Archive for the 'Argument patterns' Category

Towards adding argumentation information to systems maps and systems complexity to argument maps.

This brief exploration assumes that discussions as well as any systems analysis and modeling are essentially part of human efforts to deal with some problem, to achieve some change of conditions in a situation, — a change that expected to be different from how that situation would exist or change on its own without a planning intervention.

1       Adding questions and arguments to systems diagrams.

Focusing on a single component of a typical systems diagram: two elements (variables)
A and B are linked by a connection / relationship R(AB) :

A ———R———> B

For convenience, in the following these elements are listed vertically to allow adding questions people might ask about them, and hold different opinions about the possible answers.

A What is A?
|           What is the current value (description) of A? (at time i)
|           How will A change (e.g. what will the value of A be at time i+j)?
|           What causes / caused A?
|           Should changing A be a part of a policy / plan?
|                  If so: What action steps S (Sequence? Times? Actors?) and
|                            What Means / resources M will be needed?
|             Are the means actors etc. available? Able? Willing?
|             What will be the consequences KA of changing A?
|            Who would be affected by KA? In what way?
|             Is consequence KAj desirable? Undesirable?
|           Q: Is A the appropriate concept for the problem at hand?
|               (and the questions about A the appropriate questions?)
R(AB)   What is the relationship R(AB)?
|            What is the direction of R?
|            Should there be a relation R(AB)?
|            What is the (current) rate of R? (Other parameters? E.g. strength)?
|            What should the rate of R be?
B          What is B?
.            What is the current state / value of B?
.            Should B be the aim / goal G of a policy / plan?
.             Are there other (alternative) means for attaining B?
.            What should be the desired state / value of B? (At what time?)
.             What factors (other than A) are influencing B?
.            What would be the consequences K of attaining G?
.            Who would be affected by K? In what way?
.            Is consequence KBj desirable? Undesirable?
.            Q: Is B the appropriate concept for the problem at hand?
.            (and the questions about B the appropriate questions?)

Most systems models and diagrams do not show such questions and arguments – it is my impression that they either assume that differences of opinion about the underlying assumptions have been ‘settled’ in the respectively last version of the model, or that the modeler’s understanding of those assumptions is the best or valid one (on the authority of having constructed the model?). They thereby arguably discourage discussion. They also do not easily accommodate the complete description of plans or policies, assuming a kind of ‘refraining from committing to solutions’ attitude of just ‘objectively’ conveying the simulated consequences of different policies while limiting the range of policy or plan options by omitting the aspects addressed by the questions and arguments.

2             Adding systems complexity information to argument maps

Typically, the planning discourse will consist of a growing set of ‘pro’ and ‘con’ arguments about plan proposals; any decision should be based on ‘due consideration’ of all these arguments. In the common practice of discussion (even in carefully structured participatory events) the individual typical planning argument can be represented as follows:
“Plan P ought to be adopted and implemented
Implementing the plan P will have relationship R (e.g. lead to) consequence K, given conditions C
Consequence K ought to be pursued (is a goal G)
Conditions C are present.

This argument, in which several premises already have been added that in reality often are omitted as ‘taken for granted’, can be represented in more concise formal ways , for example as follows:

D(P)                           (Deontic claim: conclusion, proposal to be supported)
FI((P –R—>K)|C)    (Factual-instrumental premise)
D(K)                           (Deontic premise)
F(C)                            (Factual premise)

The argumentative process, in the view of Rittel’s ‘Argumentative Model of Planning’, consists of asking questions (in the case of controversial questions, ‘raising issues’) for the purpose of clarifying, challenging or supporting the various premises. This serves to increase participants’ understanding of the situation and its complexity, which from the point of view of the ‘Systems Perspective’ may be merely ‘crudely’, only qualitatively and thus inadequately represented in the arguments in a ‘live’ discussion. Some potential questions for the above premises are the following:

D(P)         Description, explanation of the plan and its details:
Problem addressed?
Current condition / situation?
Causes, necessary conditions for problem to exist, contributing factors?
Aims / goals?
Available means?
Other possible means of addressing problem?
Q: wrong question: wrong way of looking at the problem?
Implementation details? Steps, actions? Sequence?

Actors / responsibilities?
Means and resources needed? Availability? Costs?

FI((P –R–>K)|C)) : Does the relationship hold? Currently? Future?

R(P,K)      Explanation: Type of relationship?

(Causal, analogy, part-whole, logical implication…)
Existence and direction of relationship? Reverse? Spurious?
Strength of relationship?
Conditions under which the relationship can exist / function?

D(K)       Should consequence K be pursued?
Explanation / description of K: details?
What other factors (than the provisions of plan P) affect / influence K?
Other (alternative) means of achieving K?

F(C)         Are the conditions C (under which relationship R holds) present?
Will they be present in future?
What are the conditions C?
What factors (other than those activated by plan P) affect / influence C?
If conditions C are NOT reliably present,
what provisions must be made to secure them? (Plan additions?)

These questions, (which arguably should be better accommodated in systems diagrams) can be taken up and addressed in the normal discussion process. Their sequence and orderly treatment representation, especially to provide adequate overview, can be improved, and could be significantly improved by better representation of the variety and complexity of the additional elements introduced by the questions raised.

This is especially true with respect to the question about Conditions C under which the claimed relationship R is assumed to hold. A more careful examination of this question (i.e. more careful than the common qualification ‘everything else being equal’: what IS that ‘everything else’ – and IS it ‘equal’?) will reveal that there are many conditions, and that they are interrelated in different, complex ways, with behaviors over time that we have trouble fully understanding. In other words, they constitute a ‘systems network’ of elements, factors and relationships including positive and negative feedback loops – precisely the kind of network shown in systems diagrams.

Thus, it must be argued that in order to live up to the sensible principle that decisions to adopt or reject plans should be made on the basis of due consideration (i.e. understanding) of all the pro and con arguments, the assessment of those arguments should include adequate understanding of the systems networks referred to in all the pro and con arguments.

3          Conclusion

The implication of the above considerations is. I think, fairly clear: Neither does common practice of systems modeling or diagramming adequately accommodate questions and arguments about model assumptions, nor do common representations (issue and argument maps) of the argumentative discourse adequately accommodate systems complexity. Which means that the task of developing better means of meeting that requirement is quite urgent; the development of effective global discourse support platforms for addressing the global crises we are facing will depend on acceptable solutions for this question. But this is still a vague goal: I have not seen anything in the way of specific means of achieving it yet. Work to do.

A Less Adversarial Planning Discourse Support System

A Fog Island Tavern conversation
about defusing the adversarial aspect of the Argumentative Model of Planning

Thorbjoern Mann 2015

(The Fog Island Tavern: a figment of imagination
of a congenial venue for civilized conversations
about issues, plans and policies of public interest)

– Hi Vodçek, how’s the Tavern life this morning? Fog lifting yet?
– Hello Bog-Hubert, good to see you. Coffee?
– Sure, the usual, thanks. What’s with those happy guys over there — they must be drinking something else already; I’ve never seen them having such a good time here?
– No, they are just having coffee too. But you should have seen their glum faces just a while ago.
– What happened?
– Well, they were talking about the ideas of our friend up at the university, about this planning discourse platform he’s proposing. They were bickering about whether the underlying perspective — the argumentative model of planning — should be used for that, or some other theory, systems thinking or pattern language approaches. You should have been there, isn’t that one of your pet topics too?
– Yes, sorry I missed it. Did they get anywhere with that? What specifically did they argue about?
– It was about those ambitious claims they are all making, about their approach being the best foundation for developing tools to tackle those global wicked problems we are all facing. They feel that those claims are, well, a little exaggerated, while accusing each other’s pet approach of being far from as effective and universally applicable as they think. Each one missing just the main concerns the other feels are the most important features of their tool. And lamenting the fact that neither one seems to be as widely accepted and used as they think it deserves.
– Did they have any ideas why that might be?
– One main point seemed to be the mutual blind spot that the Argumentative Model, besides being too ‘rational’ and argumentative for some people, and not acknowledging emotions and feelings, did not accommodate the complexity and holistic perspective of systems modeling (in the view of the systems guys), while the systems models did not seem to have any room for disagreements and argumentation, from the point of view of your argumentative friends.
– Right. I am familiar with those complaints. I don’t think they are all justified, but the perceptions that they are need to be addressed. We’ve been working on that.
– Good. Another main issue they were all complaining about — both sides — was that there currently isn’t a workable platform for the planning discourse, even with all the cool technology we now have. And therefore some people were calling for a return to simple tools that can be used in actual meeting places where everybody can come and discuss problems, plans, issues, policies. The ‘design tavern’ that Abbé Boulah kept talking about, remember?
– Yes. It seemed like a good idea, but only for small communities that can meet and interact meaningfully in ‘town hall’- kind places. Like his Rigatopia thing, as long as that community stays small enough.
– Well, they seemed to get stuck in gloom about that issue for a while, couldn’t decide which way to go, and lamenting the state of technology for both sides. That’s when Abbé Boulah showed up for a while, and turned things around.
– How did he do that?
– He just reminded them of the incredible progress the computing and communication technology has seen in the last few decades, and suggested that they might think about how that progress might have been focused on the wrong problems, or simply not getting around to the real task of their topic — planning discourse support — yet. Told them to explore some opportunities of the technology – possibilities already realized by tools already on the market or just as feasible but not yet produced. He bought them a round of his favorite Slovenian firewater and told them to brainstorm crazy ideas for new inventions for that cause, to be applied first in his Rigatopia community experiment on that abandoned oil rig. That’s what set them off. Boy, they are still having fun doing that.
– Did they actually come up with some useful concepts?
– Useful? Don’t know about that. But there were some wild and interesting ideas I heard them toss around. Strangely, most of them seemed about tech gizmos. They seem to think that the technical problem of global communication is just about solved — messages, information can be exchanged instantaneously all over the world, and that concepts like Rittel’s IBIS provides an appropriate basis for organizing, storing, retrieving that information, and that the missing things have to do with the representation, display, and processing the contributions for decision-making: analysis and evaluation.
– Do you have an example of ideas they discussed?
– Plenty. For the display issue, there was the invention of the solar-powered ‘Googleglass-Sombrero’ — taking the Google glass idea a step further by moving the internet-connected display farther away from the eye, to the rim of a wide sombrero, so that several display maps can be seen and scanned side by side, not sequentially. Overview, see? Which we know today’s cell-phones or tablets don’t do so well. There was the abominable ‘Rollupyersleeve-watch’. It is actually a smartphone, but would have an expandable screen that can be rolled up to your elbow so you can see several maps simultaneously. Others were still obsessed with making real places for people to actually meet and discuss issues, where the overall discourse information is displayed on the walls, and where they would be able to insert their own comments to be instantly added and the display updated. ‘Democracy bars’, in the tradition of the venerable sports bars. Fitted with ‘insect-eye’ projectors to simultaneously project many maps on the walls of the place, with comments added on their own individual devices and uploaded to the central system.
– Abbé Boulah’s ‘Design Tavern’ brought into the 21st IT age. Okay!
– Yes, that one was immediately grabbed by the corporate – economy folks: Supermarkets offering such displays in the cafe sections, with advertisement, as added P/A attractions…
– Inevitable, I guess. Raises some questions about possible interference with the content?
– Yes, of course. Somebody suggested a version of the old equal-time rule: that any such ad had to be immediately accompanied by a counter-ad of some kind, to ‘count’ as a P/A message.
– Hmm. I’d see a lot of fruitless lawsuits coming up about that.
– Even the evaluation function generated its innovative gizmos: There was a proposal for a pen (for typing comments) with a sliding up-down button that instantly lets you send your plausibility assessment of proposed plans or claims. It was instantly countered by another idea, of equipping smartphones with a second ‘selfie-camera’ that would read and interpret you facial expressions when reading a comment or argument: not only nodding for agreement, shaking your head to signal disagreement, but also reading raised eyebrows, frowns, smiles, confusion, and instantly sending it to the system, as instant opinion polls. That system would then compute the assessment level of the entire group of participants in a discussion, and send it back to the person who made a comment, suggesting more evidence, or better justification etc.
– Yes, there are some such possibilities that a kind of ‘expert system’ component could provide: not only doing some web research on the issues discussed, but actually taking part in the discussion, as it were. For example, didn’t we discuss the idea of such a system scanning both the record of discussion contributions and the web, for example for similar cases? I remember Abbé Boulah explaining how a ‘research service’ of such a system could scan the data base for pertinent claims and put them together into pro and con arguments the participants hadn’t even thought of yet. Plus, of course, suggesting candidate questions about those claims that should be answered, or for which support and evidence should be provided, so people could make better-informed assessments of their plausibility.
– I’m glad you said ‘people’ making such assessments. Because contrary to the visions of some Artificial Intelligence enthusiasts, I don’t think machines, or the system, should be involved in the evaluation part.
– Hey, all their prowess in drawing logical conclusions from data and stored claims should be kept from making valuable contributions: are you a closet retro-post-neoluddite? Of course I agree: especially regarding the ought-claims of the planning arguments, the system has no business making judgments. But the system would be ‘involved’, wouldn’t it? Processing and calculation of participants’ evaluation results? In taking the plausibility and importance judgments, and calculating the resulting argument plausibility, argument weights, and conclusion plausibility, as well as the statistics of those judgments for the entire group of participants?
– You are right. But those results should always just be displayed for people to make their own final judgments in the end, wasn’t that the agreement? Those calculation results should never be used as the final decision criterion?
– Yes, we always emphasized that; but in a practical situation it’s a fine balancing act. Just like decision-makers were always tempted to use some arbitrary performance measure as the final decision criterion, just because it was calculated from a bunch of data, and the techies said it was ‘optimized’. But hey, we’re getting into a different subject here, aren’t we: How to put all those tools and techniques into a meaningful design for the platform, and a corresponding process?
– Good point. Work to do. Do you think we’re ready to sketch out a first draft blueprint of that platform, even if it would need tools that still have to be developed and tested?
– Worth a try, even if all we learn is where there are still holes in the story. Hey guys, why don’t you come over here, let’s see if we can use your ideas to make a whole workable system out of it: a better Planning Discourse Support System?
– Hi Bog-Hubert. Okay, if you feel that we’ve got enough material lined up now?
– We’ll see. How should we start? Does your Robert’s Rules expert have any ideas? Commissioner?
– Well, thanks for the confidence. Yes, I do think it would be smart to use the old parliamentary process as a skeleton for the process, if only because it’s fairly familiar to most folks living in countries with something like a parliament. Going through the steps from raising an issue to a final decision, to see what system components might be needed to support each of those steps along the way, and then adding what we feel are missing parts.
– Sounds good. As long as Vodçek keep his bar stocked, we can always go back to square one and start over if we get stuck. So how does it start?
– I think there are several possible starting points: Somebody could just complain about a problem, or already make a proposal for how to deal with it, part of a plan. Or just raise a question that’s part of those.
– Could it just be some routine agency report, monitoring an ongoing process, — people may just accept it as okay, no special action needed, or decide that something should be done to improve its function?
– Yes, the process could start with any of those. Can we call it a ‘case’, as a catchall label, for now? But whatever the label, there needs to be a forum, a place, a medium to alert people that there is a candidate case for starting the process. A ‘potential case candidate listing’, for information. Anybody who feels there is a need to do something could post such a potential case. It may be something a regular agency is already working on or should address by law or custom. But as soon as somebody else picks it up as something out of the ordinary, significant enough to warrant a public discussion, the system will ‘open’ the case, which means establishing a forum corner, a venue or ‘site’ for its discussion, and invite public contributions to that discussion.
– Yeah, and it will get swamped immediately with all kinds of silly and irrelevant posts. How does the system deal with that? Trolls, blowhards, just people out to throw sticks into the wheels?
– Good question. The problem is how to sort out the irrelevant stuff — but who is to decide what’s what? And throw out what’s irrelevant?
– Yes, that itself could lead to irrelevant and distracting quarrels. I think it’s necessary to have a first file where everything is kept in its original form, a ‘Verbatim’ depository, for reference. And deal with the decision about what’s relevant by other means, for example the process of assessment of the merit of contributions. First, everybody who makes a contribution will get a kind of ‘basic contribution credit point’, a kind of ‘present’ score, which is initially just ‘empty’. If it’s the first item of some significance for the discussion, it will get filled with an adjustable but still neutral score — mere repetitions will stay ‘noted’ but empty.
– Good idea! This will be an incentive to make significant information fast, and keep people from filling the system with the same stuff over and over.
– Yes. But then you need some sorting out of all that material, won’t you?
– True. You might consider that as part of an analysis service, determining whether a post contains claims that are ‘pertinent’ to the case. It may just consist of matching a term — of a ‘topic’ or subject, that’s part of the initial case description, or provides a link to any subsequent contribution already posted. Each term or topic is now listed as the content subject of a number of possible questions or issues — the ‘potential issue family’ of factual, explanatory, instrumental, and deontic (ought-) questions that can be raised about the concept. This can be done according to the standard structure of an IBIS (issue based information system), a ‘structured’ or formalized file that consists of the specific questions and the respective answers and arguments to those. Of course somebody or something must be doing this — an ‘Analysis’ or ‘Formalizing’ component — either some human staff, or an automated system which needs to be developed. Ideally, the participants will learn to do this structuring or formalizing themselves, to make sure the formalized version expresses their real intent.
– And that ‘structured’ file will be accessible to everybody, as well as the ‘verbatim’ file?
– Yes. Both should be publicly accessible as a matter of principle. But access ‘in principle’ is not yet very useful. Such files aren’t very informative or interesting to use. Most importantly, they don’t provide the overview of the discussion and of the relationship between the issues. This is where the provision and rapid updating of discourse maps becomes important. There should be maps of different levels of detail: topic maps, just showing the general topics and their relationships, issue maps that provide the connections between the issues, and argument maps that show the answers or arguments for a specific issue, with the individual premises and their connections to the issues raised by each premise.
– So what do we have now: a support system with several storage and display files, and the service components to shuffle and sort the material into the proper slots. Al, I see did you draw a little diagram there?
– Yes – I have to doodle all this in visual form to understand it:

