Archive for March, 2023

Thoughts On Agreements and Sanctions 

To ensure adherence to agreements for the public planning discourse platform

This is an exploration of a ‘platform management issue’: the question of needed participation agreements on a public planning discourse support platform. The idea of preventive sanctions automatically triggered by the very attempt of non-adherence via a merit point ‘currency’. Authority vs community control,  


Like all social internet platforms, a ‘global’ public planning discourse support platform, as well as its experimental ‘pilot’ version, will encounter management issues regarding inappropriate, or distasteful or disruptive participant actions: ‘trolling’, ’hacking’, or just filling the threads with useless, meaningless and annoying blather. Most of the available forms of control or containment of such behavior for platform ‘administrators’ or ‘moderators’ can also become the reason for criticism: perceived ‘partisan’, biased’, or oppressive abuse of their ‘power’. 

This issue is a miniature version of general governance problems in any community: of ensuring that agreements, laws, and rules aimed at guaranteeing a peaceful functioning  of that society are actually adhered to. The terms describing the manner in which this is usually done — ‘enforcement’ — indicate the sources of conflicts and problems: governance  entities endowed empowered to use coercion and force to prevent and punish violations of the rules.

This element of power is problematic within ‘community’ or governance domains, because there will always be parties feeling that rules are ‘unfair’ or arbitrary and will try to resist them: at the extreme with violent force against enforcement agents. The battle against crime inevitably leads to escalation of the enforcement and opposition tools. 

The same syndrome becomes even more critical when played out in ‘global’, international relations and conflicts. If conflicts arising from perceived unjust and unfair violations of agreed-upon treaties or assumed rules of proper interactions have to be ‘resolved’ by the threat or application of violent force, the call for some ‘global’ enforcement entity will arise — a ’world govenment’ — an entity with unquestionably superior force. We see several nations now competing for becoming this superior ruler or ‘world policeman’. The specter of such an  entity is as abhorrent to many as the prospect of the battle for dominance  even between current contenders: with the ‘enforcement’ and opposition weaponry, a war to resolve that contest is predicted to be too destructive for humanity as a whole to survive. 

History also teaches that the supreme power of such an entity will become an irresistible temptation to abuse that power — to itself violate the rules and agreements it is supposed to ensure. Power is addictive and tends to destroy the mental sanity of rulers. This means that the search for different means of guaranteeing that rules and agreements will be adhered to should be an urgent priority for humanity. 

The very nature and aim of a ‘discourse’ about conflicts and plans is antithetical to the use of coercion and force. It is the very manifestation of hope and conviction that resolution of differences of opinion and interest, as well as development of plans to deal with natural disasters, can be achieved with tools of mutual explanation, argument, negotiation: discourse. To the extent agreements on rules will be needed for peaceful and constructive planning discourse, the discussion agenda for design of its platform and process must address the issue of alternatives to ‘enforcement’ of adherence to its own agreements.

Examples of non-coercive tools for this purpose already exist, even current technologies potentially facilitating different approaches. Also, elements of the proposed platform — such as the idea of measurements of discourse contribution merit — could be adapted to becoming tools for dealing with this problem of violations of agreements. They aim less at finding penalizing ‘sanctions’ than at provisions to prevent them, triggered by the very attempt (intentional or inadvertent) to commit a violation. 

These considerations suggest some more thorough examination both of the kinds of agreements a constructive planning discourse platform would need, and an attempt to provide innovative tools for ensuring their adherence, for discussion and encouragement for developing more and better ideas. 

Needed agreements :

‘Rules’ for a constructive planning discourse.

The planning discourse platform will need tools to contain the same kinds of disruptive behavior that plagues current social  media, such as: 

 – ‘Off-topic’ contributions;

–  Insulting, disrespectful comments and  language;

–  ‘Ad hominem’ attacks as means of evading the topic;

–  Intentionally untrue or incomplete, selective information;

–  Reckless repetition of unsupported ‘rumors’ . 

