Archive for March, 2022

TAMING POWER AND THE PUBLIC PLANNING DISCOURSE SYSTEM

Last update: 4/5/2022 (Adding section 10 on Evaluting Discoures Contributions)

Thorbjørn Mann

I submit, for discussion, that better controls of power are desperately needed, as are public (global) decision-making tools that better — that is, more transparently — link the merit of discourse contributions with the decisions, and that the development of a better discourse platform with some provisions for evaluation of contributions can offer both: 

1  THE URGENT NEED  FOR PUBLIC (GLOBAL?) PLANNING DISCOURSE PLATFORM ,  DECISIONS BASED ON DISCOURSE CONTRIBUTION MERIT, AND 

CONTROL OF POWER

Tall order: I agree, and I expect that many will find it impossible, if only because  it  looks too complex. Plausible — but is it reasonable to expect that complex problems can be ‘fixed’ with simple tricks? Some potential provisions I have found while working on improvements to planning decision-making suggest to me that better tools for both the discourse decision-making and the power control issue are  possible, and that they should be discussed, as well as that the search for other, better answers should be pursued more intensively than what I currently see.  

To support my perhaps naively optimistic hypothesis but also to invite critical comments and better ideas, I suggest to break up the discussion into ‘chunks’ that can be discussed in more depth;  the effort to present the whole ‘system’ in its overall complexity has always led to larger, even book-size articles whose very size discourage discussion if they even get read. 

So I would like to post some of the components (chunks) one by one — posting one a day or so, just keeping the overall scheme in mind that holds them all together: the diagram shows the relationships between the topics. 

At any time, participants in the discussion or interested observers who get the feeling that it  — and the topics listed  — are somehow ‘missing the problem’  or wasting time on a ‘wrong question’ should  feel free to make that objection, but  try to state the ‘real problem’ or better question for consideration. So all the topics will have this ‘wrong question?’  reminder at the end, that may lead to changes in the sequence, and will be summarized in the end, before a final question or effort (hope) to articulate some ‘conclusion’ or recommendation based on the information and questions contributed.  

A first suggested list of ‘chunks’  for discussion: (Items added in response to reader suggestions (from FB discusion) shown in italic)

  • The need for a public planning discourse support system (1 abiove)
  • The need for better controls of power
  • The Goals of the System (2)
  • The platform (3)
  • Participation Incentives (4)
  • The ‘Verbatim’  record (5)
  • Power and the discourse platform (

*  Procedural agreements 

*  Formalization of entries (6)

*  Displays of the process

*  ‘Next Step’? 

*  Decision Modes

*  Evaluation

Formal ‘Quality’ Evaluation

Solution plausibility based on Argument Evaluation

*  Decision Criteria

*  Discourse contribution merit accounts 

*  ‘Paying for power decisions’

*  Pricing power decisions

* Transfer of merit points 

*   Other possible uses of merit accounts

  • Implementation: Experiments, Games: ‘Skunkworks”

Brief discussions of these topics  for discussion will be added — not necessarily in the same order,  in response to reader suggestions

Wrong question?  (E.g. “Is the Power issue -Discurse Platform connection appropriate?”

2    THE GOALS OF THE SYSTEM 

(In response to the question by T. Markatos:  “What are the goals of the system and how do they all interrelate? Until we can answer such, we can only guess at the causalities”)

The focus of the post wasreally somewhat limited: to explore the connection between the platform and the Power issue:  Specifically; the notion that the evaluation provisions of the platform  would offer some new opportunities for ’taming’ power.  This was based on the two assumptions  

a)  that such a platform is needed — for a number of reasons (or goals) I have written about  and will try to summarize below — and 

b)  that better controls of power  is also urgent,  as current events demonstrate but of course also must be explored.  

Let me start with (a):

Humanity faces various challenges  of the ‘wicked’ kind, for which collective (even global) agreements and decisions may be needed. The current  planning and policy-making tools are still inadequate to deal with these challenges:  Some specific aspects needing improvements are, briefly:

–  Better provisions and incentives for public participation  in the planning / policy-making and decision process;

–  Besides the desire for participation itself, the ‘distributed’ nature of the information about how problems and proposed solutions affect different parts of society (i.e. information not yet documented) calls for better access and incentives for collaborately contributing such information in a timely fashion;

–  Current media and governmental means of informing the public increasingly suffer from  polarization (channles only presenting information supporting selected perspectives and interests, from repetition of claims, but lack of concise overview of the essence of available information;

–  The lack of transparency of how the contributions  support (or fail to support)  governments’ eventual decisions,  thus meeting the aim that  decisions be transparently based on the merit of the available information;

–  The lack of adequate measures of that merit’;  that is, the pervasive inadequacy of  systematic evaluation in the process, supporting understandable decision criteria that can be compared with actual decisions;

–  The inappropriateness of decision modes  (such  as voting, even in the form of referendum-like procedures, that do not  apply well to problms and crises affecting populations across traditional governance boundaries;

–  The vulnerability of even the best  ‘democratic’ government structures to the corrosive effects of money  (corruption) and  and the effects and temptations of power.

–  The potential of innovative information technology appears to have contributed more to the increase of the problems than to their resolution. 