AMwoADV 14a


Figure  1 — The main discourse support system: basic content components

– Looks about right, for a start. You agree, Sophie?
– Yes, but it doesn’t look that much different from the argumentative or IBIS type system we know and started from. What happened to the concern about the adversarial flavor of this kind of system? Weren’t we trying to defuse that? But how? Get rid of arguments?
– Well, I don’t think you can prevent people from entering arguments — pros and cons about proposed plans or claims. Every plan has ‘pros’ – the benefits or desirable results it tries to produce – and ‘cons’, its costs, and any undesirable side-and after-effects. And I don’t think anybody can seriously deny that they must be brought up, to be considered and discussed. So they must be acknowledged and accommodated, don’t you think?
– Yes. And the evaluation of pro and con merit of plan proposals, based on the approach we’ve been able to develop so far, will depend on establishing some argument plausibility and argument weight.
– I agree. But isn’t there a way in which the adversarial flavor can be diminished, defused?
– Lets’ see. I think there are several ways that can be done. First, in the way the material is presented. For example, the basic topic maps don’t show content as adversarial, and the issue maps can de-emphasize the underlying pro-and con partisanship, if any, by the way the issues are phrased. Whether argument maps should be shown with complete pro and con arguments, is a matter of discussion, perhaps best dealt with in each specific case by the participants. This applies most importantly to the way the entire discourse is framed, and the ‘system’ could suggest forms of framing that avoid the expectation of an adversarial win-lose outcome. If a plan is introduced as a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ proposal to be approved or rejected, inevitably some participants can see themselves as the intended or unintended losing party, which generates the adversarial attitudes. Instead, if the discourse is started as an invitation to contribute to the generation of a plan that avoids placing the costs or disadvantages unfairly on some affected folks, and the process explicitly includes the expectation of plan modification and improvement, that attitude will be different.
– So the participants in this kind of process will have to get some kind of manual of proper or suggested behavior, is that right? How to express their ideas?
– I guess that would helpful. Suggestions, yes, not rules, if possible.
– Also, if I understand the evaluation ideas right, the reward system for contributions can include giving people points for information items that aren’t clearly supporting one party or the other, so individual participants can ‘gain’ by offering information that might benefit ‘the other’ party, would that help to generate a more cooperative attitude?
– Good point. Before we get to the evaluation part though, there is another aspect — one of the ‘approach shortcomings’, that I think we need to address.
– Right, I’ve been waiting for that: the systems modeling question. How to represent complex relationships of systems models in the displays presented to the participants? Is that what you are referring to?
– Yes indeed.
– So do you have any suggestions for that? It seems that it is so difficult — or so far off the argumentative planners’ radar – that it hasn’t been discussed or even acknowledged let alone solved yet?
– Sure, it almost looks like a kind of blind spot. I think there are two ways this might, or should be, dealt with. One is that the system’s research component — here I mean the discourse support system — can have a service that make searches in the appropriate data bases to find and enter information about similar cases, where systems models may have been developed, and enter the systems descriptions, equations and diagrams — most importantly, the diagrams — to the structured file and the map displays. In the structured file, questions about the model assumptions and data can then be added — this was the element that is usually missing in systems diagrams. But the diagrams themselves do offer a different and important way for participants to gain the needed overview of the problem they are dealing with.
– So far, so good. Usually, the argumentative discussion and the systems are speaking different languages, have different perspectives, with different vocabularies. What can we do about that?
– I was coming to that — it was the second way I mentioned. But the first step, remember, is that the systems diagrams are now becoming part of the discussion, and any different vocabulary can be questioned and clarified together with the assumptions of the model. That’s looking at it from the systems side. The other entry, from the argumentative side, can be seen when we take a closer look at specific arguments. The typical planning argument is usually only stated incompletely — just like other arguments. It leaves out premises the arguer feels can be ‘taken for granted’. A more completely stated planning argument would spell out these three premises of the ‘conclusion-claim’, that
‘Proposal or Plan P should be adopted,
          P will lead to consequence or result R , (given conditions C)
          Result R ought to be pursued
           conditions C are present)’.

The premise in parenthesis, about conditions C, is the one that’s most often not spelled out, or just swept under the rug with phrases such as ‘all else being equal’. But take a closer look at that premise. Those conditions — the ones under which the relationship between P and R can be expected to hold or come true — refer to the set of variables we might see in a systems diagram, interacting in a number of relationship loops. It’s the loops that make the set a true system, in the minds of the systems thinkers.
– Okay, so what?
– What this suggests is, again, a twofold recommendation, that the ‘system’ (the discourse system) should offer as nudges or suggestions for the participants to explore.
– Not rules, I hope?
– No: suggestions and incentives. The first is to use existing or proposed system diagrams as possible sources for aspects — or argument premises — to study and include in the set of concerns that should be given ‘due consideration’ in a decision about the case. In other words, turn them into arguments. Of the defused kind, Sophie. The second ‘nudge’ is that the concerns expressed in the arguments or questions by people affected by the problem at hand, or by proposed solutions — should be used as material for the very construction of the model of problem situation by the system modeler for the case at hand.
– Right. For the folks who are constructing systems models for the case at hand.
– Yes, That would likely be part of the support system service, but there might be other participants getting involved in it too.
– I see: Reminders: as in ‘do you think this premise refers to a variable that should be entered into the systems model?’
– Good suggestion. This means that the construction of the system model is a process accompanying the discourse. One cannot precede the other without remaining incomplete. It also requires a constant ‘service’ of translation between any disciplinary jargon of the systems model — the ‘systems’ vocabulary as well as the special vocabulary of the discipline within which the system studied is located. And of course, translation between different natural languages, as needed. For now, let’s assume that would be one of the tasks of the ‘sorting’ department; we should have mentioned that earlier.
– Oh boy. All this could complicate things in that discourse.
– Sure — but only to the extent that there are concepts that need to be translated, and aspects that are significantly different as seen from ordinary ‘argumentative’ or ‘parliamentary’ planning discussion perspective as opposed to a systems perspective, don’t you agree?
– So let’s see: now we have some additional components in your discourse support system: the argument analysis component, the systems modeling component, the different translation desks, and the mapping and display component. What’s next?
– That would be the evaluation function. From what we know about evaluation, in this case evaluating the merit of discussion contributions, the process of clarifying, testing, improving our initial offhand judgments about things to more solidly well-founded, deliberated judgments requires that we make the deliberated overall judgments a function, that is, dependent on, the many ‘partial’ judgments provided in the discussion and in the models. And we have talked about the need for a better connection between the discourse contribution merit and the decision judgment. This is the purpose of the discourse, after all, right?
– Yes. And the reason we think there needs to be a distinct ‘evaluation’ step or function is that quite often, the link between the merit of discussion contributions and the decision is too weak, perhaps short-circuited, prejudiced, or influenced by ‘hidden agenda’ — improper, illicit agenda considerations, and needs to be more systematic and transparent. In other words, the decisions should be more ‘accountable’.
– That’s quite a project. Especially the ‘accountability’ part — perhaps we should keep that one separate to begin with? Let’s just start with the transparency aspect?
– Hmm. You don’t seem too optimistic about accountability? But without that, what use is transparency? If decision makers, whoever they might be in a specific case, don’t have to be accountable for their decision, does it matter how transparent they are? But okay, let’s take it one item at a time.
– Seems prudent and practical. Can you provide some detail about that evaluation process?
– Let me see. We ask the participants in the process to express their judgments about various concepts in the process, on some agreed-upon scale. The evaluation process of our friend suggests a plausibility scale. It applies to judgments about how certain we are that a claim is true, or how probable it is — or how plausible it is — if neither truth nor probability really apply, as in ought-claims. It ranges from some positive number to a negative point, agreed to mean ‘couldn’t be more plausible’ or ‘couldn’t be less plausible’, respectively, with a midpoint of zero expressing ‘don’t know’, ‘can’t judge’.
– What about those ‘ought’ claims in the planning argument? ‘Just ‘plausible’ doesn’t really express the ‘weighing’ aspect we are talking about?
– Right: for ought-claims — goals, objectives — there must be a preference ranking or a scale expressing weight of relative importance. The evaluation ‘service’ system component will prepare some kind of form or instrument people can use to express and enter those judgments. This is an important step where I think the adversarial factor can be defused to some extent: if argument premises are presented for evaluation individually, not as part of the arguments in which they may have been entered originally, and without showing who was the original author of a claim, can we expect people to evaluate them more according to their intrinsic merit and evidence support, and less according to how they bolster this or that adversarial party?
– I’d say it would require some experiments to find out.
– Okay: put that on the agenda for next steps.
– Can you explain how the evaluation process would continue?
– Sure. First let me say that the process should ideally include assessment during all phases of the process. If there is a proposal for a plan or a plan detail, for example, participants should assign a first ‘offhand’ overall plausibility score to it. That score scan then be compared to the final ‘deliberated’ judgment, as an indicator of how the discussion has achieved a more informed judgment, and what difference that made. Now, for the details of the process. To get an overall deliberated plausibility judgment, people only need to provide plausibility scores and importance weights for the individual premises of the pro and con planning arguments. For each individual participant, the ‘system’ can now calculate the argument plausibility and the argument weight of each argument, based on the weight the person has assigned to its deontic premise, and the person’s deliberated proposal plausibility, as a function of all the argument weights.
– I seem to remember that there were some questions about how all those judgments should be assembled and aggregated into the next deliberated value?
– Yes, there should be some more discussion and experiments about that. But I think those are mostly technical details that are solved in principle, and can be decided upon by the participants to fit the case.
– And the results are then posted or displayed to the group for review?
– Yes. This may lead to more questions and discussion, of course, or for requests for more research and discussion, if there are claims that don’t seem to have enough support to make reasonable assessments, or for which the evidence is disputed. I see you are getting worried, Sophie: will this go on forever? There’s a kind of stopping rule: when there are no more questions or arguments, the process can stop and proceed to the decision phase.
– I think the old parliamentary tradition of ‘calling the question’ when the talking has gone on for too long should be kept in this system.
– Sure, but remember, that one was needed mainly because there was no other filter for endless repetition of the same points wrapped in different rhetoric. The rule of adding the same point only once into the set of claims to be evaluated will put a damper on that, don’t you think?
– So Al, did you add the evaluation steps to your diagram?
– Yes. Here’s what it looks like now:

AM wo ADV 14c

Figure 2 — The discourse support system with added evaluation components

– Here is another suggestion we might want to test, and add to the picture – coming back to the idea of the reward system helping to reduce the adversarial aspect: We now have some real measures — not only for the individual claims or information items that make up the answers and arguments to questions, but also for the plausibility of plan proposals that are derived from those judgments. So we can use those as part of a reward mechanism to get participants more interested in working out a final solution and decision that is more acceptable to all parties, not just to ‘win’ advantages for their ‘own side’.
– You have to explain that, Bog-Hubert.
– Sure. Remember the contribution credit points that were given to everybody, for making a contribution, to encourage participation? Okay: in the process of plausibility and importance assessment we were asking people to do, to deliberate their own judgments more carefully, they were assessing the plausibility and weight of relative importance of those contributions, weren’t they? So if we now take some meaningful group statistic of those assessments, we can modify those initial credits by the value or merit the entire group was assigning to a given item.
– ‘Meaningful’ statistic? What are you saying here? You mean, not just the average or weighted average?
– No, some indicator that also takes account of the degree of support presented for a claim, and the degree of agreement or disagreement in the group. The needs to be discussed. In this way, participants will build up their ‘contribution merit credit account’. You could then also earn merit credits for information that –from a narrow partisan point of view — would be part of an argument for ‘the other side’ — credit for information that serves the whole group.
– Ha! now I understand what you said initially about the evaluation function also serving to reduce the amount of trivial, untrue, and plain irrelevant stuff people might post in such discussions: if their information is judged negatively on the plausibility scale, that will reduce their credit accounts. A way to reward good information that can be well supported, and discourages BS and false information… I like that.
– Good. In addition to that, people could also get credit points for the quality of the final solution — assuming that the discourse includes efforts to modify initial proposals some people find troublesome, to become more acceptable — more ‘plausible’ — to all parties. And the credit you earn may be in part determined by your own contribution to that result. So there are some possibilities for such a system to encourage more constructive cooperation.
– Sounds good. As you said, we should try to do some research to see whether this would work, and how the reward system should be calibrated.
– So the reward mechanism adds another couple of components to your diagram, Al?
– Yes. Bog-hubert said that the evaluation process should really be going on throughout the entire process, so the diagram that shows it just after the main evaluation of the plan is completed is a little misleading. I tried to keep it simple. And there’s really just one component that will have to keep track of the different steps:


AM wo ADV 14d

Figure 3 –The process with added contribution reward component


– Looks good, thanks, Al. But what I don’t see there yet is how it connects with the final decision. I think you got derailed from finishing your explanation of the evaluation process, Bog-Hubert?
– Huh? What did I miss?
– You explained how each participant got a deliberated proposal plausibility score. Presumably one that’s expressed on the same plausibility scale as the initial premise plausibility judgments, so we can understand what the number means. Okay. Then what? How do you get from that to a common decision by the entire community of participants?
– You are right; I didn’t get to that. Well…
– Why doesn’t the system calculate an overall group proposal plausibility score from the individual scores?
– I guess there are some problems with that step, Vodçek. If you mean something like the average plausibility score. Are you saying that it should be the deciding criterion?
– Well… why not? It’s like all those opinion polls, only better, isn’t it? And definitely better that just voting?
– No, friends, I don’t think the judgment about the final decision should not be ‘usurped’ by such a score. For one, unless there are several proposals that have all been evaluated in this way so you could say ‘pick the one with the highest group plausibility score’, you’d have to agree on a kind of threshold plausibility a solution would have to achieve to get accepted. And that would just be another controversial issue. Also, a simple group average could gloss over, hide serious differences of opinion. And like majority voting, just override the concerns of minority groups. So such statistics should always be accompanied by measures of the degree of consensus and disagreement, at the very least.
– Couldn’t there be a rule that a proposal is acceptable if all the individual final plan plausibility scores are better than the existing problem situation? Ideally, of course, all on the positive side of the plausibility scale, but in a pinch at least better than before?
– That’s another subject for research and experiments, and agreements in each situation. But in reality, decisions are made according to established (e.g. constitutional) rules and conventions, habits or ad hoc agreements. Sure, the discourse support systems could provide some useful suggestions or advice to the decision-makers, based on the analysis of the evaluation results. A ‘decision support component’. One kind of advice might be to delay decision if the overall plausibility for a proposal is too close to the midpoint (‘zero’) value of the plausibility scale — indicating the need for more discussion, more research, or more modification and improvement. Similarly, if there is too much disagreement in the overall assessment – if a group of participants show very different results from the majority, even if the overall ‘average’ result looks like there is sufficient support, the suggestion may be to look at the reasons for the disagreement before adopting a solution. Back to the drawing board…
– Getting back to the accountability aspect you promised to discuss: Now I see how that may be using the evaluation results and credit accounts somehow — but can you elaborate how that would work?
– Yes, that’s a suggestion thrown around by Abbé Boulah some time ago. It uses the credit point account idea as a basis of qualification for decision-making positions, and the credit points as a form of ‘ante’ or performance bond for making a decision. There are decisions that must be made without a lot of public discourse, and people in those positions ‘pay’ for the right to make decisions with an appropriate amount of credit points. If the decision works out, they earn the credits back, or more. If not, they lose them. Of course, important decisions may require more points than any individual has compiled; so others can transfer some of their credits to the person, unrestricted, or dedicated for specific decisions. So they have a stake, — their own credit account — and lose their credits if they make or support poor decisions. This also applies to decisions made by bodies of representatives: they too must put up the bond for a decision, and the size of that bond may be larger if the plausibility evaluations by discourse participants show significant differences, that is, disagreements. They take a larger risk to make decisions about which some people have significant doubts. But I’m sorry, this is getting away from the discussion here, about the discourse support system.
– Another interesting idea that needs some research and experiments before the kinks are worked out.
– Certainly, like many other components of the proposed system — proposed for discussion. But a discussion that is very much needed, don’t you agree? Al, do you have the complete system diagram for us now?
– So far, what I have is this — for discussion:

AM wo ADV 14

Figure 4 — The Planning Discourse Support System – Components

– So, Bog-Hubert: should we make a brief list of the research and experiments that should be done before such a system can be applied in practice?
– Aren’t the main parts already sufficiently clear so that experimental application for small projects could be done with what we have now?
– I think so, Vodçek — but only for small projects with a small number of participants and for problems that don’t have a huge amount of published literature that would have to be brought in.
– Why is that, Bog-Hubert?
– See, Sophie: the various steps have been worked through and described to explain the concept, but it had to be done with different common, simple software programs that are not integrated: the content from one component in Al’s diagram have to be transferred ‘by hand’ from one component to the next. For a small project, that can be done with a small support staff with a little training. And that may be sufficient to do a few of the experiments we mentioned to fine-tune the details of the system. But for larger projects, what we’d need is a well-integrated software program that could do most of the transferring work from one component to the next ‘automatically’.
– Including creating and updating the maps?
– Ideally, yes. And I haven’t seen any programs on the market that can do that yet. So that should the biggest and top priority item on the research ‘to do’ list. Do you remember the other items we should mention there?
– Well, there were a lot of items you guys mentioned in passing without going into much detail – I don’t know if that was because any questions about those aspects had been worked out already, or because you didn’t have good answers for them? For example, the idea of building ‘nudging’ suggestions into the system to encourage participants to put their comments and questions into a form that encourages cooperation and discourages adversarial attitudes?
– True, that whole issue should be looked into more closely.
– What about the issue of ‘aggregation functions’ – wasn’t that what you called them? They way participants’ plausibility and importance judgments about individual premises of arguments, for example, get assembled into argument plausibility, argument weights, and proposal plausibility?
– Not to forget the problem of getting a reasonable measure of group assessment from all those individual judgment scores.
– Right. It may not end up being a multivariable one, not just a single measure. Like the weather, we need several variables to describe it.
– Then there is the whole idea of those merit points. It sounds intriguing, and the suggestion to link them to the group’s plausibility assessments makes sense, but I guess there are a lot of details to be worked out before it can be used for real problems.
– You say ‘real problems’ – I guess you are referring to the way they could be used in a kind of game, just like the one we ran here in the Tavern last year about the bus system, where the points are just part of the game rules, as opposed to real cases. I think the detailed development of this kind of game should be on the list too, since games may be an important tool to make people familiar with the whole approach. How to get these ideas out there may take some thinking too, and several different tools. But using these ideas for real cases is a whole different ball game, I agree. Work to do.
– And what about the link between all those measures of merit of people’s information and arguments and the final decision. Isn’t that going to need some more work as well? Or will it be sufficient to just have the system sound an alarm if there is too much of a discrepancy between the evaluation results and, say, a final vote?
– We’ll have to find out – as we said, run some experiments. Finally, to come back to our original problem of trying to reduce the adversarial flavor of such a discourse: I’d like to see some more detail about the suggestion of using the merit point system to encourage and reward cooperative behavior. Linking the individual merit points to the overall quality of the final decision — the plan the group is ending up adopting — sounds like another good idea that needs more thought and specifics.
– I agree. And this may sound like going way out of our original discussion: we may end up finding that the decision methods themselves may need some rethinking. I know we said to leave this alone, accept the conventional, constitutional decision modes just because people are used to them. But don’t we agree that simple majority voting is not the ultimate democratic tool it is often held out to be, but a crutch, a discussion shortcut, because we don’t have anything better? Well, if we have the opportunity to develop something better, shouldn’t it be part of the project to look at what it could be?
– Okay, okay, we’ll put it on the list. Even though it may end up making the list a black list of heresy against the majesty of the noble idea of democracy.
– Now there’s a multidimensional mix of metaphors for you. Well, here’s the job list for this mission; I hope it’s not an impossible one:
– Developing the integrated software for the platform
– Developing better display and mapping tools, linked to the formalized record (IBIS)
– Developing ‘nudge’ phrasing suggestions for questions and arguments that minimize adversarial potential
– Clarifying questions about aggregation functions in the evaluation component
– Improving the linkage between evaluation results (e.g. argument merit) and decision
– Clarifying, elaborating the discourse merit point system
– Adding improvement / modification options for the entire system
– Developing alternative decision modes using the contribution merit evaluation results.
– That’s enough for today, Bog-Hubert. Will you run it by Abbé Boulah to see what he thinks about it?
– Yeah, he’ll just take it out to Rigatopia and have them work it all out there. Cheers.

On the role of feelings and emotions in the Planning Discourse Support System

A Fog Island Tavern discussion

Sjutusensjuhundreochsytti-sju jäklar, beim heiligen Kyrill von Drögenpütt!
– Bog-Hubert, you’ve got to quit drinking that Slovenian stuff, it makes you cuss in incomprehensible Balkan dialects. I can’t even tell whether I should kick you out of here for inappropriate language.
– Ah, Vodçek, pour me another one. It’s actually some kind of Swedish and German this time. I think.
– Cross-cultural cussing, oh my. What in the world gets you so upset? Anything in your notebook that would have made you rich if you’d thought of it a week ago?
– Huh? You’re confusifying me. No, it’s Abbé Boulah.
– Good grief. What’s he done now?
– It’s not what he’s done but what he hasn’t.
– Well, aren’t we all guilty of some of that sin. I should have paid my utility bill several days ago. But explain.
– Well, you know how he and his buddy have been working on this scheme for a planning discourse support system. On the basis of the old Argumentative Model of Planning, you remember?
– Do I remember? Your ramblings about that one have kept me up beyond too many last calls I care to count. But isn’t it actually a good idea, basically? What’s wrong with it now?
– Well, we are all still working on straightening out some details. But Abbé Boulah and his buddy won’t get moving on those problems. I don’t know whether it’s because they don’t think they are serious enough to fix, or because they don’t know how.
– What problems?
– It’s this misunderstanding that some people have about the argumentative model — that it’s ‘too rational’ and doesn’t allow for feelings and emotions. So in a few of the first application experiments, the people didn’t even get started on working with it. Well, Abbé Boulah and his buddy are insisting that the model allows for any subject and concern to be brought up in the discussion — as Rittel said, anything can be dealt with as questions and arguments and answers, it’s the most general framework anybody has come up with. So they won’t change anything about the basic concept.
– And you think that those critics are right? That the argumentative model does not — how do they put it — accommodate feelings and emotions?
– They are right! Some people are just put off or intimidated by the pretense of logic and rationality of the term ‘argumentative model’, and ignores emotions.
– Huh, Sophie, good morning. You’ve got a point there. I don’t care whether they are right or wrong. The fact that they are put off by what they think it is when they hear ‘argumentative model’ is the problem. It’s real. So I think that needs to be dealt with, somehow.
– I agree. But what do you think they should do? Let’s assume those folks are right. That feelings and emotions should play some significant role in planning discussions. Why do they think that?
– Some people are mentioning recent research that seems to show that when people make decisions, the regions in the brain that deal with emotions are showing significant activity some time — they are talking about fractions of seconds — before the thinking and reasoning areas of the brain are signaling that a decision has been made. So they conclude that the emotional side has actually made the decision before the thinking part has, or processed the reasons for it.
– Hmm. So what are they saying: because the emotions are calling the shots, the decision is better than what the reasoning part would have come up with?
– I don’t know if they actually believe or are claiming that. Though it does sound like it when they come up with that old bit of ‘going with your gut feelings’. And I don’t really care about that either…
– Wait: isn’t there some good explanation for that? That there may be some piece of information about the situation that the brain has picked up only in the subconscious — some rustling in the forest that the ears have barely registered — but the conscious brain hasn’t yet interpreted and processed yet? But the unconscious has produced the gut feeling that there may be a dangerous predator sneaking up on you? That seems like a very good reason to pay attention to that gut feeling, don’t you think?
– Yes: So why don’t you care about that?
– Sophie, I do care about those feelings. I have gone by my gut feelings many times myself. And it often turned out that they were right — that there actually was a piece of information that called for attention and influenced the decision. But hey, there were also many times when there wasn’t anything to be concerned about. So often that people around me began to think I was overly paranoid. The issue is: how do I know when the gut feeing is right and when it’s not?
– So that’s another reason to care about it, isn’t it?
– Sure. But does that whole issue apply to the problem of planning discourse about public issues? Even if it’s just you and me discussing a plan. My gut feeling says do A, but your gut tells you something else — what should we do about that?
– I see what you are saying. Unless your gut also tells you to hit me over the head – yeah, yeah, for my own protection or good — we need to talk about it.
– Right. It has to be brought out in the discussion. It’s not enough to say ‘my gut tells me to do, or not to do this’ — when there are different gut feeling signals, they need to be made explicit and explored, discussed. And for large public issues, there is even a legitimate question, in Abbé Boulah’s opinion, whether individual people’s feelings should play a role in the decisions. Not that he says that they shouldn’t be voiced if participants in the discussion feel they are important — but merely private, individual feelings without explanation should not be allowed to determine decisions that affect many people over a long time.
– You don’t agree with that?
– I think there is a case to be made that people who insist that feelings should play a role even in decisions about large scale plans, should offer some evidence that their feelings are shared by a significant number of other people. But in principle: aren’t plans and planning discussions meant to produce solutions that people agree with? That they like, and feel good about? Future situations of their lives that they expect will be emotionally satisfactory? Help their pursuit of happiness?
– I can’t disagree with that, Sophie. But isn’t there a difference between ‘respecting’ someone’s feelings, and accepting them sight unseen as a reason for rejecting or accepting a public decision? So if we accept that emotions should play a role even in large-scale public decisions: what role should they play?
– You mean, other than just being brought up in the discussion and examined?
– Well, yes.
– In other words, it seems you are staying within the assumption that there is, or should be, a discussion. A discourse. And that it consists of questions, issues, and — among other things: arguments? Or do you think you can keep people from arguing in discussions?
– I see, Bog-Hubert. Yes, we are still talking argumentative model. Or what other models are such critics proposing to use as the basis for public planning?
– Alternative models? To my knowledge, they tend to stay silent on that question. At least, I haven’t heard any alternative proposals in those situations. ‘It’s too rational’ or ‘It doesn’t acknowledge emotions’ — that’s usually the end of it. Of course there are a number of other approaches to problem solving and planning. But they don’t engage the issue of argumentation very well either.
– What are those?
– Well Sophie, there is the whole realm of ‘Systems Thinking’ approaches — where the approach is to develop models and diagrams of the ‘whole’ system or problem situation, with all its factors and relationships. Very powerful and useful, if done right, in revealing the complexity of systems and their sometimes counter-intuitive behavior.
– I agree. But?
– Think about it, Vodçek: there is hardly ever any talk about how they get all the information that goes into the models, (other than ‘research’, which may take the form of opinion, ‘user need’ or customer preference surveys or some such tools, usually to early on, to begin the model development work. Nor about how they resolve any disagreements about those assumptions. It simply isn’t talked about. In the finished model diagrams, it seems that all controversies and disagreements are assumed to have been settled.
– True – I have been wondering about that myself. Which means that what the modeler- analysts have settled upon are their own perspectives or prejudices?
– Don’t let them hear such heretical thoughts. To be fair, they are trying; and convinced that their data support those views.
– Well. Let’s just keep the question unsettled for now. Any other approaches? Examples?
– Sure. Just some examples: there are approaches like the ‘Pattern Language’, — you know that one?
– Yes, — the ‘Timeless Way of Building’ books by Alexander? But isn’t that mainly about buildings”
– Yes. Buildings, construction, urban design. In my opinion, that Pattern Language essentially aims at developing a collection of recipes or guidelines — ‘pattern’ sounds a little less than the rules they really are — that guarantee a good solution if they are applied properly, and therefore don’t need to be discussed or evaluated in any formal sense. No discussion or arguments there either.
– So what role do feelings and emotions play in those approaches?
– I guess the same accusation of not accommodating feelings could be raised against many systems models. ‘Stocks and flows’, variables and rates etc. don’t exactly sound like having to do with emotions. Nor does the statistical analysis of data – even when they deal with opinion surveys. Though the systems people would argue like Rittel does for the argumentative model, that if anybody wants to make a model of emotions and what influences those, say, they can do that in the systems vocabulary too.
– And the pattern language?
– The language Alexander developed for building consists of a number of patterns that he and his collaborators found when they looked at places they liked, so they claimed that these patterns solve problems and conflicts inherent in the situation, and make people feel good. ‘If you aren’t using the pattern, you aren’t addressing the problem’ is one of their admonitions. Many of those recipes are quite good, I agree; better than some of the things we see in buildings by other people using different theories, if you can call them that. But he also used the stratagem of the ‘quality without a name’ that can’t be explained. That cuts off the discussion right quickly: nobody wants to be told that ‘if you have to ask, you simply don’t understand it…’
– I see. If you can’t feel it, you are just one of those unfeeling folks…
– And when the patterns are applied, there is no more talk about feelings or emotions, or arguments, pros or cons, either.
– So I take it, we have the same problems with those approaches too? It seems we are back to discussion, discourse, argument, the minute we even begin to examine whether any alternative approach works, and how. So what do you think should be done with the argumentative discourse system you guys are working on, if you are going to stick with it?
– Good question. That’s what I was cussing about. Do you have any suggestions for that problem? Vodçek? Sophie?
– You are asking lil’ ol’ me? Let me think about it. Vodçek looks like he has thought some ideas: Do you, Vodçek?
– Well, if I were bothered by the ‘argumentative’ label – which I’m not, mind you: in my experience around here, it makes people thirsty, you know what I mean? – but if I were, I’d start by changing that label. Isn’t your ‘planning discourse support system’ good enough? Well, it’s a bit long, and doesn’t make a catchy acronym; I’d work on that. And leave the reference to the argumentative model to the academic treatises.
– Okay, that’s just the label, the name. Is that enough to change the reaction of those emotional advocates?
– Maybe not. It might help if the discussion process could be started with some questions that de-emphasize the quarrelsome kind of argument part of the discussion. Starting up with questions about what folks would like to see in the solution or intervention to a problem situation: what would please other groups affected by the situation or potential solutions? What would make them feel good?
– So as to make them focus on things they can agree on right from the start, instead of bickering about proposals they don’t like? Okay: how would you frame that? And how would you keep people from starting out on – of falling into — an adversarial track right from the start? For example, if somebody starts out with some pet proposal of a solution that raises the hackles of everybody else?
– It might take some procedural manipulation, eh?
– Bad idea, if you ask me. Wouldn’t that really aggravate people and get them upset?
– All right. Suppose we start out by agreeing on some sequence beforehand – before any specific proposals are presented, and simply asked what such a proposal would or should look like if it were to make everybody happy? And agree that any ‘preconceived’ solutions be held back until they have been amended and modified with any suggestions brought up in that first phase of discussion?
– I don’t think that any restrictions should be placed on the order or sequence in which people contribute their ideas to the discourse. So whatever is being brought in will have to be accepted and recorded as it comes in. I am assuming a system that is being run not in a meeting, but mainly on some platform with contributions in different media. All entries should be kept as they have been stated, in what we called the ‘Verbatim’ file. But your suggestion could be useful when the material is sorted out and presented in the files and especially maps, structured according to topics and questions or issues. This could be shown in a sequence that encouraged constructive ideas, a gradual building up of solutions towards results that are acceptable to everybody, rather than having a proposal plunked down initially, take-it-or leave-it style, that people have to argue about.
– Sounds like something you should try out.
– Would it help if during that phase, the display of ideas and comments could be kept ‘anonymous’?
– Why, Sophie?
– Well, I have noticed that often, arguments get nasty not because the proposals are bad or controversial, but because of who made them. Jealousy, revenge for past slights, not wanting to give the other guy credit for an idea, or partisanship: ‘anything those guys are proposing we’ll turn down’ – you’ve seen those things, haven’t you?
– Yes, the news media are full of them.
– You don’t seem too excited about that idea. I think it gets in the way of the other provisions of your system – the evaluation part, does it? But you can still run that system of merit points ‘behind the curtain’ of the system, can’t you, so that people don’t evaluate ideas because of who proposed them?
– I guess so. It might actually help the concern somebody mentioned, that the evaluation of contributions could be deliberately skewed because of such personal or partisanship jealousies. Yes, ideas might be rewarded more fairly for their own merit if you don’t know whose they are.
– We’ll see. Sometimes the ideas are so obviously partisan that everybody can guess whose they are.
– Well, back to the issue here: what about feelings and emotions? So far, what you have suggested is aimed more at defusing or minimizing extraneous feelings about other participants than about the problem and solution proposals?
– You are right. Again: there could be nudges, suggestions about how to bring those into the discussion. For example, rather than asking participants to state their feelings or concerns outright, those considerations could be phrased as questions like this: ‘Would the proposed solution detail make people feel … ? And if so, what might be done about that?’
– Are you suggesting a rule about how participants should be wording their comments? What if they don’t?
– No, that’s not what I’m saying. The original ‘verbatim’ record entries are worded in whatever way they choose. I’m talking about how they would be displayed in the maps. But of course, that very feature may lead people to formulate their comments in this way, both less ‘argumentative’ and less personal – as you suggested earlier, in a way that indicates a more common feeling than a purely individual one.
– Hey, this all sounds very nice and friendly and cooperative. Well-intentioned. But are we looking at this in the right way? I mean, can all feelings, all emotions be treated the same way? Aren’t some more, let’s say, more ‘legitimate’ than others?
– Good question. What are all the feelings those do-gooders want the system to accommodate’?
– I think the judgment about whether they are legitimate or not must be left to the people participating in the discussion, don’t you agree? And it may be very different for different cases and situations? But yes, it may be useful to look at various kinds of emotions, to see whether they require different rules. Yeah, yeah: ‘nudges’, I see you’re frowning at the term ‘rule’, Sophie. Is there a rule against it?
– Can we go with ‘encouragements’ for the time being?
– Sure. If it makes you happy…
– We may have to ask some of the people raising this concern about feelings in the discourse, what kinds of feelings they have in mind. For example: I see many papers and blogposts complaining about other people’s resistance to change. Is that an issue we should look into?
– Ah, the current obsession with change. I suspect that’s often just a fad, something all the management consultants have to promote so they can help management push for their particular brand of change in their organizations. The Starbucks syndrome: try to order a straightforward coffee these days – bad boy: You aren’t honoring the change, effort of innovation and increase in choices. As if you couldn’t just mix them up yourself to your own taste if they put out the ingredients. No: You’d get upset – there’s an emotion for you – if the recipe for your plain coffee were changed.
– Hey, calm down, Sophie. Here’s a plain coffee for you. Sumatra. Cream? Sugar? Lemon? Red pepper? Brandy? French? Spanish? For recipes that aren’t on the Starbucks menu yet? But you are right, Bog-Hubert: Resistance to change is a common reaction. And it can be caused by many different emotions. Fear? Irritation over the reduced degree of certainty about the stability of conditions for your own plans? After all, your plans for whatever change or success you pursue are based on some context conditions being predictable and constant, so if those conditions change, you have to hustle and change your plans. Aggravations galore, right? Jealousy? Because the change will reduce your income while increasing that of the ‘change agent’ and other people?
– This all sounds very negative, guys. Aren’t there positive emotions too, that might play a role? Excitement, a sense of adventure, even risk and danger: some people like and thrive on things that elevate their adrenaline levels? Hope? Empathy? Love?
– Hold on, Sophie. You are right, we should consider positive emotions – but isn’t this getting into a whole range of different topics? Attitudes, values, beliefs, habits, personality likes and dislikes? Social pressures and demands. Boredom, curiosity, pride, group affinity and allegiances. Why should a planning discourse platform make special provisions for all of those? Can’t it be left to the people doing the planning in each specific case how they want to deal with such issues?
– I think you are right. But the problem is still that the folks who need to run such discussions or to participate in them don’t see how that is possible in the current version of the approach, the way it is presented. It may boil down to getting the story across, perhaps finding better ways of making people familiar and comfortable with this way of thinking.
– I see where you are headed, Vodçek. Games, am I right?
– Yes. And good examples, stories. But yes, I think games are a good way to familiarize people with new ideas and ways to work together. You remember the weird experiment we did here some time ago – on the bus system issue? I think things like that would help. We should look at that issue again, see if we can develop some different versions, — some simple ones, for kids, and some more advanced ones that can actually be used as entertainment versions of planning and problem-solving tools for real cases. And the issue of how to deal with emotions in those might take the form of trying to make them exciting and fun to play.
– Sounds like a plan… just don’t mention the word ‘argument’?
– Yes. And whenever it does slip into the discussion and people object to it, ask them what other approach they suggest, for developing a better tool? Perhaps they might actually come up with some useful ideas?
– Don’t get your hopes up. They’ll just vote you down.
– Three cheers for the optimist. Yes, I say give them a chance to make some positive and practical contributions. We might learn something. Let’s go to work on it.