Added suggestions imight nclude the habit of posting links to other sources without explaining the point the cited work is supported to support, or mere advertising items, 

To the extent the platform aims at developing decisions or recommendations, the community may decide to use some standardized formats or templates of comments  aiming at facilitating overview and aggregation of judgments into measures of overall merit of plan proposals, it may become necessary to find means of ensuring adherence to those agreements.  

Potential ‘platform management’ tools: 

Withdrawal of contribution or judgment rights.

It is a common practice on social media to attempt to prevent abuse by restricting ‘membership’, e.g.: Prospective participants selectively invited by people who are  already members, or have to ‘apply’ for admittance to a group. The  application is reviewed and decided upon by ‘administrators’ or group ‘owners’, perhaps with other members’ input or veto  power. This requires agreement about the criteria  to be used, which can become controversial. 

The approach is incompatible with the requirement of wide public participation.  Obviously, criteria used for public platforms should not be ‘discriminating’ against community members on the basis of gender, race, religion etc., but age, citizenship or residence in a governance domain are often considered. This becomes difficult precisely for the kinds of projects for which this new platform is needed: problems that affect people in different countries or regions. ‘Affectedness’  by a problem or plan can be difficult to judge, as can be the question of whether a participant is sufficiently well informed to weigh in on a complicated matter (expressed clumsily  e.g. in age limits). The common practice of defining ‘affected’ or ‘entitled groups with the tool of ‘licenses’ issue upon proof of knowledge of s discipline and its rules may have to be discussed, for specific types of projects.   

The criteria applied to accepted members relate more easily to the member’s explicit or implied agreement to comply with the current group ‘rules’. Consequences for violation of those rules can then be specified, and in the extreme, result in revoking the perpetrator’s membership and  participation rights.

Penalties in the form of ‘fines’ — in monetary or other ‘currencies’: Possible tools 

A tentative list of considerations include the following: 

A plausible form of responding to disruptive behavior would be  withdrawal or reduction of earned ‘merit’ points. Imposition of renewal or re-affirmation ‘voting rights’ evidence used for gaining the right of participation or entering decision judgments. Loss of ‘weight’ of decision-determining judgments;  Prevention of acceptance of entries that don’t match agreed-upon specifications (templates) or added evidence support.

This discussion can merely point out the necessity of reaching agreements  on these issues, and will focus only on the potential use of two of these options, as examples: the use of merit points, and the use of templates for selected entry items.

Merit points

One possibility is the use of merit points in contribuors’ accounts  as a currency for levying ‘penalties’ for any violation of the agreed-upon rules. In the eventual ‘real’  platform, this could probably be done by AI programs checking ‘verbatim’ entries and charging a ‘fee’ for any entry that needs to be ‘cleaned up’. In any ‘pilot’ version, it wold have to be done by administrators  or other participants, which would probably be too cumbersome. 


Another potential tool is that of the use of ‘templates’ in the phases of systematic analysis and evaluation of discourse contributions — such as the pro and con arguments about proposed plans. To be inserted into a spreadsheet for entry of merit judgments — plausibility and relative weight of importance,—  and calculation of overall results, they must be restated from any conversational version in the initial  ‘unstructured’ discussion into one of the provided argument templates. 

This would  become the condition for assigning merit points to those contributions. The templates will ‘automatically’ eliminate any ‘unacceptable’ additions — characterizations, ad hominem attacks etc. — from the arguments, and focus on their substantial content.  Also, the evaluation of premises (by other participants) on,  say, a +1 to -1 scale,  will result in positive merit point earned by the respecive author — but negative points for flawed, false and unsubstantiated claims.


The admittedly optimistic and arguable expectation is that these provisions can act to discourage flawed and disruptive information in the first place. The disadvantage is that these ‘corrections’ would be delayed until a ’special technique’ is used; by then, disruptive contributions could already have caused significant damage to a smooth process. 