These are some of the major concerns and expectations for a better planning and  policy-making platform; that have guided my suggestions so far; more can certainly be added; all for discussion. For example, the paper Towards a Model for Survival” (Academia .edu)  that resulted from my observations of a lengthy (2011-2015) discussion on the Systems Thinking  group on LInkedIn addresses the concerns of such a platform in view of mutual sharing  and ealuating the information of the many  small ‘alternative’ initiatives already underway to grapple with the challenges leading then UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon  to call for ‘revolutionary thinking and action for an economic model for survival’  at the 2011 Davos meeting of the World Economic Forum. The many experienced and thoughtful  participants in that Systems Thinking group did not come to an agreement on what such a model would look like. 

3  PUBLIC PLANNING DISCOURSE: THE PLATFORM 

There ought to be a common PLATFORM for a better organized public discussion of plans, issues and policies?  Inviting all affected, interested, concerned parties to participate, to contribute questions, information and opinions in a way that transparently influences the eventual decisions about the plan. 

Such a platform is needed for plans, policies, agreements  involving  societal (and global) ‘wicked’ problems  and issues  that transcend traditional governance boundaries and for which conventional decision-making practices are inappropriate or inadequate. 

Ideas for such a platform have been described in  e.g.  ‘P D S S’ papers on Academia.edu. and other posts on Facebook and this blog Abbeboulah.com.) 

The diagram shows its basic components. It must be impartial, that is, open to all parties in controversial issues, even offer meaningful incentives for participation, but have provisions for the critical assessment of contributed, and aim at developing guidelines and criteria for decision that are transparently based on such assessments.

4    INCENTIVES FOR PARTICIPATION

The platform should have provisions for acknowledging and rewarding contributions.

This is necessary not only to encourage public participation for its own sake, but also to help getting the ‘distributed information’ about wicked problems into the process for consideration — the different perspectives of how both problems and proposed solutions affect different segments of society, and also to establish the mechanism for meaningful evaluation.

Incentive rewards must be distinguished according to the kinds of contributions (questions, answrs, solution proposals, pro and con arguments etc.

The incentives will have to be in a different ‘currency’ from money, but ‘fungible’ that is, potentially becoming practically useful in some way, within the process and outside.  

It is of course necessary to prevent the system from becoming overwhelmed by ‘information overload’ and redundant, useless or even disruptive content. This could be done by offering initial ‘empty’, mere ‘acknowledgement’ points but

  • ’activating the value’ of these points only for the ‘first’ entry of essentially the same content, (which will also encourage getting information ‘fast’, and
  1. modifying the value of the points in the later process of evaluation, according to their merit, not only upwards’ for positive, important and helpful contributions, but also ‘downward’ for false, disruptive, meaningless content.

Expressions of ‘endorsement’ of other posts or positions will be accommodated in the later ‘evaluation’ stage.

5    THE ‘VERBATIM’  RECORD

The platform will have  provisions for accepting entries in various ‘media’:  letters, phone calls, text messages, recordings of interviews, emails, citation from other documented sources.  They must be recorded in the form they were submitted (even though this may not be in a format suitable for systematic evaluation yet, and appear irritating to some).  They must be accessible for reference  («what did the author really say?»)  Each entry must be tagged with the author’s ID — a question to be discussed is whether and to what extent authors’ actual names should be publicly visible. 

For evaluation of contribution merit, this may not be needed or appropriate (a comment should be taken on the merit of its content?) But it will be necessary if assignment and valuation of merit points to their authors is to be provided. The collection of entries should be structured according to topics and issues, in chronological order. Authors will therefore have to indicate the issue an entry is aimed at. 

 A common habit is the posting of links to other sites or documents; should there be a rule to state explicitly what claims are to be taken as being introduced or supported by a link or reference? The question of how general ‘arguments from authority’ be treated will become critical in any later more systematic evaluation; if that task requires consideration of specific parts or premises — when and how should that be inntroduced into the process? 

6  FORMALIZATION OF ENTRIES 

Meaningful overview display of the state of discussion as well as  systematic evaluation will require organized presentation of entries in some commonly understandable, coherent format (For example, ‘pro’ or  ‘con’  arguments out proposed plans might be represented in a format or ‘template’ such as 

“Plan A ought to be adopted 

because

A will result in outcome B’

and 

B ought to be pursued (desirable)”

Such templates will have to be developed and agreed upon for the different types of planning discourse contributions:  Questions, answers, problems, solution proposals, evaluation criteria and judgments, etc.  Participants may be encouraged to submit or ’translate’ their  verbatim comments into an appropriate template, or the support system will have to do this, perhaps call for the author’s consent («Is this what you mean?»)  Many verbatim comments will be ‘enthymemes’ — e.g. arguments in which some premises are left unstated as ‘taken for granted’ — but for overview and systematic evaluation, they must be stated explicitly.

The templates may look unsatisfactory and too crude to trained logicians — forms like the ‘planning argument’ proposed above have not been acknowledged and studied by formal logic since it is not a ‘deductively valid’ form.  Arguably, for lay public participation, the templates should be as close to conversational language as possible, at the expense of disciplinary rigor. (Of course, this is an issue requiring discussion. 

[ 7 ]  DISPLAYING THE STATE OF DISCOURSE

A planning discourse aiming at providing adequate information for making collective decisions will need a system of displaying the proposed plans or questions to be discussed, as well as the state and content of the discourse. This will include a public ‘Bulletin board’ that shows what plans, issues are being proposed (‘candidates’) and those accepted for discussion, and their state of process until decision and closure.  