AM-PDSS Feelings

Some issues regarding the role of emotions and feelings in the planning discourse

Does Logic Settle The Issue?

Bog-Hubert, entering the Fog Island Tavern, tries to get the attention of Tavern-keeper Vodçek, who is bent over a piece of paper on the counter, scribbling notes in its margin.

– So my friend, are you embarking on a new career of literary critic, or editor? What august publishing entity are you working for?

= Huh? Oh, sorry, didn’t hear you come in. What’s that you say about career? Or did you mean a beer?

– No, thanks, coffee would be fine. I was curious about your editing work there.

= Oh, this? It’s just a letter to my grand-aunt that came back as ‘undeliverable’.

– Your grand-aunt? Hasn’t she been dead for quite some time already? The one and only Aurelia Fryermouth? or do you have another equally grand aunt?

= No, that’s the one. And yes, she died many years ago. Here’s your coffee.

– And your letter took this long to get back to you? I knew the postal service to that country was kind of, well, unpredictable, but this…

= No, I wrote this about a month ago, and it just came back.

– Of course, if she’s dead. Stands to reason. But now you have me seriously worried. Why in three twister’s name did you write her when she’s dead?

= Oh, I do that all the time. I used to write her whenever I’ve written something I’m not quite sure about, and she always sent me useful, insightful comments back. So now I do the same thing, and when the letters come back after a while, I imagine her comments and write them in the margin, with my comments and rebuttals. Using a four-color Bic to keep track of what’s what. Very useful.

– The Bic? Okay. But this strange habit?

= Don’t knock it, it has kept me out of a lot of trouble. It should be required of everybody who’s writing, especially folks who write all those comments in social media discussions.
Now I admit, not everybody has an aunt Aurelia whose wisdom, even of the imagined kind, can be of such profound quality and assistance. She had a way of cutting through the distractions and BS, and put her finger on the real sore spots, like no teacher I ever had. But just imagining what she would say — just like those so-called conservatives who keep parroting ‘what would Reagan do?’; they really should look for somebody more … well, let’s not get into that — is immensely helpful. Not to mention the time delay. Remember the old advice to ‘sleep on it’ before jumping into action? One night is not enough, my friend. Looking at your impulsive writing after several weeks, during which you may also have gained some extra insights and wisdom, however infinitesimal, given your age (compared to aunt Aurelia’s), can be a very sobering experience.
– Ah. I see. It explains the wide margins you’ve left in the letter. But how to you ensure that your margin entries are not as impulsively imprudent as the original writing?

= Good point. I can only say there is a marked marginal improvement, if you’ll excuse the puns. And I indeed have at times resorted to sending her my comments back for review and revision… She does not mind that, unlike live editors who have a tendency to react with irritated and, if I may say so, rather impolite retorts to even the slightest challenges of their authority.

– Hmm. I admit, it sounds like a wise routine. Widely adopted, it would save humanity from a lot of, — what did you call it? — ‘impulsive’ writing, I agree. But now you have made me curious: what are those profound questions you have her comment upon from the Great Aurelian Beyond?

= Don’t know about profound. This last one was just about the puzzlements I felt about the offer by the climate scientist Dr. Keating, to pay a considerable sum of money to any ‘denier’ (his term) of man made climate change to provide a proof, via scientific method, that man made climate change does not occur.

– I heard something about that, yes. Did he get any such proof?

= Several dozen, as far as I know. So he had a big discussion on his blog about why the proofs didn’t hold water, and responding to all the folks who didn’t think the challenge was serious, or ill-stated etc.

– So what about your puzzlement?

= Well, there were several. One was about the reasons why some people seem very reluctant to accept the idea of man made climate change, (MMCC) for reasons they couldn’t really discuss because Dr. Keating insisted on it all being ‘scientific’. But even if they weren’t, does that mean they were totally illegitimate and nonsensical? For example, could it be that — for Dr. Keating and others — accepting the MMCC hypothesis would be seen as also accepting some implications, sight unseen, that might very well be worthy of discussion?

– Okay: seems worth looking into. The other issue?

= That was a strange one. In the discussion, both parties were at times insisting that they had valid logical reasoning on their side, and that the other side was guilty of violating logic. Now somebody found this a bit curious, not to say logically questionable. But upon investigating the matter, he found out that if you just looked a the logical validity of the arguments people put forward — not the truth or probability of the premises — it is entirely possible for both sides to propose quite logically valid arguments for their case, while also being vulnerable to accusations of using arguments that are not deductively valid but perhaps merely ‘plausible’, but logically inconclusive.

= Huh. Can you explain that?

– Sure. Take the main scientific argument abut a hypothesis H — in this case, that MMCC is true. You examine the hypothesis and find that if it is true, then we should be able to find some evidence E that must occur as a consequence. That makes the first premise “If H then E must be observed” or H –> E. Now we observe E. Does this ‘prove’ that H is true?
No: it is the inductive reasoning scheme
((H –> E) & E) –> H
which is logically inconclusive, not deductively valid. It’s what they call a ‘just another white swan’ argument: observing any number of white swans — E — does not prove that the hypothesis that all swans are white is true. (If true, it implies that all swans observed will be white.) You can test that with a truth table: there is one case among all the possible states of the world involving H and E that makes the main implication ‘false’. So if that is your main argument for H, you can be accused of using less than deductively valid logic. But observing just one black swan (or even a pink one, for a more colorful discussion) ~E, deductively, validly refutes the hypothesis:
((H –>E) & ~E) –> ~H
This is a perfectly valid deductive argument (called modus tollens by the logicians).

= I remember that now, yes. But in science, they have developed that trick with the ‘null hypothesis Ho’ — the hypothesis put on its head — haven’t they? And use the same modus tollens argument showing that if E is observed, Ho can’t possibly be true?

– Yes, at least for questions involving large numbers of data observations, where Ho is understood as e.g. climate changes happen at random, unrelated to human activities. Then the argument is not claiming total refutation, just that it is so unlikely (having such a low probability) that E could be observed of Ho is true, that Ho is rejected, and provisionally H is accepted instead. This is accepted as valid scientific reasoning.

= So If they can produce such evidence and arguments, doesn’t that settle it?

– Not so fast. For one, the argument scheme is a different one, depending on whether you accept or reject the premises. Which are of course part of the controversy. And the evidence E is not a simple observation or experiment result, but consisting of a ‘body of evidence’ that starts with the definition and understanding of the things you are discussing. Say: what qualifies as ‘climate change’, what human activities are influencing climate. Then selecting appropriate variables for those concepts, that must be measured: temperature; okay, or CO2 — but of what? air? water? land? some combination? measured how, over what time period, where? (e.g. on the surface? or in the stratosphere, or somewhere in-between? Then there must be some distinctive and significant correlation between the measures for climate change and human shenanigans, and some provisions that the correlation actually indicates causation and not the other way around.

= Wait a minute: ‘the other way around’ — what do you mean by that?

– Oh, maybe somebody claims that human activities increase CO2 levels in the air, which change the climate. And somebody else says: wait — the climate is actually cooling, — the winters are getting colder, which causes humans to do more heating, which maybe increases CO2 somewhat, but the cause of that is really climate cooling? Even if the argument doesn’t make sense to you, you can’t just dismiss it as unlogical, you have to make sure that if you see a correlation between man-made CO2 and climate change, you have the cause and effect going in the proper direction.

= All that puts quite a burden on the scientists who claim there is a connection between climate change and human activities.

– Right. They have to provide solid evidence and arguments for all the components of that body of evidence. And it makes it relatively easy for anybody to challenge that hypothesis: they only have to put reasonable doubt on one single component of that chain of evidence, to turn the corroborating argument H –> E and E into the modus tollens
((H –> E) & ~E) –> ~H (‘black swan’) argument ‘refuting’ H. Allowing the ‘denier’ to claim a deductively valid argument.
But: What if somebody came up with an argument like this one: “((E –>H) & E) –> H”
(“If we see evidence E, this must mean that H is true; now we observe E, so H is true”)

= Huh? is that the way science works?