These possibilities are offered as evidence that new ideas of means for dealing with the administrative challenges are possible, for discussion of details, and as  encouragement for developing other, more effective tools of non-coercive, nonviolent means for ensuring adherence to agreements— both at this diminutive level and at the level of important ‘global’ issues. 

Comments?  Wrong question?  

Unstructured versus Structured Discussion?

On the question of formalization and structure in the Planning Discourse


The proposals for a ‘global’ Public Planning Discourse Support Platform contain suggestions for using standardized ’templates’ for parts of the discourse: a more ‘structured’ or formalized form of discussion than the familiar ‘unstructured’, unconstrained format  we see in the usual forms of public debate.This raises several issues calling for discussion: First, the reasons leading to such suggestions should be clarified. Secondly, likely objections must be considered, such as the possibility that such templates might discourage participation in the discourse or might distort it in some way. The third question is of course:  if such templates are to be used, what should they look like? what format should be considered? And finally: How should they be introduced, included and used in the process? 

Reasons for formalization

The reasons for suggesting such structuring or ‘editing’ of the free expressions of discussion contributions are based on concerns about displaying the core of contribution content in a concise, condensed form for overview and evaluation: overview, elimination of repetitive and redundant items, (focusing on the issue to be decided upon), clarity in separating primary arguments from lenghty  and circuitous elaboration of ’supporting’ evidence and spurious anecdotal material, unnecessary and ‘unacceptable’ rhetorical rendering and bombast etc. 

Special concerns related to systematic evaluation are: explicit ‘filling in’ assumptions and argument premises that are left out as ’taken for granted’ in rhetorical passages, but that must be stated for comprehensive evaluation of the merit of arguments:  the assessment of contributions being a main aspect of the project aim of reaching decisions better and transparently based on the merit of the discourse contribution content, as opposed to traditions forms of decision-making that can disregard that content, such as voting.  


The objections to such formalization must be taken seriously: wide public participation needed for critical policy-making is needed, and provisions constraining  the form of discussion entries (other than obvious rules such as using the common language of the community having the discussion) can be perceived as obstacles (intentional or unintentional) to participation.

Other objections relate to the choice of forms or templates. There is disagreement even in the academic disciplines about how to state’ and diagram’ arguments — there are parties insisting on rendering arguments containing deontic premises in the deductive ‘modus ponens’ form rather than in the format of the ‘planning arguments’ ackowledged as ‘informal’ and non-deductive. 

Choice of template form

The suggestions to use some standardized templates of discussion entires started with the examination of the typical arguments of the ‘pro and con’ kind, about proposed design or planning discussions. The recognition of typical conversational pattern of arguments about a proposed plan or solution «Plan A» and its expected benefits or consequences ,led to the choice of the ’standard planning argument’ template  

    «Plan A ought to be adopted ‘(Conclusion’)


    Pan A will result in outcome B, (given conditions C) ‘Factual-instrumental                        

    and Premise’)

   Outcome B ought to be pursued (Deontic premise)


   Conditions C will be given (Factual Premise)

Or:   A  << ((A > B | C) & B  & C

(The signs <<, >,  & , | stand for ‘because’, ‘result in’, ‘and’, ‘given’, respectively.)

The pattern will have  a number of variations, depending which of the statements happen to be negated: for example: 

A  << ((A > ~B | C) &~B  & C

~A << ( ~(A > B | C) & B  & C

~A  << ((A > ~B | C) & B  & C

~A  << ((A > B | C) &~ B  & C

~A  << ((A > B | C) & B  & ~C     etc.

(Just making these statements explicit helps identifying the reason for a person’s acceptance or rejection of the argument —it could be because the person does not believe A wil produce B, or whether they consider B to be desirable, or whether they are not sure whether the conditions for the plan to work will actually be given.  — the simple  yes or no vote does not make this clear).