The important principle is that all different positions about controversial issues must be properly represented, to avoid the polarization of political discourse currently caused by news media channels only presenting material supporting one partisan perspective. 

For initial purposes such as to determine whether a proposed issue candidate should be accepted for full organized discourse, the common current format of social media may be sufficient. That format will soon become too unwieldy for participants to gain and keep an adequate overview of the state of discussion. Topic and issue ‘maps’ (diagrams showing the concepts and topcis that have been raised, and their relationships )— may be needed, to be updated as the discourse evolves. The relationship connections in issue maps are simply those of ‘issue or question x  has been raised in response to question y’. Diagrams of systems models’ and system behavior over time would focus on relationships such as cause-effect or ‘flows’ between ’stocks’. Ideally, the support system would provide such understanding and orientation aids, drawing as needed on the service of consultants or ‘special technique’ processes for gathering specific information, predicting the expected benefits and cost performance of proposals, etc. the participants may call for.  

Comments? 

8 POWER AND THE DISCOURSE PLATFORM

The general question whether new tools for dealing with the problems of power should not need much explanation. In almost all current societies and government forms as well as in view of the issue of a ‘world government’, the presence of power-related corruption in various forms, and the abuses of government leaders who have gained even just close to ‘total’ authoritarian power are well known and much deplored. And the provisions of ‘democratic’ constitutions that have arguably proven successful within the governance systems are showing increasingly disturbing vulnerability to the intrusions and influence of money and partisan information — from wealthy oligarchs, religious institutions, and huge national and multi-national corporations that control public information media and election financing. 

However, the problem of power in general  is too vast for this discussion, and a more general discussion is urgent in its own right. The key thesis of this limited discussion can be stated as follows:  “Some problems of power (and abuse of power) can be at least partially remedies or mitigated by certain provisions in a better organized public planning and policy-making discourse support platform.”  It is necessary to stress the ‘partial’ qualification; though it can be argued that it requires at least  some understanding of the overall problem to assess whether and how discourse  platform provisions can make a difference.

Platform provisions and power

How might a better public planning discourse make a difference in taming power? There are several  ways in which specific interrelated provisions could help:

* Empowerment of the public, through provisions that incentivize contributions to the discourse

* Evaluation features that help constructing measures of merit of proposed plans, based on discourse contributions; and thus guide decisions; 

* The establishment of contributors’ ‘discourse merit accounts‘ from the evaluated contributions (a by-product of the plan evaluation process);

* The use of these accounts by public officials to “Pay for decisions” and their implementation — merit points they have ‘earned’ as well as points  citizen supporters may have contributed to the officials’ accounts — for decisions too important to be paid for by a single person’s account. This different ‘currency’ may replace or at least lessen the role of money in public decisions. Citizens can also withdraw their merit point contributions if they lose confidence in the performance of officials;

* In this way, citizens become  empowered  but also ‘co-accountable‘ for the decisions they authorize officials to make, and the officials will eventually ‘use up’ the points that constitute their power, instead of amassing evermore power and wealth gained form illicit power abuse.

These ideas will of course have to be discussed in more detail, as well as, hopefully, any better alternative suggestions they provoke? 

Wrong question:?

a) ]What makes this issue a dilemma is the fact that some events, crises, problems require ‘fast’ decisions that can’t wait for lengthy public discourse; that is, these decisions must be made by people given the  responsibility and the power to decide. The power must be adequate to confront the scope of the problems, and to ensure that its provisions are then followed / adhered to. This usually involves some form of ‘enforcement’: logically by a power  greater (more forceful) than any potential violator. Does this mean that the power must also be greater that any entity trying to ‘tame’ or ‘control’ that power? 

b)  The real problem with power (in the public domain) is corruption;  so any efforts to deal with power must start with the role of potential sorption in the governance system; which may ultimately be seen as the problem of the role of money  in the governance and policy-making process.

—–

 9 PAYING FOR POWER DECISIONS

The incentive and evaluation provisions of the proposed platform offer an innovative opportunity for taming power: having public officials ‘pay’ for decisions  with the ‘merit points’ they have earned with their contributions to the discourse  

Rationale 

We think of the desire of people to strive for more freedom to make decisions for themselves and their community as a kind of human right: in line with the right to life, food, shelter, the pursuit of happiness:  “empowerment”.  And we are accustomed to the fact that we also have to work for, and pay for the realization of these pursuits or needs. But when the empowerment extends to decisions on behalf of or even over the desire of other people, (perhaps as one of those power decisions), the custom is curiously reversed: people with power expect to get paid for the satisfaction of that desire. And part of the temptation and addiction of such power is the forcefully pursued expectation to continually increase such payment. Which leads to the abuse of power. 

There are of course more features and systemic loops involved, that deserve to be studied more thoroughly, but for the current purpose of this study, we can go straight to the reversed question of “What if the power to making collective decisions that affect others, or the entire community, is a right that also had to be paid for?”  Of course, there would be objections to extenuating the already problematic role of money to this, But the proposed PPDSS platform provisions of incentives that become merit reward points that people accumulate in ‘merit point accounts’ constitute a different ‘currency’ — a kind of ‘reputation’ account, now given some actual measurement units — could offer a practical way of realizing this, and thus become a means for curbing the tendency for evermore powerful decisions:  If a public official  had to ‘pay’  for the power of making decisions, that power would diminish and disappear when those reputation merit points run out.  

Implementation. 

This idea could be realized with some technology that arguably is already available. 