– That may be up for discussion. You could argue that this is precisely the way scientists come up with — conjecture — the hypothesis: they see some things E that suggest H. Science of course also insists that such observations must be repeatable and confirmed bu other observers etc. But if somebody makes such a case, they can claim a perfectly logical and deductively valid argument — a respectable modus ponens. Remember, whether the conclusion is true depends on the validity of the argument scheme and the truth or plausibility of the premises. To claim logical validity you don’t have to also claim truth of premises. But of course you can’t jump to any specific conclusions yet.

= I see the problem here: both sides can claim to have logic on their side. So logic by itself does not settle the controversy. Now if you accept that, shouldn’t both sides agree that the final conclusion will rest on both logical validity and true premises, and to then refrain from trying to clinch the case by just claiming valid logic?

– You’d think so. And youd’ think that the scientist would make that clear in stating his case, wouldn’t you?

= Sure. So?

– So part of my puzzlement was the reaction by Dr. Keating to somebody pointing out this story of both sides claiming logic. He just dismissed this, writing that ‘logic is just a tool’, what counts is valid science. Here little ol’ me always thought that valid logical reasoning, together with confirmed observation, correct measurement, calculations etc. was an integral part of scientific method, the science toolkit. What do I know…

= I can see where this might be a puzzlement for you. So what does your grand-aunt Aurelia have to say about all this?

– She jumped right on the first one of my puzzlements: the other, perhaps ‘illegitimate’, or non-scientific reasons people might have for hesitating to accept the hypothesis that human activities are screwing up the global climate. That perhaps the context of challenges and claims, like the one by Dr. Keating, subtly or not so subtly implies acceptance of some conclusions that are quite partisan and political, but that can’t be entered in this discussion because they are not ‘scientific’.

= I’m sure that may not be intended by Dr. Keating and other climate scientists?

– Sure — but it may be in the minds of some folks out there. And that makes them look for any little chinks in the body of evidence they can find.

= What are some of those implications — did you revered grand-aunt suggest some?

– Her main point was this: if man-made climate change is true, it raises the question whether we actually can do something meaningful about it, and if so, what. But they suspect that the scientists — calling them ‘alarmists’ in return for being called ‘deniers’ by Keating and others — already have an agenda of proposed strategies and rules up their sleeve. And that those will be very expensive. Even worse: that many people will have to change some of their cherished habits regarding energy use. And –psst– that some folks who are now making fine profits from conventional energy sources and life habits will lose those profits. The worst, though: that those new strategies will allow o t h e r guys, not them, to now make more profit. Utterly unacceptable, that one.

= Ahh. Of course. It may also be the fact that the costs of the new strategies will have to be paid ‘now’ or ‘soon’, obviously by people who now have or make money, by way of taxes — but that the profits or benefits will manifest themselves much later, in terms not of cash revenues but avoided disaster. So does that answer your concerns?

– You mean can I sleep better at night for these insights? Don’t think so. But I think that it might be better if those issues would also be put on the table and discussed, negotiated. Perhaps such questions could be more productively dealt with if they were stated differently.

= What do you mean — does it matter how a problem is stated to answer what we should do about it? A problem is a problem is a problem, after all…

– No, I think the way they are thrown up for discussion does matter. For example, consider raising a challenge about the climate change in the following way: Look at a table showing — I’m simplifying now, perhaps dangerously so, but just to make it clear — the possible answers to the MMCC question as columns: is MMCC real, or is it not (or so insignificant that we don’t have to worry about it), and our strategies as rows: do we do something about it, or do we not?
There will be four main outcomes, the boxes 1,2,3,4. For each one, there are three major questions that should be answered: a) what will happen? What will be the consequences? b) What, if anything, will be done? and c) depending on what is done, what is the likely result? That would allow the discussion to address each question separately and more explicitly, and perhaps make it easier to reach some decisions. If decisions are needed. And if they are, avoid wasting more time by quibbling about issues like proof or disproof of MMCC (which is a wrong question in itself because it’s not a yes-no question but one of relative significance and relationships between many variables).

= So what does your table look like?

– Here’s a first simple draft, for filling in the boxes and discussion: What if:

MMCC is:                              real & significant                   not real or insignificant ____________________________________________________________________________

We decide to                                     1                                                         2
take steps

We do nothing, or                           3                                                         4
continue what we do

= You might add another question there, my friend.

– Sure, there will be many more as people start talking more thoroughly about it. What’s the question you have in mind?

= It has to do with responsibility. Or accountability, if you wish: Who will take on the responsibility for decisions? And be accountable — whatever that means, which should be discussed more carefully — if it’s the ‘wrong’ decision?

– Huh. I need to send this back to aunt Aurelia. With wider margins…


Planning discourse: Integration of argumentation into systems models or systems modeling information into argumentative discourse.

Various discussions about how complex societal problems and crises can be dealt with have revealed, among other things, a mutual shortcoming of two conceptual ‘models’ held to carry the best promises for overcoming the challenges: ‘Systems Thinking’ on the one hand, and the Argumentative Model of Planning on the other. Briefly, systems modeling tools are considered the best available tools for the understanding and analysis of complex systems behavior, while a carefully orchestrated argumentative discourse with wide participation appears to offer the best – because most familiar and accessible – vehicle for assembling the ‘distributed’ information and connecting that information forward to acceptable agreements and decisions.

The problem or shortcoming is the following: The detailed information embodied in complex systems models is not accommodated in the familiar patterns of argumentative discourse, and thus difficult to adequately bring to bear on the decisions reached at the end of such discourse. On the other hand, the disagreements  (and thus conflicting, inconsistent information) that characterize argumentative discourse in the form of ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ are not accommodated in the typical systems models whose assumptions regarding variables, parameters, and their values and relationships have the appearance of being either valid on the basis of scientific verification, or ‘settled’ by other means (e.g. as goals ‘given’  by the clients of analysis projects, or opinion surveys).

The consequences of decision processes adopting either ‘model’ can be equally defective:  decisions based on the output of model simulations, for example, run the risk of overriding critical disagreements and interests of parties whose information has not been included, or downplayed, in the model, and thus lead to future conflict. Decisions reached on the basis of argumentative discourse in which the complexity of the system in question has not been fully understood because it couldn’t be adequately represented in the tools of the discourse are equally likely to be flawed. This would be true even if the main shortcoming of the ‘parliamentary’ tradition were successfully resolved – that of the possibility of the final majority vote completely ignoring and overriding the concerns of the minority. (A possible solution for this problem has been suggested with the proposals for systematic and transparent argument assessment for planning arguments (Mann 2010),  it will be assumed to be adopted in some form in the following.)

The mutual difficulties of these two models to appropriately accommodate each other’s content is considered to be a main obstacle for the successful development of a viable framework for planning  / policy-making from the small scale, local level to the scale of global crises and conflicts. It has not, to my knowledge, received sufficient attention, analysis and discussion. The following two suggestions, exploring the possibility for each of the two models to be integrated into the other are intended as a starting point for this much needed discussion. The possibility for the emergence of a ‘third model’ that would resolve the difficulty is left open as a challenge for future thinking.

  1. A.   How can Argumentation be integrated into ST tools?


Possibility: (using the example of simulation models for clarity, and

i)            Starting with the model diagram:

ii)  Each variable and parameter in the model diagram is shown in a ‘box’ with attached expansion symbols:

E for explanatory information about item x:  What is x?  Also: description?

F  for factual information:  What is (the value of) x currently; evidence, data?

O  (instead of D) for deontic / ought information and arguments:  should x be set (as part e.g. of an intervention package)?

H  or I  for instrumental (‘How to’) information:  How can x be achieved?

Clicking on the symbol will open a discussion page where the question is stated and answers / arguments are listed.

Plan proposals are described as packages of variable and parameter values of the model that serve as the proposed ‘intervention’ settings whose performance will be simulated over time in the model.

Main menu symbols shown in the ‘legend’ box of the diagram show the links for the issues:

–        What should be the plan proposal? (Described as initial intervention settings of model); clicking should link to follow-up questions:

–             H- question:  plan proposals (alternatives)?

–            Evaluation work sheets for selected proposals. (To develop a pl-value for             the proposal based on the assessment argument weight, argument plausibility and plausibility of argument premises).

–      What is the critical performance variable that should be simulated with the model?

–        What additional variable / parameter should be included in the model?

Subsequent additional links for the follow-up question:

–            Should this item be included in the model?

–            What are the values and relationships?

This information can be ‘automatically’ extracted from the discussion and             shown in the model.

–            Should the proposed variable be part of the intervention (plan) package?

–            How can the initial / intervention variable setting be achieved (if not already in place…)

iii) These pages should have convenient ‘back’ links to the question from where they were accessed.

iv) The pages for these questions should be complemented or linked to issue maps showing the relationships between the various issues in the entire discussion, (with the ‘current issue from which the page was linked shown bold or highlighted).

v) These requirements imply that the different functions described:  model diagram, issue discussions, mapping, evaluation etc. must be part of one single integrated software program.

  1. B.    How can systems modeling information be integrated into argumentative discourse platforms and maps? 



Assuming, as a starting point, that there is a discussion about whether a plan proposal X should be decided upon for implementation. The discussion support documentation (drawn from the ‘live‘ or conventional online discussion) is organized along the principles of adapted planning discourse IBIS (‘issue based information system’) resp. APIS (‘argumentative planning information system’).

Arguments pro or con the proposal will be raised and displayed in the ‘standard’ format:

“Proposal X ought /ought not be implemented because it is/is not a fact that X with help achieve goal Y, given conditions C, and conditions C are/are not (or will be) present.” Formally:

“+/-O(X) <— (+/-FI((X–>Y)| C) & +/-O(Y) & +/- F(C)”

Here, ‘conditions C‘ stand for the set of assumed variable and parameter values of a simulation model; and the proposal X will be described as the package of such model assumptions that are under the control of planners as the starting ‘intervention‘ into the situation and for which the performance over time is to be simulated with the model.

Successor questions about C will be answered by displays of the entire model, listing all variables and parameters with their assumptions and relationships so that they can be discussed, within the regular format provisions of the argumentative discourse platform.

The platform will be structured according to the main considerations described e.g. in Mann (2010) including the components of the verbatim file of contributions, the topic and issue lists, the discussion files of each issue in a condensed / formalized manner, argument maps, and evaluation worksheets and analysis tools.

This requires that the platform be structured so as to

i)               allow discussion of each issue as a separate thread;

ii)             permit visual displays of not only issue and argument maps but also systems model diagrams  (and  ideally, running provisions) within the same platform;

iii) allow convenient forward and backward linking between all its components.


For discussion

Updated Planning Discourse Positions

Re-examining various efforts and proposals on discourse support over time, I have tried to identify and address some key issues or problems that require attention and rethinking. Briefly, the list of issues includes the following (in no particular order of importance):

•        The question of the appropriate Conceptual Framework for the discourse support system;

•      The preparation and use of discourse, issue and argument maps,  ncluding the choice of map ‘elements’ (questions, issues, arguments, concepts or topics…);

•      The design of the organizational framework:  the ‘platform’;

•      The Software problem: Specifications for discourse support software;

•      Questions of appropriate process;

•        The role and design of discourse mapping;

•       The aspect of distributed information;

•      The problem of complexity of information  (complexity of linear verbal or written discussion, complex reports, systems model information);

•       The role of experts;

•      Negative associations with the term ‘argument’;

•      The problem of ‘framing’ the discourse;

•      Inappropriate focus on insignificant issues;

•       The role of media;

•      Appropriate Discussion representation;

•      Incentives / motivation for participation (‘Voter apathy’)

•      The ‘familiar’ (comfortable?) linear format of discussions versus the need (?) for structuring discourse contributions;

•      The need for overview of the number of issues / aspects of the problem and their relationships;

•      The effect of ‘last word’ contributions (e.g. speeches) on collective decisions; or mere ‘rhetorical brilliance’;

•      Linking discussion merit / argument merit with eventual decisions;

•      The issue of maps ‘taking sides’;

•      The problem of evaluation: of proposals, arguments, discussion contributions;

•      The role of ‘systems models’ information in common (verbal, linear, including ‘argumentative’) discourse

•      The question of argument reconstruction.

•      The appropriate formalization or condensation needed for concise map representation;

•      Differences between requirements for e.g. ‘argument maps’ as used in e.g. law or science versus planning;

•      The deliberate or inadvertent ‘authoritative’ effect of e.g. argument representation as ‘valid’; (i.e. the extent of evaluative content of maps);

•      The question of appropriate sequence of map generation and updating;

•    The question of representation of qualifiers in evaluation forms.


In previous work on the structure and evaluation of ‘planning arguments’ within the overall framework of the ‘Argumentative Model of Planning’ (as proposed by Rittel), I have been making various assumptions with regard to these questions — assumptions differing from those made in other studies and proposed discourse support tools. Such assumptions, for example regarding the conceptual framework, as manifested in the choice of vocabulary, — adopted as a mostly unquestioned matter of course in my proposals as well as in other’s work, — have significant implications on the development of such discourse support tools. They therefore should be raised as explicit issues for discussion and re-examination.

A first step in such a re-examination might begin with an attempt to explicitly state my current position, for discussion. This position is the result, to date, of experience with my own ideas as well as the study of others’ proposals. Not all of the issues listed above will be addressed in the following. Some position items still are, in my mind, more ‘questions’ than firm convictions, but I will try to state them as ‘provocatively’ as possible, for discussion and questioning.

1       The development of a global support framework for the discussion of global planning and policy agreements, based on wide participation and assessment of concerns, is a matter of increasingly critical concern; it should be pursued with high priority.

While no such system can be expected to achieve definitive universal validity and acceptance, and therefore many different efforts for further development of alternative approaches should be encouraged, there is a clear need for some global agreements and decisions that must be based on wide participation as well as thorough evaluation of concerns and information (evidence).

The design of a global framework will not be structurally different from the design of such systems for smaller entities, e.g. local governments. The differences would be mainly ones of scale. Therefore, experimental systems can be developed and tested at smaller scales to gain sufficient experience before engaging in the investments that will be needed for a global framework. By the same token, global systems for initially very narrow topics would serve the same purpose of incremental development and implementation.

2      The design of such a framework must be based on — and accommodate — currently familiar and comfortable habits and practices of collective discussion.

While there are analytical techniques and tools with plausible claims of greater effectiveness, ability to deal with the amount and complexity of data etc., the use of these tools in discourse situations with wide participation of people of different educational achievement levels would either be prohibitive of wide participation, or require implausibly massive information/education programs for which precisely the needed tools for reaching agreement on the selection of method / approach (among the many competing candidates) are currently not available.

3      Even with the growing use of new information technology tools, the currently most familiar and comfortable discourse pattern seems to be that of the traditional ‘linear discussion’ (sequential exchange of questions and answers or arguments) — the pattern that has been developed in e.g. the parliamentary tradition, the agreement of giving all parties a chance to speak, air their concerns, their pros and cons to proposed collective actions, before making a decision.

This form of discourse, originally based on the sequential exchange of verbal contributions, is of course complemented and represented by written documents, reports, books, and communications.

4      A first significant attempt to enhance the ‘parliamentary’ tradition with systematic information system, procedural and technology support was Rittel’s ‘Argumentative Model of Planning’. It is still a main candidate for the common framework.

Rittel’s main argument for the general acceptance of this model was the insight that its basic, general conceptual framework of ‘questions’, ‘issues’ (controversial questions), ‘answers’, and ‘arguments’ could in principle accommodate the content of any other framework or approach, and thus become a bridge or common forum for planning at all levels. This still seems to be a valid claim not matched by any other theoretical approach.

5      However, there are sufficiently worrisome ‘negative associations’ with the term ‘argument’ of Rittel’s model to suggest at least a different label and selection of more neutral key concepts and terms for the general framework

            The main options are to only refer to ‘questions’ and ‘responses’ and ‘claims’, and to avoid ‘argument’ as well as the concepts of ‘pro’s and ‘cons’ — arguments in favor and opposed to plan proposals or other propositions.

