models to predict the track of the CO2 levels for each plan over time can and have been developed, given reliable data…
– But now, what’s your score for those plans? If the CO2 levels and judgments change all the time? By the way, wouldn’t you have to also include a simulated track for the ‘current’ state of affairs and its future track if nothing is done?
+ Right. So we have the time CO2 simulation with three tracks – like this?
– Okay, what about instead looking at the difference between the desired targets and what the plans are actually achieving, over time? It would require looking at the total measure of those differences over time, and I agree that it would also require an agreement about the time frame we are willing to look at. People keep talking about the world we are going to leave for our grandchildren, from a more systemic and holistic perspective – but don’t offer any specifics about how we might distinguish one plan from another, or even from just doing nothing?
– I like your point about looking at the difference, the degree of improvement we can expect from a plan. What would that look like in your diagram?
– Well, the measure would have to be one like the area of the judgment ‘surface’ between two alternatives? Because we agree that in order to reach some kind of meaningful overall measure, it will have to be made up of judgment’ measures, right? But I’m sure that at least for individual judgment systems, ways can be found to calculate that, just as there are equations that describe the simple line functions in the previous examples. But for the time assessment, it will have to include some feature of ‘discounting’ the judgments over time – like calculating the ‘present’ value of a series of income or cost payments over time. Work to do, eh? Because you can see in the diagram that if a plan ‘works’, the improvement judgment area will get wider and wider over time – but after since the probabilities / plausibility judgments will also get more and more uncertain for long future time periods, they will become less and less important factors in the final overall judgment.
– I see what you mean. Not because we don’t care about future generations, mind you – but simply because we just can’t be certain about our predictions about the future.
– Right. Meanwhile, the discourse may become more productive if we threw more of these kinds of diagrams into the fray? Like this one about the judgment surfaces – I agree it needs discussion?
– So you may have to look at the actual results that those changes in CO2 will bring about, over time? Like: levels of ocean rise expected until the remedy sets in – will it actually recede if the plans are any good? I haven’t heard anybody even mention that yet… And provisions for what to do about sea level change until it stops rising?
– Coming to think of that – have there been any plans put out there with that kind of details?
– I admit, I haven’t been following all the reports on that controversy – but I am not aware of any.
– Hey, here’s a test for promoters of a plan: ask them whether they are willing to put up down payments for new ocean front real estate that will emerge if their plan works as intended?
– Renfroe… Ah well, maybe you’ve got something there. Get Al to put down money for property on the beach in front of Mar-a-Lago?
– You guys are giving me a headache. How are we ever going to get moving on the problem if you keep analyzing things to death and wasting time with stupid pranks?
– Well, who was claiming and boasting about taking a more systemic and holistic look at these problems, and of making decisions based on objective facts? It may be useful to turn that big talk down a notch, and focus on the painful nitty-gritty aspects of how to make these decisions. So that people can agree on something specific instead of calling each other names, and resisting plans because of distrust – deserved or not – about what the promoters for plan P1 or P2 are really after? Like power? The next election? More profit for one industry rather than another? That lack of trust may be the real reason why people keep resisting plans to do something about problems. But can’t talk about them because those suspected motives or their lack of them aren’t being part of the discourse?
– Ah: the discourse. Yes. How to talk about all that without starting to call each other names or throwing rocks at each other and storefronts… What does that take? Where’s Abbé Boulah?
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.
– 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?
– 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.
– 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…
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?
– 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?
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)Posted: July 8, 2017
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:
– ‘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.
For each planning or problem-solving ‘Project’, a separate FB group with the respective title will be started by its moderator.
Participants or ‘group members’ are assumed to have read and agreed to these provisions.
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.
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.
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 (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.
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.
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.