One form might be upfront payments for the ‘license’ to make certain domain-specific decisions, and a mechanism to withdraw points from the officials’  merit point account, as a power decision gets recorded for iacceptance and mplementation of a plan or activity. Or there could be devices requiring such payments as a decision is attempted: the ‘button’ for activation can be activated only with the ‘merit point card’.

This provision would be especially useful to be applied to decisions that must be made ‘fast’, for which there is no time for lengthy public discussion. 

A further opportunity of this feature might be the ability of citizens to ‘support’ officials (or plans to be decided upon), that individual accounts of office holders would not cover, by transferring some of citizens merit points to the official. Citizen might be allotted a certain basic merit point amount — a version of voting rights — that  can be increased with discourse merit points (like the widely discussed basic guaranteed basic income), to actually become empowered and also co-accountable for collective decisions. Citizens would also have to be able to recall such support payments if the official doe not make proper intended use of them — but only before they are used… 

Of course, this idea needs development, discussion, experimentation — perhaps as a ‘game’ version’ or more elaborate opinion surveys ‘skunkworks’ projects — ‘parallel to existing practice, before actual implementation.

Comments?  

Wrong question?

——

10 EVALUATION OF DISCOURSE CONTRIBUTIONS 4/5/22

The general topic of evaluation and the literature about it is vast. So one might suppose that everything significant and useful has been said or written about it. Still, it is fair to state that practical application in planning and policy-making  lags far behind the theoretical and methodological insights that have been produced over time. Part of the reason for this discrepancy may be practical  and the lack of adequate technological tools.  And for the assessment of the role of evaluation in a better orchestrated planning discourse support system using available new technology, some new issues emerge that require consideration and discussion.

A first necessary step may be the clarification of different evaluation tasks that occur throughout the planning process: it is not just a final formal evaluation of  a proposed plan to guide the decision.  A distinction must be made between 

*  the ‘quality’ assessment of a proposed plan as compared to an existing (‘do nothing’) option,  and

* the assessment of the merit of discourse contributions towards that decision: even a ‘con’ argument against a proposal (that may be good enough for eventual acceptance) has ‘merit’ that should be acknowledged and rewarded. So the ‘merit’ assessment is a related but distinctly different task from the determination of the ‘quality’ evaluation of the proposed plan. The relationship, of course, maybe the cause of potential confusion and misunderstanding, as well as the continued controversy about  ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ properties and judgments in the assessment of both plan quality and contribution merit. 

Evaluation judgments of different kinds occur throughout the planning discourse. A quick overview shows this:

– Problems, Issues, Questions, Answers, Plan Proposals (‘Solutions’) are raised and must be assessed for acceptance on an agenda of public discussion;

– For each accepted agenda items, new entries must be assessed for pertinence and salience (importance?) to the topic (and sub-categories, if any), for acceptance and assignment sorting; ‘Netiquette’ considerations — e.g. language and ad-hominem comments etc. may play a role here as well.

– Assuming some forms of participation incentives and reward are going to be part of the process, each accepted entry may be given some ‘basic’ participation reward. If ‘only the first’ entry of the same content is to be entered into any organized assessment scheme (and to avoid ‘information overflow’ with essentially the same  content), a judgment of identity or similarity of items expressed in slightly different wording may be needed. Entries with different degrees of detail may have to be even given different ‘basic’ points that comments addressing only one feature or detail claim. (These ‘basic participation points (or vehicles for merit assessments) will be modified according to evaluation results by the participant community later on.)

– Depending on agreements regarding the procedures to be followed in each specific project, participants may  express first ‘overall offhand’ judgments about

* the plausibility, coherence, validity or other merit of an entry (according to the entry type); and 

* the ‘quality’ (goodness, desirability, or lack of such) of a plan solution or detail.

The judgments must be expressed on some agreed-upon scale- respectively, of plausibility (e.g. -1 ≤ pl ≤ +1)  ore 

quality q, (e.g. -3 ≤ q ≤ +3).

– For more  systematic deliberation and evaluation, It may be necessary to ‘formalize’ entries — that is, express the content of an entry, in some concise (agreed-upon) formal ‘template’; this may involve adding of e.g. explicit assumptions of premises not stated in a ‘verbatim’ comment but ‘taken for granted’. For example, argument ‘pro or con’ a proposed plan PP may be presented in the following ‘template’ form: 

(‘Conclusion’:) PP  ought to be accepted, because

(Factual – Instrumental Premise 1) “PP  will result in effect/outcome R, and

(Ought- Premise 2) Outcome R ought to be pursued.”

Or the more elaborate template

(‘Conclusion’:) PP  ought to be accepted, because

(Factual – Instrumental Premise 1) “Given conditions C1, PP  will result in effect/outcome R, and

(Ought-Premise 2) Given conditions C2, Outcome R ought to be pursued, and

(Fact-Premise 3) Conditions C1 are / will be present, and

(Fact-Premise 4) Conditions C2 are / will be present.”

– Participants may at this point, upon reviewing displays of all such formalized items, revise their earlier Overall Offhand Plausibility of argument merit or Quality of solution assignments. The initial merit points will be  modified with the results of the group statistics.