Argumentation can be seen as the mutually cooperative (positive) effort of discussion participants to point out premises that support their positions, but that also are already believed to true or plausible by the ‘opponent‘, (or will be accepted by the opponent upon presentation of evidence or further arguments). But the more common, apparently persistent view is that of argumentation as a ‘nasty’, adversarial, combative ‘win-lose’ endeavor. While undoubtedly discourse by ay other label will produce arguments, pros and cons etc., the question is whether these should be represented as such in support tools, or in a more neutral vocabulary.

Experiments should be carried out with representations of discourse contributions — in overview maps and evaluation forms — as ‘questions’ and ‘answers’.

6      Any re-formatting, reconstruction, condensing of discussion contributions carries the danger of changing the meaning of an entry as intended by its author.

Regardless of the choice of such formatting — which should be the subject of discussion — the framework must preserve all original entries in their ‘verbatim’ form for reference and clarification as needed. Ideally, any reformatting of an entry should be checked with its author to ensure that it represents its intended meaning. (Unfortunately, this is not possible for entries whose authors cannot be reached, e.g. because they are dead.)

7      The framework should provide for translation services not only for translation between natural languages, but also from specialized discipline ‘jargon’ entries to natural language.

8      While researchers in several disciplines are carrying out significant and useful efforts  towards the development of discourse support tools, and some of these efforts seem to claim to produce universally applicable tools, such claims are overly optimistic.

The requirements for different disciplines are different, and lead to different solutions that cannot comfortably be transferred to other realms. Specifically, the differences between scientific, legal, and planning reasoning are calling for quite different approaches. and discourse support systems. However, they are not independent: the planning discourse contains premises from all these realms that must be supported with the tools pertinent to those differences.  The diagram suggests how different discourse and argument systems are related to planning:

(Sorry, diagram will be added later)

9      Analysis and problem-solving approaches can be distinguished according to the criteria they recommend as the warrant for solution decisions:

–         Voting results (government, management decision systems, supported by experts);

–             ‘Backwards-looking’ criteria:  ‘Root cause’ (Root cause analysis, ‘Necessary conditions, contributing factors (‘Systematic Doubt’ analysis), historical data (Systems models);

–        ‘Process/Approach’ criteria (“the ‘right’ approach guarantees the solution”);

solutions legitimized by participation vote or authority position; or argument merit;

–        ‘Forward-looking’ criteria:  Expected result performance, Benefit-Cost Ratio, simulated performance of selected variables over time, or stability of the system, etc.

It should be clear that the framework must accommodate all these approaches, or preferably, be based on an approach that could integrate all these perspectives, as applicable to context and characteristics of the problem. There is, to my knowledge, currently no approach matching this expectation, though some are claiming to do so   (e.g. ‘Multi-level Systems Analysis’, which however is looking at only approaches deemed to fit within the realm of ‘Systems Thinking).

10        While the basic components of the overall framework should be as few, general, and simple as possible, — for example ‘topic’,  ‘question’ and ‘claim’ or ‘response’, — actual contributions in real discussions can be lengthy and complex, and must be accommodated as such (in ‘verbatim’ reference files). However, for the purposes of overview by means of visual relationship mapping, or systematic evaluation, some form of condensed formatting or formalization will be necessary.

The needed provisions for overview mapping and evaluation are slightly different, but should be as similar as possible for the sake of simplicity.

11      Provisions for mapping:

a.   Different detail levels of discourse maps should be distinguished:  ‘Topic maps’, ‘Issue maps’ (or ‘question maps’), and ‘argument maps’ or ‘reasoning maps’.

–      Topic maps merely show the general topics or concepts and their relationship as linked by discussion entries.  Topics are conceptually linked (simple line) if they are connected by a relationship claim in a discussion entry.

–      Issue or question maps show the relationships between specific questions raised about topics. Questions can be identified by type: e.g. factual, deontic, explanatory, instrumental questions. There are two main kinds of relationships: one is the ‘topic family’ relation (all questions raised about a specific topic); the other is the relationship of a question (a ‘successor’ question) having been raised as a result of challenging or query for clarification of an element (premise) of another (‘predecessor‘) question.

–       Argument or reasoning maps show the individual claims (premises) making up an answer or argument about an issue (question), and the questions or issues having been raised as a result of questioning any such element (e.g. challenging or clarifying, calling for additional support for an argument premise.

b.  Reasoning maps (argument maps) should show all the claims making up an argument, including claims left not expressed in the original ‘verbatim’ entry as assumed to be ‘taken for granted’ and understood by the audience.

Reasoning maps aiming at encouraging critical examination and thinking about a controversial subject might show ‘potential’ questions (for example the entire ‘family of issues for a topic) that could or should be raised about an answer or argument. These might be shown in gray or faint shades, or a different color from actually raised questions.

c.   Reasoning maps should not identify answers or arguments as ‘pro’ and ‘con’ a proposal or position (unless it is made very clear that these are only the author’s intended function.)

The reason is that other participants might disagree with one or several of the premises of an intended ‘pro’ argument, in which case the set of premises (not with the respective participant’s negation) can constitute a ‘con’ argument — but the map showing it as ‘pro’ would in fact be ‘taking sides’ in the assessment. This would violate the principle of the map serving as a neutral, ‘impartial’ support tool.

d.  For the same reason, reasoning maps should not attempt to identify and state the reasoning pattern (e.g. ‘modus ponens’ or modus tollens’ etc.) of the argument. Nor should they ‘reconstruct’ arguments into such (presumably more ‘logical’, even ‘deductively valid’) forms.

Again, if in a participant’s opinion, one of the premises of such an argument should be negated, the pattern (reasoning rule) of the set of claims will become a different one. Showing the pattern as the originally intended one by the author, (however justified by its inherent nature and validity of premises it may seem to map preparers), the map would inadvertently or deliberately be ‘taking sides’ in the assessment of the argument.

e.   Topic, issue and reasoning maps should link to the respective elements in the verbatim and any formalized records of the discussion, including to source documents, and illustrations (pictures, diagrams, tables).

d.      The ‘rich image’ fashion (fad?) of adding icons and symbols (thumbs up or down, plus or minus signs) or other decorative features to the maps — moving bubbles, background imagery, etc. serve as distracting elements more than as well-intended user-friendly devices, and should be avoided.

12      Current discourse-based decision approaches exhibit a significant shortcoming in that there is no clear, transparent, visible link between the ‘merit’ of discussion contributions and the decision.

Voting blatantly permits disregarding discussion results entirely. Other approaches (e.g. Benefit-Cost Analysis, or systems modeling) claim to address all concerns voiced e.g. in preparatory surveys, but disregard any differences of opinion about the assumptions entering the analysis. (For example: some entities in society would consider the ‘cost’ of government project expenditures as ‘benefits’ if they lead to profits for those entities (e.g. industries) from government contracts).

The proposed expansion of the Argumentative Model with Argument Evaluation (TM 2010) provides an explicit link between the merit of arguments (as evaluated by discourse participants) and the decision, in the form of measures of plan proposal plausibility. This approach should be integrated into an approach dropping the ‘argumentative‘ label, even though it requires explicit or implicit evaluation of argument premises.

13      Provisions for evaluation.

In discussion-based planning processes, three main evaluation tasks should be distinguished: the comparative assessment of the merit of alternative plan proposals (if more than one); the evaluation of one plan proposal or proposition, as a function of the merit of arguments; and the evaluation of the merit of single contributions, (item of information, arguments) to the discussion.

For all three, the basic principle is that evaluation judgments must be understood as subjective judgments, by individual participants, about the quality, plausibility, goodness, validity desirability etc. While traditional assessments e.g. of truth of argument premises and conclusions were aiming at absolute, objective truth, the practical working assumption here is that while we all strive for such knowledge, we must acknowledge that we do not have any more than (utterly subjective) estimate judgments of it, and it is on the strength of those estimates we have to make our decisions. The discussion is a collective effort to share and hopefully improve the basis of those judgments.

The first task above is often approached by means of a ‘formal evaluation’ procedure developing ‘goodness’ or performance judgments about the quality of the plan alternatives, resulting on an overall judgment score as a function of partial judgments about the plans’ performance with respect to various aspects. sub-aspects etc. Such procedures are well documented; the discourse may be the source of the aspects, but more often, the aspects are assembled (by experts) by a different procedure.

The following suggestions are exploring the approach of developing a plausibility score for a plan proposal based on the plausibility and weight assessments of the (pro and con) arguments and argument premises. (following TM 2010 with some adaptations).

a.  Judgment criterion: Plausibility.

All elements to be ‘evaluated’ are assessed with the common criterion of ‘plausibility’, on an agreed-upon scale of +n  (‘completely plausible’) to -n (‘completely implausible’), the midpoint score of zero meaning ‘don’t know’ or ‘neither plausible nor implausible’.

While many argument assessment approaches aim at establishing the (binary) truth or falsity of claims, ‘truth’, (not even ‘degree of certainty’ or probability about the truth of a claim), does not properly apply to deontic (ought-) claims and desirability of goals etc. The plausibility criterion or judgment type applies to all types of claims, factual, deontic, explanatory etc.

b.   Weights of relative importance

Deontic claims (goals, objectives) are not equally important to people. To express these differences in importance, individuals assign ‘weight of relative importance) judgments to deontics in the arguments, on an agreed upon scale of zero to 1 such that all weights relative to an overall judgment add up to 1.

c.       All premises of an argument are assigned premise plausibility judgments ppl; the deontic premises are also assigned their weight of relative importance pw.

d.       The argument plausibility argpl of an argument is a function of the plausibility values of all its premises.

e.       Argument weight argw is a function of argument plausibility argpl and the weight ppw of its deontic premise.

f.      Individual Plan or Proposal plausibility PLANpl is a function of all argument weights.

g.  ‘Group’ assessments or indicators of plan plausibility GPLANpl can be expressed as some function of all individual PLANpl scores.

However, ‘group scores’ should only be used as a decision guide, together with added consideration of degrees of disagreement (range, variance), not as a direct decision criterion. The decision may have to be taken by traditional means e.g. voting. But the  correspondence or difference between deliberated plausibility scores and the final vote adds an ‘accountability’ provision: a participant having assigned a deliberated positive plausbility score for a plan but voting against it will face strong demands for explanation.

h.   A potential ‘by-product’ of such an evaluation component of a collective deliberation process is the possibility of rewarding participants for discussion contributions not only with reward points for making contributions — and making such contributions speedily, (since only the ‘first’ argument making the same point will be included in the evaluation) — but modifying these contribution points with the collective assessments of their plausibility. Thus, participants will have an incentive — and be rewarded for — making plausible and meritorious contributions.

14      The process for deliberative planning discourse with evaluation of arguments and other discourse contributions will be somewhat different from current forms of participatory planning, especially if much or all of it is to be carried out online.

            The main provisions for the design of the process pose no great problems, and small experimental projects can be carried out with current tools ‘by hand’ with human facilitators and support staff using currently available software packages.  But for larger applications adequate integrated software tools will first have to be developed.

15      The development of  ‘civic merit accounts’ based on the evaluated contributions to public deliberation projects may help the problem of citizen reluctance (often referred to as the problem of ‘voter apathy’) to participate in such discourse.

However, such rewards will only be effective incentives if they can become a fungible ‘currency’ for other exchanges in society.  One possibility is to use the built-up account of such ‘civic merit points’ as one part of qualification for public office — positions of power to make decisions that do not need or cannot wait for lengthy public deliberation. At the same time, the legitimization for power decisions must be ‘paid for’ with appropriate sums of credit points — a much-needed additional form of control of power.

16      An important, yet unresolved ‘open question’ is the role of complex ‘systems modeling’ information in any form of argumentative planning discourse with the kind of evaluation sketched above.

Just as disagreement and argumentation about model assumptions are currently not adequately accommodated in systems models, the information of complex systems models and e.g. simulation results is difficult to present in coherent form in traditional arguments, and almost impossible to represent in argument maps and evaluation tools. Since systems models arguably are currently the most important available tools for detailed and systematic analysis and understanding of problems and system behavior, the integration of these tools in the discourse framework for wide public participation must be seen as a task of urgent and high priority.

17      Another unresolved question regarding argument evaluation (and perhaps also mapping) is the role of statement qualifiers. 

Whether arguments that are stated with qualifiers (‘possibly’, ‘perhaps’; ‘tend to’ etc.) in the original ‘verbatim’ version should show such qualifiers in the statements (premises) to be evaluated. Arguably, qualifiers can be seen as statements about how an unqualified, categorical claim should be evaluated; the proponent of a claim qualified with a ‘possible’ does not ask for a complete 100% plausibility score. This means that the qualifier belongs to a separate argument about how the main categorical claim should be assessed, and thus should not be included in the ‘first-level’ argument to be evaluated.  The problem is that the qualified claim can be evaluated — as qualified — as quite, even 100% plausible — but that plausibility can (in the aggregation function) be counted as 100% for the unqualified claim. Unless the author can be persuaded to add an actual suggested plausibility value in lieu of the verbal qualifier, one that other evaluators can view and perhaps modify according to their own judgment (unlikely and probably impractical), it would seem better to just enter unqualified claims in the evaluation forms, even though this may be seen as misrepresenting the author’s real intended meaning.

18       Examples of topic, issue, and argument maps according to the preceding suggestions.

a.  A ‘topic map’ of the main topics addressed in this article:

Topic map

Map of topics discussed

b.  An issue map for one of the topics:

Mapping issues

Argument mapping issues

c.  A map of the ‘first level’ arguments in a planning discourse: the overall plan plausibility as a function of plausibility and weight assessments of the planning arguments (pro and con) that were raised about the plan.Plan plausibility

The overall hierarchy of plan plausibility judgments

      d.  The preceding diagram with ‘successor’ issues and respective arguments added.Successor issues

Hierarchy map of argument evaluation judgments, with successor issues

e. An example of a map of first level arguments for a selected mapping issuesArgument map

Argument map for mapping issue ‘Should argument map show ‘pro’ and ‘con’ labels?


Mann, T.       (2010)  “The Structure and Evaluation of Planning Arguments”  Informal Logic, Dec. 2010.

Rittel, H.             (1972)  “On the Planning Crisis: Systems Analysis of the ‘First and Second Generations’.” BedriftsØkonomen. #8, 1972.

–      (1977) “Structure and Usefulness of Planning Information Systems”, Working Paper  S-77-8, Institut für Grundlagen der Planung, Universität Stuttgart.

–      (1980) “APIS: A Concept for an Argumentative Planning Information System’. Working Paper No. 324. Berkeley: Institute of Urban and Regional Development, University of California.

–      (1989)  “Issue-Based Information Systems for Design”. Working Paper No. 492. Berkeley: Institute of Urban and Regional Development, University of California.


On the role of feelings in argumentative discourse

– Are you neglecting your civic duty to sustain the customary atmosphere of comfortable if meaningless small talk in the Fog Island Tavern, Bog-Hubert? Scribbling notes in your crumpled notebook like a real coffee house intellectual — or have you actually gotten over your writers’ block to get back into some serious writing?

– Sorry, nothing so encouraging. I’m just writing down come complaints of Abbé Boulah’s about people’s lack of comprehension of his and his buddy’s ideas glorious ideas about argumentative planning. We were walking along the beach, and he seemed quite disappointed by some reactions he got from some experiment. So I need to write some things down before I forget them.

– Reactions to what?

– It seems they were trying out some of those ideas about structured planning discourse including the argument assessment approach, in a distance learning project of some kind. And the participants on the other end either didn’t understand what they were trying to do at all, or else hadn’t even studied the background material they had prepared and sent over there. They totally screwed up the exercise, and finally blamed the disaster on his buddy, alleging that he didn’t allow for the role of emotions and feelings in the discourse, didn’t understand emotions at all; something like that.

