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: 

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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?

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2 Responses to “TAMING POWER AND THE PUBLIC PLANNING DISCOURSE SYSTEM”


  1. 1 Ed Christwitz March 29, 2022 at 3:57 am

    Thank you, Thorbjørn Mann. I just perused your whole blog from 2008 and it left me feeling humble yet hopeful. Thanks for focusing your fine mind on matters of importance to human evolution. My writing time is limited, but I look forward to some discussion. I am psycholinguistically experimenting with other terms for “power” which helps me look more deeply into the semantic pre-programmings and distortions the term has gathered over the eons.

    • 2 abbeboulah March 29, 2022 at 12:33 pm

      Thanks Ed Christwitz. The issues you are working on have been a concern for me though I don’t know those fields well.
      The response in the discourse platform I have taken so far is to recommend frequently posting the “Wrong question?” reminder,
      and to provide impartial displays of all contributions with different perspectives and vocabulary.
      I feel strongly that the platform should be as ‘perspective-neutral’ as possible (difficult to achieve since ‘neutrality’ IS a very distinct perspective that is not shared by everybody. But like precepts of following proper logic or this or that methodological approach, this must be left to the participants in the specific situations, not made into conditions for participation. I look forward to your comments.


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