– If more detailed evaluation is agreed upon, the steps of Argument evaluation will require assignment of plausibility to each argument premise, and ‘weight of relative importance’  w to the ought-premises (on an agreed-upon scale of e.g. 0 ≤ w ≤ +1  such that ∑w = +1) to derive Argument weights and, adding all of those to a ‘Deliberated  Proposal Plausibility score PPPL. Statistical measures of these Judgments by the groups  will be used to revise the merit assignment to individual merit points.

For Quality evaluation, steps for e.g. the formal quality evaluation procedure  [1] can be followed: From the discussion, ‘Quality’ aspects may be derived, to construct an ‘aspect tree’;  each aspect given a weight w of relative importance, and a quality estimate (on the agreed-upon scales);  each aspect may be further deliberated, with each new sub-aspect branch being evaluated in the same way. It can be helpful if participants can express how their quality judgments relate to some objective performance measure or ‘criterion’ in a ‘criterion function’. For each participant, each quality judgment is then revised as a function of the respective sub-aspect quality scores and their weights. Again, the Individual Overall Deliberated Quality judgments can be revised to that Individual’s earlier judgments, and these be modified according to some agreed-upon statistic of all the group’s Individual judgments.

Delphi Method or similar additions to these procedures can be added to further deliberate the supporting evidence of judgments, as needed.

Thee procedures are recommended selections from any larger set of ‘special procedures’ such a group may draw upon.

– The group’s judgments may be used to derive statistical measures (not ‘group judgments”:  ‘groups’ do  not ‘have’ unified judgments, especially if there are significant differences in the individual participants’ judgments)  to for ‘decision guides. The group will have to discuss and decide on how these will determine their final decision or decision recommendation. 

– If participant entries are also to be modified according to whether and do what degree they have influenced the group’s decision, a measure of such influence must be developed and then applied to the respective contribution.

– If the merit point accounts are to be used for ‘Pay for Power” decisions, it will be necessary to devise a method  for setting the price for such decisions; this remains to be explored. Candidate considerations are, In a first no-particular order list::

*  The number of people affected by the problem a project is addressing, and of the proposed solution alternatives;

*  The total cost of a project — including the risk of expected failure over time; 

*  The difference between the decision guide results and the decision taken. 

Wrong question? 

–  The usual evaluation techniques do not easily include such aspects as ‘image’ (Who are we, as a result of a decision like this, as compared to the kind of person/people we wold like, or pretend, or feel obligated to be? This is, at best, brought up in the discourse, if at all, by comments such as ‘That’s not who we are’;  aspect difficult to explain and to quantify. As an example, the categorizations of movements in art or architecture are mostly labels that the actual artists or decision-makers and even critics are not consciously able to clearly articulate until much later. 

– The number of judgment types listed and the steps needed to construct meaningful contribution merit point accounts much less pricing provisions decision-maker would be asked to ‘pay’ for making  decision may appear too complex to be understandable and acceptable to the ‘public’ called upon to participate in. So participation in planning discourse may end up becoming even more of activities limited to a kind of experts or ‘elite’ than is currently the case. Will a consideration of the consequences of continuing current practices overcome such objections? 

– The need for improved global planning discourse and evaluation approaches is urgent; there is no time for the gradual education, familiarization and implementation required: More streamlined, simple, perspective-neutral and understandable tools are needed. 

Diagram: the relatiinships between discourse provisions and power

====

TAMING POWER AND THE PUBLIC PLANNING DISCOURSE SYSTEM

Thorbjørn Mann Updated (adding section 8) 3/27/2022

I submit, for discussion, that better controls of power are desperately needed, as are public (global) decision-making tools that better — that is, more transparently — link the merit of discourse contributions with the decisions, and that the development of a better discourse platform with some provisions for evaluation of contributions can offer both: 

pastedGraphic.png
The Control of Power and the Public Planning DIscourse System

1  THE URGENT NEED  FOR PUBLIC (GLOBAL?) PLANNING DISCOURSE PLATFORM ,  DECISIONS BASED ON DISCOURSE CONTRIBUTION MERIT, AND CONTROL OF POWER

Tall order: I agree, and I expect that many will find it impossible, if only because  it  looks too complex. Plausible — but is it reasonable to expect that complex problems can be ‘fixed’ with simple tricks? Some potential provisions I have found while working on improvements to planning decision-making suggest to me that better tools for both the discourse decision-making and the power control issue are  possible, and that they should be discussed, as well as that the search for other, better answers should be pursued more intensively than what I currently see.  

To support my perhaps naively optimistic hypothesis but also to invite critical comments and better ideas, I suggest to break up the discussion into ‘chunks’ that can be discussed in more depth;  the effort to present the whole ‘system’ in its overall complexity has always led to larger, even book-size articles whose very size discourage discussion if they even get read. 

So I would like to post some of the components (chunks) one by one — posting one a day or so, just keeping the overall scheme in mind that holds them all together: the diagram shows the relationships between the topics. 

At any time, participants in the discussion or interested observers who get the feeling that it  — and the topics listed  — are somehow ‘missing the problem’  or wasting time on a ‘wrong question’ should  feel free to make that objection, but  try to state the ‘real problem’ or better question for consideration. So all the topics will have this ‘wrong question?’  reminder at the end, that may lead to changes in the sequence, and will be summarized in the end, before a final question or effort (hope) to articulate some ‘conclusion’ or recommendation based on the information and questions contributed.  