– That’s a problem with those online and distance projects: you never know whether the folks at the other end really are doing their part of the deal. But I can see where they picked a plausible excuse, at least.

– Plausible, huh? In what way, Vodçek? How is ignorance and laziness ‘plausible’?

– Well, doesn’t the very word ‘argument’ invite a number of misunderstandings that then can be used as excuses? You can’t really blame misunderstanding only on the party that doesn’t understand, can you?

– What kinds of misunderstandings?

– Well, many people understand ‘argument’ as something disagreeable, adversarial, quarrelsome — that can easily end up into a more serious fight — not very nice nor cooperative.

– I can’t argue with that: we’ve had a lot of that kind of reaction.

– Right. And even for those who do understand ‘argument’ as a set of statements that aim to support some claim, that notion is flavored by the association with formal logic, rationality, scientific ‘objectivity’, in short, a kind of discourse in which the ‘truth’ of issues is to be established. Truth that is independent or overriding of how people feel about it. Scientific, ‘objective’ truth. That kind of inquiry that almost by definition excludes feelings. And of course that bothers people who are concerned with issues about which they do have strong feelings. Where the ‘truth’ about what IS the case is less the point of the discussion than what OUGHT to be, and theta patently isn’t true YET. So they understandably resent the impression that those feelings are slighted and ignored.

– But that’s precisely Abbé Boulah’s point — talking about ‘planning arguments’ or ‘design arguments’ — the ones in which one of the key premises, the ‘ought’-claim — is exactly the one that deals with feelings! The kinds of arguments that are not susceptible to formal logic analysis because they have to do with what people want, desire, in short, with how they feel about things.

– Sure, Bog-Hubert: you and I, and some of our friends know that. But for somebody who just hears ‘argument’ and does not examine the planning argument story carefully enough, the impression is still that those ‘feelings’ issues just don’t count in argumentation. So maybe the story needs to be told more clearly and understandably?

– I thought the difference between the ‘formal’ and ‘deductive’ kind of arguments and those planning arguments was clear enough. But you may be on to something there. What do you think are the key points that should be made more clear?

– Let’s see. A first problem might be the frequent impression that people who go on about argumentation appear to take a position of superiority: if they have an argument — one that’s sanctioned by ‘logic’ as ‘valid’ and that therefore has a true conclusion, they are seen as putting down other opinions as ill-informed or stupid. I know what you are going to say: the process we are proposing as ‘argumentative planning’ is explicitly inviting all kinds of concerns, arguments, as ‘legitimate’ and deserving of being given ‘due consideration’ — since all planning arguments after all are ‘inconclusive’ from a formal logic point of view. But I have a hunch that using the word ‘argument’ makes it difficult for people to see that difference. Is there a different way of talking about that?

– Coming to think about it, we did discuss that issue some time go. In such discussions, many issues are raised and expressed as questions, not arguments — whose answers or conclusions could become significant premises of arguments for or against planning proposals. And we saw the problem as one of getting people to put those claims together into complete arguments so that they can be evaluated properly, according the the approach our friend has developed. But maybe the invitation should be to just raise such questions, not stating them as explicit pro or con arguments?

– I can see why you kept going in that direction: how the argument evaluation process might become more difficult with an approach of inviting questions rather than arguments. You’d have to get somebody to put the arguments together in some way in the end. Perhaps you could get a program to do that, using the plausibility assessments of the answers (by the participants) as premises for pro and con arguments. We should look into that. But that very issue brings up a different problem: one that has caused some trouble in the past .

– I think I know what you are referring to; we touched upon that very briefly a moment ago but didn’t go into it? If you focus on raising questions whose answers may become argument premises, many people in the past — mainly technical-oriented folks — have often tended to focus on the factual and factual-instrumental premises of planning arguments. The deontic premises — the ‘ought’ -issues — were either taken for granted, assumed to be given by overriding social policies, even legal precedents or regulations, or simply swept under the rug because they couldn’t be settled by ‘scientific’, logical means. Often, technocrats acted as if, because they had the expertise regarding the technical fact and instrumental questions, they should also have the authority to determine the ‘ought’ questions. Maybe it never occurred to them that there might be people who did not share their vision of the ‘common good’, and that different visions could be legitimate. And such attitudes of course looked to many ordinary folks as arrogant usurpation of powers for which the political process had not provided legitimacy.

– Right. Thereby casting those legitimacy questions both onto the technical-scientific expertocracy and the political process, as well as the role of argument in the ‘planning and political process. But isn’t that inevitably leading to the opposite fallacy, if you will: that planning issues should be decided predominantly or only on the basis of the deontic premises? What ‘the people’ want or desire — blithely assuming that ‘the people’ are indeed of one mind about what they desire. And then the very discrediting of the argumentative process now precluded a meaningful discussion of the plausibility of either kind of premise: what ought to be, and what to do to achieve it.

– A veritable tragedy of argumentation; i agree. Especially for those of us who finally have tried to show a way for both kinds of premises to be discussed and evaluated with equal legitimacy. So how should that question be dealt with?

– I think one main task is to make it more clear that the call for decisions to be made on the basis of arguments does not mean that there is anybody ‘official’ or ‘running the process’ or even a ‘system’ or machine, who determines the ‘truth’ or plausibility and the weight of arguments. No ‘little man behind the curtain’ or on the big screen calling the shots. Make it more clear that the planning arguments are all NOT deductively and objectively ‘valid’ and their conclusions true or false regardless how people feel about them. But precisely that no ‘absolute’ knowledge about the truth of any claims is assumed, and that decisions are made on the basis of the assessments of the people participating in the process.

– If the argument assessment results are to be used in making decisions at all. That has been raised as a possibility, as a much needed alternative to the standard decision-making rule of majority voting which doesn’t really require that any of the concerns expressed in the discussion are given ‘due consideration’. But the details for alternative decision-making methods based more explicitly on argument evaluation results need more discussion and agreement. We may very well all be wrong in the end — but we are trying to pool or knowledge and beliefs about the information we collectively bring into the process to arrive at a decision we can all support, with what is just the best of currently available knowledge.

– So what about the role of feelings, specifically, in this process?

– Thanks for getting us back to that question, Vodçek. You are asking about how to deal with the problem of people insisting that because they have raised valid questions about the legitimacy of the expert, and the predominance of the technical-scientific ‘rationality’, public issues should therefore be decided o the basis of their feelings out the issues?

– I guess that’s one way to put it.

– Okay. Can we agree on the principle that whatever the basis of people’s individual position on issues: so-called scientific rationality and logic, or their feelings, their judgment is to be accepted as their rightful and legitimate stance?

– No argument there. But I sense a ‘but’ coming… and I don’t think it has to do with all the authors of learned books on logic and critical thinking that try to tel all of us how to think properly?

– Right. The ‘but’ arises when people start demanding that the judgment resulting from their ‘feeling’ or emotional assessment should be accepted by others as a legitimate basis for their decision as well — even if they are not able to provide any further support or explanation for their judgments. My ‘gut feeling’ telling me that plan A is a good idea (or a bad one) cannot possibly be a valid reason for me to expect that others should adopt the same judgment, if I can’t explain and get across w h y I feel this way. Just as someone else whose gut feeling tells him the opposite of mine can’t expect to sway me just on the basis of him having that gut feeling.

– You are talking about issues of shared or public interest of course, not issues that are our personal matter only and don’t affect anybody else.

– Right. For any common, cooperative decision, perhaps we can tentatively state two rules:
1) The method or rule for arriving at a final common decision should accept everybody’s individual judgment regardless of how the individual arrives at it. And
2) Whenever, and to the extent that an individual or party tries to persuade others to adopt an individual position on an issue (through argumentation), that party is responsible for supplying reasons, evidence, supporting arguments, for a l l premises of the arguments, the factual-instrumental premises, the factual premises, and the deontic (‘ought’) premises, upon request. No request for further support of a premise can be rejected on the grounds that it is a personal value judgment or feeling; such a rejection will be a valid reason for anyone else to reject the demand that the position be adopted by others. (However, of course the person will still be able to ‘cast his vote’ on the basis of his personal convictions even if he cannot supply reasons to sway others).

– Does that mean that we have to accept such votes even if they are based on obviously false information or flawed — fallacious — reasoning?

– No. But if you think that somebody is making such mistakes, it is your responsibility to offer your reasons to sway that person. Remember that your premises may be less supportable and certain than they appear to you. The fact that somebody’s argument appears to you as a fallacy does not entitle you to use your authority as a connoisseur of fallacies to reject the entire argument with all its premises, and this the right of the person to have a say in the decision.

– Isn’t that a main difference between this approach and, say, the logic rule books? It does not — as an approach — try to tell anybody how to think, but just encourages all participants to examine their reasons — yes, even challenge and test them — but then accepts whatever judgment people bring into the process as legitimate contributions, right or wrong, to the final decision.

– And I would insist on something else: the support for an ‘ought’-premise can take the form of a story laying out the vision a person considers desirable, not just another set of ‘formalized’ arguments. But parts of the story should again be open to questioning.

– Agreed, Vodçek. So how do we make this more clear and understandable? How do we avoid the potential misunderstanding arising out of the term ‘argument’?

– Would it be meaningful to avoid the word ‘argument’ altogether, and to just ask people to refrain from making arguments, but only to raise questions?

– What do you mean?

– Well, take the three types of premises of a planning argument about a proposal A:
“Yes, A should be adopted
A will lead to B given conditions C,
B ought to be pursued or aimed for,
conditions C are given.”

Instead of this whole (‘adversarial’) argument, can we instead just ask the questions
“Does A really lead to B?”
and “Should B be aimed for?”
“Are conditions C really present?”

And invite participants to discuss those? Perhaps not even in the same sequence, so as to further avoid the argumentative flavor? And avoid presenting the argument at the outset as a ‘pro’ or con’ argument?

– Why should we avoid that?

– Think about it: If the proposed action really leads to result B, and a person P1 considers B desirable, the resulting argument is a ‘pro’ argument for that person, right? But if another person P2 sees consequence B as undesirable, the same argument becomes a ‘con’ argument for that person, doesn’t it? Or if P2 feels that while the goal B is worthwhile, the proposal A is not an effective way to achieve it — or if P2 grants both of the above two premises, but has information that the conditions C aren’t present to make the proposed action effective: in all these cases the same set of claims become counterarguments for P2. So why should it be labeled as one or the other from the outset, if it really depends on people’s assessment of each of the premises?

– Now I realize why all those debate programs on the market always gave me a weird sense of ‘already taking sides’ in the debates they try to facilitate: By explicitly labeling and mapping any argument as a ‘pro’ or ‘con’ argument — the way it was intended by the person making the argument — it already slightly distorted the judgment process. I agree, the ‘system’ keeping track, displaying and mapping all the contributions in such discussions should refrain from that kind of labeling; just present the claims that make up the argument premises.

– Well, in order to evaluate how all those bits of information support or not support a decision, do they not have to be put together as complete arguments, in the end ?

– Yes, I think you are right — unless we can get people to assess the plausibility of all those claims separately, and have the ‘system’ put them together as arguments and then calculate their arguments weights etc. But then the system must also make such assessments as whether a specific argument pattern really ‘applies’ to the case at hand — which people might want to make themselves. And they can’t do that unless they see the complete argument, can they?

– You devious fellow. You are once again raising more questions than we started out with, my friend. But do you agree that we can see the task and direction more clearly now? I think we need to run some experiments with various ways to treat these issues, and then write a short, concise ‘game manual’ that makes it very clear what the approach is doing, including the legitimate role of feelings and emotions in the process. You’ll tell Abbé Boulah when he comes in, Vodçek?

– You really think he’ll be able to raise the funds for those experiments?

Some consideration on the role of systems modeling in planning discourse


Suggestions made by proponents of ‘systems thinking’ or systems analysis to discussions we might call ‘planning or policy discourse’ often take the form of recommendations to construct models of the ‘whole system’ in question, and to use these to guide policy decisions.

A crude explanation of what such system models are and how they are used might be the following: The ‘model’ is represented as a network of all the parts (variables, components; e.g. ‘stocks’) in the ‘whole’ system. What counts as the whole system is the number of such parts that have some significant relationship (for example, ‘flows’) to one another — such that changes in the state or properties of some part will produce changes in other parts. Of particular interest to system model builders are the ‘loops’ of positive or negative ‘feedback’ in the system — such that changes in part A will produce changes in part B, but those changes will, after a small or large circle of further changes, come back to influence A. Over time, these changes will produce behaviors of the system that would be impossible to track with simple assumptions e.g. about causal relationships between individual pairs of variables such as A and B.

The usefulness of such system models — which simply means the degree of reliability with which simulation runs of those changes over time will produce predictions that would come true if the ‘real system’ that is represented by the model could be made to run according to the same assumptions. The confidence in the trustworthiness of model predictions thus relies on a number of assumptions (equally simplistically described):

– the number of ‘parts’ (variables, components, forces, ‘(stocks’) included;
– the nature and strength of relationships between the system variables;
– the magnitudes (values) of the initial system variables, e.g. stocks.

System models are presented as ‘decision-making tools’ that allow the examination of the effects of various possible interventions in the system (that is, introduction of changes in systems variables that can be influenced by human decision-makers) given various combinations of conditions in variables that cannot be influenced but must be predicted, as well as assumptions about the strength of interactions. All in order to achieve certain desirable states or system behaviors (the ‘goals’ or objectives measures by performance criteria of the system). System modelers usually refrain from positing goals but either assume them as ‘given’ by assumed social consensus or directives by authorities who are funding the study (a habit having come in for considerable criticism) or leaving it up to decision-maker ‘users’ of the system to define the goals, and use the simulations to experiment with different action variables until the desired results are achieved.

Demonstrations of the usefulness or reliability of a model rest on simulation runs for past system states (for which the data about context and past action conditions can be determined): the model is deemed reliable and valid if it can produce results that match observable ‘current’ conditions. If the needed data for this can be produced and the relationships can be adjusted with sufficient accuracy to actually produce matching outcomes, the degree of confidence we are invited to invest in such models can be quite high: very close to 100% (with qualifications such as ‘a few percentage point plus or minus’.

The usual planning discourse — that is, discussion about what actions to take to deal with situations or developments deemed undesirable by some (‘problems’) or desirable improvements of current conditions (‘goals’) — unfortunately uses arguments that are far from acknowledging such ‘whole system’ complexity. Especially in the context of citizen or user participation currently called for, the arguments mostly take a form that can be represented (simplified) by the following pattern, say, about a proposal X put forward for discussion and decision:

(1) “Yes, proposal X ought to be implemented,
implementing X will produce effect (consequence) Y
Y ought to be aimed for.”

(This is of course a ‘pro’ argument; a counterargument might sound like:

(2) ” No, X should NOT be implemented
Implementing X will produce effect Z
Z ought to be avoided.”

Of course, there are other forms of ‘con’ arguments possible, targeting either the claim that X will produce Y granted that Y is desirable; or the claim that Y is desirable, granting that X will indeed produce Y…)

A more ‘sophisticated’ version of this typical (‘standard’) planning argument would perhaps include consideration of some conditions under which the relationship X — Y holds:

(3) “Yes, X ought to be implemented,
Implementing X will produce Y if conditions c are present;
Y ought to be aimed for;
conditions c are present.”

While ‘conditions C’ are mostly thought of as simple, one-variable phenomena, the systems thinker will recognize that ‘conditions C’ should include all the assumptions about the state of the whole system in which action X is one variable that can indeed be manipulated by decision-makers (while many others are context conditions that cannot be influenced). So from this point of view, the argument should be modified to include the entire set of assumptions of the whole system. The question of how a meaningful discourse should be organized to take this expectation into account while still accommodating participation by citizens — non-experts — is a challenge that has yet to be recognized and taken on.

Meanwhile, however, the efforts to improve the planning discourse consisting of the simpler pro and con arguments might shed some interesting lights on the issue of the reliability of system models for predicting outcomes of proposed plans over time.