 This pattern, with the ‘conclusion’ stated first, in distinction from the standard  sequence in the logic textbooks also signals its lack of claim of ‘deductive’ conclusiveness and logical rigor, that some lay people might find uncomfortably compelling, attempting to override any doubts they may have about its premises. 

Of course, pro and con arguments are only one form of typical contributions in the planning discourse. They are ‘answers’ to a number of typical questions. In this case: «Should plan A be adopted?»   Other questions are thsoe providing answers that will be premises in the arguments:  «Should effect (goal, requiremnt, aim) B be pursued?» Will A produce effect / conseuence B?»  or «What are the conditions for Plan A to work? And «Are those conditions C present n this situation?» 

There are similar families of standard questions and answer claims related to the ‘problem’ statement and the understanding of its causes,necessary conditions and contributing factors. 

The procedural treatment of ‘structured’ versus unstructured discourse.

This is not the place to provide a comprehensive catalogue of all such discourse contribution patterns. Even the question whether  to use such tools in a specific project, of for a specific issue within a project, must remain the decision of the participants in that project discussion. So the role of structured versus unstructured discourse  in the overall process remains to be further explored:  for now, some first suggestions can be sketched.  

As a general principle, the initial entries and exchanges in a planning discussion must be ‘unstructured’. While many problem-solving and planning approaches recommend some specific sequences to be followed: For example:  Starting with a ‘clear problem statement’, gathering information and ‘data’, developing goals and priorities, developing solutions, evaluating those, and ending up with a decision. 

In reality, such discussions are triggered  by any of those ‘steps’. That first ‘entry’ item will rarely be a fully worked out solution, (though the current ‘political practice’ is often that some governance agency will produce such a plan before it is put up for discussion  in a parliamentary body). If the possibility or expectation is that the discussion might change such a plan, its introduction wll be in an unstructured format, and the first discussion therefore will have to be unstructured. It is possible that even such an unstructured discussion will give the participants sufficient confidence to make a decision, and that possibility must be provided for.  This can be done by means of a ‘motion’ for a «NEXT STEP?» to be decided on, for example by a ‘vote’ with a sufficiently close to consensus outcome. Agreed upon as part of  general  procedural agreements).

The concern here, however, is about important decisions that should be based on the merit of the contributions to a more thorough and systematic discourse, and how this can be orchestrated and made transparent. The recommendation for a project to do this is the following pattern of increasingly specific treatment of ‘issues’ (or topics).

The initial unstructured discussion will be the basis for participants to raise specific ‘candidates’ for more in-depth treatment. These will be posted on a bulletin board for participants to express judgments as to whether they should be put on the ‘Agenda’ for such detailed treatment. The assumption here being that large projects will be asynchronous, ‘online’. They can therefore be worked on ‘in parallel’ but on separate ‘threads’ for each topic. 

The discussion of each topic will again begin with an ‘unstructured’ discussion, resulting in the identification of more specific issues, that can be discussed ‘in parrallel’. For each topic, when participants feel that they can make a decision, (e.g. after some discussion) by making a ‘NEXT STEP’ motion: 

– to proceed to a decision;

– to drop the issue without decision; 

– to request or pursue more information;

– to ’table the discussion until another issue has been settled;

– to engage one of the ’special techniques’ (available in a ‘tool kit’).

   The results of the special technique — e.g. evaluation process that can’t be done on the  ordinary discussion format — will be reported back for a ‘Next Step’ decision in light of its results. 

In theory, this process can be repeated for smaller and smaller details, each small recommendation added to the Plan proposal until the entire community feels ready to make an overall decision. 

Tentative Recommendation

The recommendation given these ‘best current considerations’,  pending more comments, is to adopt the ‘fractal’ and ‘parallel processing’ pattern of alternating unstructured and structured discourse that will alleviate concerns about participation but facilitate more formal process as needed in each particular project, as decided by the community of participants. In the meantime, continue work on the structure patterns and potential ‘templates’ of other segments of the planning process. 


Wrong question?