A first suggested list of ‘chunks’  for discussion: (Items added in rspnse to reader suggestions (from FB discusion) shown in italic)

  • The need for a public planning discourse support system (1 abiove)
  • The need for better controls of power
  • The Goals of the System (2)
  • The platform (3)
  • Participation Incentives (4)
  • The ‘Verbatim’  record (5)

*  Procedural agreements 

*  Formalization of entries (6)

*  Displays of the process (7)

  • Power and the discourse playtform (8)

*  ‘Next Step’? 

*  Decision Modes

*  Evaluation

Formal ‘Quality’ Evaluation

Solution plausibility based on Argument Evaluation

*  Decision Criteria

*  Discourse contribution merit accounts 

*  ‘Paying for power decisions’

*  Pricing power decisions

* Transfer of merit points 

*   Other possible uses of merit accounts

  • Implementation: Experiments, Games: ‘Skunkworks”

Brief discussions of these topics  for discussion will be added — not necessarily in the same order,  in response to reader suggestions

Wrong question?  (E.g. “Is the Power issue -Discourse Platform connection appropriate?”

—-

2    THE GOALS OF THE SYSTEM 

(In response to the question by T. Markatos:  “What are the goals of the system and how do they all interrelate? Until we can answer such, we can only guess at the causalities”)

The focus of the post wasreally somewhat limited: to explore the connection between the platform and the Power issue:  Specifically; the notion that the evaluation provisions of the platform  would offer some new opportunities for ’taming’ power.  This was based on the two assumptions  

a)  that such a platform is needed — for a number of reasons (or goals) I have written about  and will try to summarize below — and 

b)  that better controls of power  is also urgent,  as current events demonstrate but of course also must be explored.  

Let me start with (a):

Humanity faces various challenges  of the ‘wicked’ kind, for which collective (even global) agreements and decisions may be needed. The current  planning and policy-making tools are still inadequate to deal with these challenges:  Some specific aspects needing improvements are, briefly:

–  Better provisions and incentives for public participation  in the planning / policy-making and decision process;

–  Besides the desire for participation itself, the ‘distributed’ nature of the information about how problems and proposed solutions affect different parts of society (i.e. information not yet documented) calls for better access and incentives for collaborately contributing such information in a timely fashion;

–  Current media and governmental means of informing the public increasingly suffer from  polarization (channles only presenting information supporting selected perspectives and interests, from repetition of claims, but lack of concise overview of the essence of available information;

–  The lack of transparency of how the contributions  support (or fail to support)  governments’ eventual decisions,  thus meeting the aim that  decisions be transparently based on the merit of the available information;

–  The lack of adequate measures of that merit’;  that is, the pervasive inadequacy of  systematic evaluation in the process, supporting understandable decision criteria that can be compared with actual decisions;

–  The inappropriateness of decision modes  (such  as voting, even in the form of referendum-like procedures, that do not  apply well to problms and crises affecting populations across traditional governance boundaries;

–  The vulnerability of even the best  ‘democratic’ government structures to the corrosive effects of money  (corruption) and  and the effects and temptations of power.

–  The potential of innovative information technology appears to have contributed more to the increase of the problems than to their resolution. 

These are some of the major concerns and expectations for a better planning and  policy-making platform; that have guided my suggestions so far; more can certainly be added; all for discussion. For example, the paper Towards a Model for Survival” (Academia .edu)  that resulted from my observations of a lengthy (2011-2015) discussion on the Systems Thinking  group on LInkedIn addresses the concerns of such a platform in view of mutual sharing  and ealuating the information of the many  small ‘alternative’ initiatives already underway to grapple with the challenges leading then UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon  to call for ‘revolutionary thinking and action for an economic model for survival’  at the 2011 Davos meeting of the World Economic Forum. The many experienced and thoughtful  participants in that Systems Thinking group did not come to an agreement on what such a model would look like. 


3  PUBLIC PLANNING DISCOURSE: THE PLATFORM 

There ought to be a common PLATFORM for a better organized public discussion of plans, issues and policies?  Inviting all affected, interested, concerned parties to participate, to contribute questions, information and opinions in a way that transparently influences the eventual decisions about the plan. 

Such a platform is needed for plans, policies, agreements  involving  societal (and global) ‘wicked’ problems  and issues  that transcend traditional governance boundaries and for which conventional decision-making practices are inappropriate or inadequate. 

Ideas for such a platform have been described in  e.g.  ‘P D S S’ papers on Academia.edu. and other posts on Facebook and this blog Abbeboulah.com.) 

The diagram shows its basic components. It must be impartial, that is, open to all parties in controversial issues, even offer meaningful incentives for participation, but have provisions for the critical assessment of contributed, and aim at developing guidelines and criteria for decision that are transparently based on such assessments.

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4    INCENTIVES FOR PARTICIPATION

The platform should have provisions for acknowledging and rewarding contributions.

This is necessary not only to encourage public participation for its own sake, but also to help getting the ‘distributed information’ about wicked problems into the process for consideration — the different perspectives of how both problems and proposed solutions affect different segments of society, and also to establish the mechanism for meaningful evaluation.

Incentive rewards must be distinguished according to the kinds of contributions (questions, answrs, solution proposals, pro and con arguments etc.

The incentives will have to be in a different ‘currency’ from money, but ‘fungible’ that is, potentially becoming practically useful in some way, within the process and outside.  

It is of course necessary to prevent the system from becoming overwhelmed by ‘information overload’ and redundant, useless or even disruptive content. This could be done by offering initial ‘empty’, mere ‘acknowledgement’ points but

1 activating the value’ of these points only for the ‘first’ entry of essentially the same content,(which will also encourage getting information ‘fast’, and

  1. modifying the value of the points in the later process of evaluation, according to their merit, not only upwards’ for positive, important and helpful contributions, but also ‘downward’ for false, disruptive, meaningless content.

Expressions of ‘endorsement’ of other posts or positions will be accommodated in the later ‘evaluation’ stage.


5    THE ‘VERBATIM’  RECORD

The platform will have  provisions for accepting entries in various ‘media’:  letters, phone calls, text messages, recordings of interviews, emails, citation from other documented sources.  They must be recorded in the form they were submitted (even though this may not be in a format suitable for systematic evaluation yet, and appear irritating to some).  They must be accessible for reference  («what did the author really say?»)  Each entry must be tagged with the author’s ID — a question to be discussed is whether and to what extent authors’ actual names should be publicly visible. 

For evaluation of contribution merit, this may not be needed or appropriate (a comment should be taken on the merit of its content?) But it will be necessary if assignment and valuation of merit points to their authors is to be provided. The collection of entries should be structured according to topics and issues, in chronological order. Authors will therefore have to indicate the issue an entry is aimed at. 

 A common habit is the posting of links to other sites or documents; should there be a rule to state explicitly what claims are to be taken as being introduced or supported by a link or reference? The question of how general ‘arguments from authority’ be treated will become critical in any later more systematic evaluation; if that task requires consideration of specific parts or premises — when and how should that be inntroduced into the process? 

Comments?


6  FORMALIZATION OF ENTRIES 

Meaningful overview display of the state of discussion as well as  systematic evaluation will require organized presentation of entries in some commonly understandable, coherent format (For example, ‘pro’ or  ‘con’  arguments out proposed plans might be represented in a format or ‘template’ such as 

“Plan A ought to be adopted 

because

Plan A will result in outcome B

and 

Outcome B ought to be pursued (desirable)”

Such templates will have to be developed and agreed upon for the different types of planning discourse contributions:  Questions, answers, problems, solution proposals, evaluation criteria and judgments, etc.  Participants may be encouraged to submit or ’translate’ their  verbatim comments into an appropriate template, or the support system will have to do this, perhaps call for the author’s consent («Is this what you mean?»)  Many verbatim comments will be ‘enthymemes’ — e.g. arguments in which some premises are left unstated as ‘taken for granted’ — but for overview and systematic evaluation, they must be stated explicitly.

The templates may look unsatisfactory and too crude to trained logicians — forms like the ‘planning argument’ proposed above have not been acknowledged and studied by formal logic since it is not a ‘deductively valid’ form.  Arguably, for lay public participation, the templates should be as close to conversational language as possible, at the expense of disciplinary rigor. (Of course, this is an issue requiring discussion. 

Comments?


[ 7 ]  DISPLAYING THE STATE OF DISCOURSE

A planning discourse aiming at providing adequate information for making collective decisions will need a system of displaying the proposed plans or questions to be discussed, as well as the state and content of the discourse. This will include a public ‘Bulletin board’ that shows what plans, issues are being proposed (‘candidates’) and those accepted for discussion, and their state of process until decision and closure.  

The important principle is that all different positions about controversial issues must be properly represented, to avoid the polarization of political discourse currently caused by news media channels only presenting material supporting one partisan perspective. 

For initial purposes such as to determine whether a proposed issue candidate should be accepted for full organized discourse, the common current format of social media may be sufficient. That format will soon become too unwieldy for participants to gain and keep an adequate overview of the state of discussion. Topic and issue ‘maps’ (diagrams showing the concepts and topcis that have been raised, and their relationships )— may be needed, to be updated as the discourse evolves. The relationship connections in issue maps are simply those of ‘issue or question x  has been raised in response to question y’. Diagrams of systems models’ and system behavior over time would focus on relationships such as cause-effect or ‘flows’ between ’stocks’. Ideally, the support system would provide such understanding and orientation aids, drawing as needed on the service of consultants or ‘special technique’ processes for gathering specific information, predicting the expected benefits and cost performance of proposals, etc. the participants may call for.  

Comments? 

 [ 8 ] POWER AND THE DISCOURSE PLATFORM

The general question whether new tools for dealing with the problems of power should not need much explanation. In almost all current societies and government forms as well as in view of the issue of a ‘world government’, the presence of power-related corruption in various forms, and the abuses of government leaders who have gained even just close to ‘total’ authoritarian power are well known and much deplored. And the provisions of ‘democratic’ constitutions that have arguably proven successful within the governance systems are showing increasingly disturbing vulnerability to the intrusions and influence of money and partisan information — from wealthy oligarchs, religious institutions, and huge national and multi-national corporations that control public information media and election financing. 

However, the problem of power in general  is too vast for this discussion, and a more general discussion is urgent in its own right. The key thesis of this limited discussion can be stated as follows:  “Some problems of power (and abuse of power) can be at least partially remedies or mitigated by certain provisions in a better organized public planning and policy-making discourse support platform.”  It is necessary to stress the ‘partial’ qualification; though it can be argued that it requires at least  some understanding of the overall problem to assess whether and how discourse  platform provisions can make a difference.

How might a better public planning discourse make a difference in taming power? There are several  ways in which specific interrelated provisions could help:

* Empowerment of the public, through provisions that incentivize contributions to the discourse

* Evaluation features that help constructing measures of merit of proposed plans, based on discourse contributions; and thus guide decisions; 

* The establishment of contributors’ ‘discourse merit accounts‘ from the evaluated contributions (a by-product of the plan evaluation process);

* The use of these accounts by public officials to “Pay for decisions” and their implementation — merit points they have ‘earned’ as well as points  citizen supporters may have contributed to the officials’ accounts — for decisions too important to be paid for by a single person’s account. This different ‘currency’ may replace or at least lessen the role of money in public decisions. Citizens can also withdraw their merit point contributions if they lose confidence in the performance of officials;

* In this way, citizens become  empowered  but also ‘co-accountable‘ for the decisions they authorize officials to make, and the officials will eventually ‘use up’ the points that constitute their power, instead of amassing evermore power and wealth gained form illicit power abuse.

These ideas will of course have to be discussed in more detail, as well as, hopefully, any better alternative suggestions they provoke? 

Wrong question?

a) ]What makes this issue a dilemma is the fact that some events, crises, problems require ‘fast’ decisions that can’t wait for lengthy public discourse; that is, these decisions must be made by people given the  responsibility and the power to decide. The power must be adequate to confront the scope of the problems, and to ensure that its provisions are then followed / adhered to. This usually involves some form of ‘enforcement’: logically by a power  greater (more forceful) than any potential violator. Does this mean that the power must also be greater that any entity trying to ‘tame’ or ‘control’ that power? 

b)  The real problem with power (in the public domain) is corruption;  so any efforts to deal with power must start with the role of potential sorption in the governance system; which may ultimately be seen as the problem of the role of money  in the governance and policy-making process.

Comments?

——-

The Big Dilemma

The Control of Power

Just protesting and even ‘better understanding’ is no longer enough. 

I fully support the many calls for protest and condemnations against the Putin invasion of Ukraine. And to  contribute donations to help refugees and victims of this unprovoked war: providing band-aids for the wounds our inability to prevent the war has caused? 

What I am missing is more of an effort to discuss, understand, and find remedies for the underlying forces that led to this — and similar situtions. Because it seems obvious to me that the provisions humanity has tried to put in place so far, are critically ineffective. 

The problem is the use and misuse of power in societal governance and conflict. More specifically: the apparently unquestioned assumption that conflicts and violations of laws, treaties and agreements can only be prevented, and must be punished, by the threat and application of force or forceful ‘sanctions’. 

We have long known, from examples of abuses of power  form antiquity to current events, that power is addictive, that it seems to destroy the mental sanity of the holders of power — the more so, the greater the power they hold —;  because mistakes, arbitraniness and evil intent in its application will generate both fear and resistance, opposition.  Fear, both in the oppressed and the powerful. because if they adhere to the above assumption that power is acquired, and sustained by force, they must be afraid that force will be used against them as well. This creates a vicious circle of escalation of power use and abuse, and opposition resistance. 

 For the relationships among nations, this is the ultimate dilemma: the ‘World government dilemma’: If violations of treaties and human rights by force (and similar means) can only be ‘prevented’ by the threat of more powerful force, the question necessarily arises: what will prevent that superior entity itself from falling victim to the temptation and vicious cycles of power?  And equally likely: Given the kinds of weapons for conflict resolution by force that now is available to contenders for global governance, the outcome of such a conflict has best been described by the alleged Einstein comment that we don’t know what kinds of weapons will be used in WW3 — but we know that any WW4 will be fought with stones and sticks: ‘civilization’ as we know it will have destroyed itself. 

What is the lesson? Is this a dilemma that cannot be resolved? Then what? Can we afford to give up hope that better solutions can be found? Can we put our faith in future history books —if they won’t be burned — that will tell of our heroism in just resisting, fighting power in an unwinnable battle, if we don’t submit to the ultimate tyrranny or mutual destruction?  If there is the slightest possibility of finding better ways around the dilemma — is it not our responsibility to find and try to implement them, while there still is time? 

I believe there are possible answers. I believe one partial answer lies in the development of ‘sanctions’ that don’t rely on ‘enforcement’ by a greater power but that will be based on a principle of (agreed-upon) preventive measures automatically triggered by the very attempt of violation. There are already small scale examples using this approach; new technology and AI may be helpful in this effort.  I cannot believe that if more effort and resources would be devoted to this problem, humanity could not find other, better answers to this dilemma.  I believe that such efforts should be pursued with the highest priority, at all levels from local to global governance. 

I also don’t believe that implementation of such answers, if we can find them, should be attempted via the old ‘forceful’ revolution approach, ‘regime change’, violent overthrow and bloodshed. That would just be reverting to the old problem and vicious cycles, attempting to solve the problem with its own causes. This, too, needs a better approach, such as the old ’skunkworks’ of US research and development agencies in the cold war: devoting part of ‘official contract’ resources to ‘free’ research on issues on the principle that maybe the official project is asking the ‘wrong question’ and trying to ‘solve the wrong problem’? And it needs a global platform for the impartial discussion and evaluation of any proposed answers, as heretic als they may seem.  (I have  explored these issues in some papers  e.g. on  Academia. edu.)

I am surprised and disappointed that even the ’systems thinking’ community — as far as I can see, — is not even discussing this issue much less devoting any effort, official or ‘skunkworks’-like — to this dilemma. Just focusing on a ‘better understanding ‘ of the problems, much as we do need that, is no longer enough.