The improvements of the planning discourse in question have to do with the proposals I have made for a more systematic and transparent assessment of the planning argument — in response to the common claim of having public interest decisions made ‘on the merit of arguments’. The approach I developed implies that the plausibility of a planning argument of the types 1,2,3 above (in the mind of an individual evaluator) will be a function of the plausibility of all the premises. I am using the term ‘plausibility’ to apply both to the ‘factual’ premises claiming the relationship X –>Y and the presence of conditions C (which traditionally are represented as ‘probability’ or degree of confidence) as well as the to the deontic premise ‘Y ought to be aimed for’ that is not adequately characterized by ‘probability’ much less ‘truth’ or ‘falsity’ that is the stuff of traditional argument assessment. The scale on which such plausibility assessment is expressed must be one ranging from an agreed-upon value such as -1 (meaning ‘totally implausible) to +1 (meaning totally plausible, entirely certain) with a midpoint of zero (meaning ‘don’t know’; ‘can’t tell’ or even ‘don’t care’).

The plausibility of such an argument, I suggest, will be some function of the plausibilities assigned to each of the premises, arguably also to the implied claim that the argument pattern itself (the inference rule

FI(X –> Y) | C
F (C )”

applies meaningfully to the situation at hand. (D prefixes denote deontic claims, FI factual-instrumental claims, F factual claims)

(The weight of each argument among the many pro and con arguments is one step later: it will be a function of its plausibility and weight of relative importance of the goals, concerns, objectives referred to in the deontic premise.)

This means that the argument plausibility will decrease quite rapidly as the plausibilities for each of these premises deviate from 100% certainty. Experiments with a plausibility function that consists of the simple product of those plausibilities have shown that the resulting overall argument plausibility often shrinks to a value much closer to zero that to +1; and the overall proposal plausibility (e.g. a sum of all the weighted argument plausibilities) will also be far away from the comfortable certainty (decisively ‘pro’ or decisively ‘con’) hoped for by many decision-makers.

These points will require some further study and discussion in the proposed approach to systematic argument assessment. For the moment, the implication of this effect of argument plausibility tending towards zero on the issue of enhancing arguments with the proper recognition of ‘all’ the system condition assumptions of the ‘whole’ system deserve some comment.

For even when a model can be claimed to represent past system behavior with reasonable degree of certainty plausibility close to 1, the projection of those assumptions into the future must always be done with a prudent dose of qualification: all predictions are only more or less probable (plausible), none are 100% certain. The deontic premises as well are less than totally plausible — indeed usually express legitimate opposing claims by people affected in different ways by a proposed plan, differences we are asked to acknowledge and consider instead of insisting that ‘our’ interests are to be pursued with total certainty. We might even be quite mistaken about what we ask for… So when the argument plausibility function must include the uncertainty-laden plausibility assessments of all the assumptions about relationships and variable values over time in the future, the results (with the functions used thus far, for which there are plausible justification but which are admittedly still up for discussion) must be expected to decline towards zero even faster than for the simple arguments examined in previous studies.

So as the systems views of the problem situation becomes more detailed, holistic, and sophisticated, the degree of confidence in our plan proposals that we can derive from arguments including those whole system insights is likely getting lower, not higher. This nudge towards humility even about the degree of confidence we might derive from honest, careful and systematic argument assessment may be a disappointment to leaders whose success in leading depends to some extent on such degree of confidence. Then again, this may not be a bad thing.

A conversation in the Fog Island Tavern: Abbé Boulah and Bog-Hubert discussing answers to the UN Secretary General’s Call for ‘Revolutionary thinking and action to ensure an economic model for survival’ at the World Economic Forum 2011.

Another evening to forget about in the Fog Island Tavern, eh, Abbé Boulah?
Ah, Bog-Hubert, good to see you — I’ve been waiting for you. An evening to forget about? Well, it depends.
Depends on what?
On whatever we’re going to make of it, of course.
Oh? You’ve got some devious plans?
Devious, as in interesting excitement? No, sorry to disappoint you. But there are always possibilities, don’t you think?
Well, my friend, I did hear your sigh just when I came in. So that was about something other than another wasted evening?
Well, yes.
Good grief — you’ve got yourself dragged into another one of those online discussions? You ought to get out some more, meet some people…
To waste entire evenings with useless small talk with?
Like tonight, eh? Alright, so what’s the trouble with your online discussion?
Long story.
We’ve got some time; I don’t see any better temptations around. Come on, tell me.
Let me get Vodçek to let the air out of this glass — the usual for you as well? Cheers. Okay. Maybe you remember, last January at the World Economic Forum in that mountain resort in Switzerland, the UN Secretary General gave a speech in which he called for ‘revolutionary thinking and action to secure an economic model for survival’. To save the world — not only from natural disasters but also from disasters caused by humanity itself. [1]
Revolutionary thinking and action? — and that from the UN Secretary General himself? Isn’t that like a captain on the high seas calling for a mutiny?
You could look at it that way, sure. At any rate, it seems to indicate that there are some serious problems ahead, that are recognized even by the UN and that illustrious assembly in Davos.
Are you saying that he — Ban Ki-Moon — thinks that those people in Davos are the ones who will come up with the needed revolutionary ideas — the very ones that caused our economic problems?
I don’t think he said it quite that way. He put it more diplomatically: “We… have been exploiting resources …” and so on. And he probably used the opportunity to get his message out to a larger audience.
Sure, isn’t that what he’s getting paid for? To promote the evolution of the UN to a world government? And isn’t that too one of the problems?
What do you mean?
Well, isn’t the UN itself a strange beast made up of questionable and obsolete entities — nations? Fossils, with their territorial interests, their power structures, their proven record of violent conflict resolution, their crazy decision-making methods, their corruption and their consistent tendencies to exploit not only other peoples but even their own citizens? And, as many people suspect, the UN desire to evolve into a world government of sorts, the ultimate superpower?
Calm down already — I am perfectly aware of the flaws and misdeeds of nations. But isn’t the institution of the UN itself a feeble sign of reason, of some insight that we, humanity as a whole, have to at least talk about the nonviolent resolution of all our differences and problems? Do you see another possibility for that, than a forum like the UN?
Sure. Aren’t there already a number of organizations that carry on discussions and activities across the conventional structure of nations? I agree, some good, some bad ones…
Bad ones too? You mean those damn terrorists?
Those too, but the international finance system, the big corporations as well: aren’t they already operating pretty much outside of the little boxes of national rules and regulations? Not even to speak of international crime, the drug cartels, modern slave trade. Not necessarily very appealing models of future world order, but in themselves successful examples of global organizations not based on nations and their territories.
I see what you mean. But there are some others that look more positive — I’d like to find out more about the World Social Forum, for example, an alternative movement to the World Economic Forum, based mainly in Latin America but spreading to other places, though the major media don’t give it much coverage…
Gee, I wonder why? Its meetings are coinciding with the Davos forum — which soaks up all the flashy media interest.
Right. The media themselves are an example of global organization. Just like religions, which are essentially focused on universal acceptance — in spite of the old compromise with the state, the ‘cuius regio, eius religio’ maxim. There are many other such interest groups with global focus. But most of them obediently arrange themselves within existing national structures, and as a result suffer from the same structural conditions as those structures. Quite a pessimistic analysis, I see you frowning.
Okay, I don’t want to start arguing about it for now. So what conclusions do you draw from it?
Well. Let me think. The first thing would be to examine those structural conditions — that apply to nations as well as large corporations –, to put them on the list of problems or challenges to survival, put them on the agenda for discussion and revolutionary thought.
No revolutionary action yet?
I am all for taking action. But revolutionary action has all too often been associated with a certain lack of thought — just replacing one power group with another, without really changing those conditions.
Remind me: what conditions did you have in mind?
The question of non-territorial social organization, for one. The question of how to control power — again, power in all organizations, governmental and others — especially large corporations and financial service systems. This is closely related to the problem of corruption. The issue of nonviolent conflict resolution — continually invoked as a principle, but in reality ‘violations’ of laws, treaties, agreements are always answered by violence or other forms of coercion by the stronger party — because nobody has seriously thought about other forms of sanctions…
I can’t argue with that; we have talked about those issues before. And the first step would have to be to talk about them. More specifically, talk on a global level, right? But in what kind of forum? On whose agenda should those issues be dealt with? And how do we get them on that agenda, who is listening to us?
Good question. Now, the call by the UN Secretary General was seen by some people not just as a thing for the WEF to do in preparation for the 2012 RIO conference, but as a more general invitation to start working on those issues, that was picked up by other groups. For example by this internet group I’ve been following, a forum on Linked-In called Systems Thinking World, where a discussion was started by a lady named Helene Finidori on ‘how to make this work’. Since February 2011 this discussion has generated more than 4000 posts. [2]
So you got mixed up in that crowd? System Thinkers? Aren’t those precisely the people who have helped governments and corporations make their dubious machinations more efficient? Sounds like putting the fox in charge of the hen house?
My impression is that there aren’t that many of those people in this particular group. Of course there are such people. But in this group there are many participants who argue forcefully against the use of system models for just profit and market share and dominance purposes — come to think of it, maybe that’s why there aren’t that many ‘real’ systems professionals — I mean people who are working for governments and corporations — among the contributors. The people in the group are discussing the problems from the systems thinking point of view that all components of the system of human society and environment are connected and influencing each other. They therefore see the systems tools such as mathematical models and simulations as tools that can also be used for the common good.
Ah. The common good. How is that defined, by whom?
These people — except some who seem to participate more from a perspective of criticism and suspicion of the entire scientific / systems view and would like to see a moral / ethical re-awakening first — seem to believe that these tools can serve to gain a better understanding of the behavior of systems such as the ecological systems of which society is a part, and then bring this understanding to the attention of a wider public so as to nudge people’s behavior into the direction of sustainability, coexistence with natural environment rather than dominance, nonviolent conflict resolution and cooperation, and so on.
Sounds beautiful. Did something useful come out of all that discussion? Or what was the reason for the pitiful sigh I heard very clearly when I came in to disturb your systems thinking?
What came of it? Well, let’s start with the positive results. The participants in that discussion researched — googled, I guess — an incredible number of ideas, experiments, projects and approaches to new practices and behaviors, that can be seen as small scale answers to the UN Secretary’s challenge. I have always been interested in these issues, have always been distrustful of the growth mania of the economy, of the logical flaws of modern democracies, of the influence of corporations and financial institutions on governments, of the manner in which the so-called blessings of technology, globalization, agribusiness are foisted upon developing countries. I saw myself as reasonably well informed about alternative approaches and ideas,but I confess I was hugely surprised at the number of such ideas and projects that are already out there.
For example?
Well, just look at the number of links and references in that thread. Somewhere halfway through the discussion, the moderator Helene Finidori  compiled a summary of all these links and ideas — she put that on a different platform [3] because of the limitations of the Linked-In forum — mainly the allowable length of posts. But the contributions and links kept pouring in. I don’t know whether she is still working on including all those in her summary or has given up, buried under the avalanche of links. It may be more useful to set up a list of topics that were touched upon in the discussion, to identify the main concerns of discussion contributions — as well as the topics that were not so well covered — in that list.
Do you have such a list handy?
Well, there is a list of topics in a kind of working IBIS [4] that already has about 80 topics.
Where do those come from?
Good question. It’s quite simple: a topic is a general subject any participant brings up in the discussion; as a problem, question, an answer, and argument or argument premise, which gets picked up and debated by others. Of course they are not equally important, and some were raised precisely as reminders to start thinking about issues that had been neglected in the discussion. I can give you a short overview of the most important ones, as judged by my impression of the number of posts contributed to them — but I didn’t even count them so it’s a very unscientific perspective.
A large number of contributions had to do with agriculture and gardening.The basic problem of provision of food and water for survival, that is claimed to be endangered precisely by the big agribusiness corporations. Most contributions urged a move away from the practices of large agribusiness corporations, away from their monocultures, their dependence of chemical fertilizers, their genetically modified crops and their destruction of small family-owned farms. Instead, they argued for more sustainable forms of agriculture: ‘permaculture’, preserving diversity of species, small family or community farms. But also reintroduction of food production in the cities: rooftop gardens, community gardens, and the principle of reducing the distance food products have to be transported from farm to consumer, by adjusting food consumption to available crops grown nearby.
I bet the likes of Monsanto and the fertilizer industry are less than happy about that…
Right; there was a lot of loud and sustained sentiment against those. Talking about sustainability in general, there were of course a lot of posts about other aspects of sustainability, especially regarding energy. Moving away from fossil and nuclear fuels and towards wind, solar, and geothermal, in part again favoring small production plants, even family size, rather than large plants and networks. This especially in rural developing areas. Here too, there was an abundance of innovative experiments, some already in use, others almost ready to go.
Anything from the corporations, government and industry, the main audience in Davos?
Good question. There were reports about efficiency improvement programs in those camps, to reduce their CO2 footprints, to streamline their operation and production toward using less energy, resources and labor — naturally, in order to become more competitive. And this is where the contributions of system technicians and the use of mathematical optimization and simulation models was most noticeable. But many of the systems specialists in the group were suggesting that these tools could be applied to new approaches and ideas as well, for example to identify the ‘leverage points’ in the overall economic and ecological systems: the points where targeted action might most easily be applied to achieve meaningful changes.
Were there some good examples of such models from the corporate or government perspective?
Not really: As I said before, there were few systems guys from corporations and governments in that group. It may have something to do with the purpose of such models for corporations: to make the firm more competitive (among other things) and the corporations therefore are not eager to share them with potential competitors.
Aha. Understandable…
Now there were a number of participants who were rather critical about these efforts, mainly from a point of view that these tools were things that had to be applied ‘top-down’ fashion and therefore remaining under the control of the big players and serving primarily their interests. They argued that real change could only be achieved ‘bottom-up’ on the basis of a new awareness and a radical re-awakening and renewal of a moral and ethical conscience of humanity. New values, a new relationship between society and nature. Specifically, as a pre-condition for actual initiatives — it seemed that some of these participants didn’t even want to begin thinking about and discussing actual proposals and actions before such a re-orientation had taken hold. It seemed that this was based on an assumption that real changes of behaviors, real solutions would then ‘emerge’ automatically, as a consequence of individuals’ new attitude and values.
Right, they might argue that even any ‘solutions’ thought up by this group of inspired system thinkers would be seen as not really ‘theirs’, as something again foisted upon them by someone else.
You’ve got a point there. In fact, some people were actually mentioning this ‘NIH’ attitude of resistance against anything ‘Not Invented Here’. But somebody has to start talking about different possibilities as a take-off point for the attitude adjustment, don’t you think? Of course there were some who thought that even with serious efforts to induce new awareness and ethics, what it would really take to get people to change would be a real crisis or disaster. Anyway — there was a systems theory basis for this position: the idea of the ‘tipping point’: the notion that massive societal changes only occur once about ten percent of the people have accepted the respective ideas and attitudes: at that point, the rest of the population will be carried along, drawn into the movement at a rapid rate. Including, I guess, the folks and institutions who have been responsible for bringing about the problems in the first place. Therefore, according to the strategy, it is necessary to first focus on ‘spreading the word’ — about the problems and shortcomings and crimes of the current behaviors and the need for a new moral awareness — until the tipping point is reached.
My, my. Haven’t the philosophers and the religions tried their best to change the moral makeup of humanity for thousands of years already — so how come we are still in this mess?
We have to keep trying, don’t we? Even though already the ancient Greeks had a mythical poster child for such efforts..
You mean ol’ Sisyphus? Ah well. But another question: What if there are several such movements, — perhaps somewhat incompatible — that each reach their tipping point? There could be ten of those ten percent competing tipping points, if my math is still up to coping with these challenges, and then what will happen? But I’m sorry, you weren’t finished with your overview, were you?
Well, those were pretty much the main themes. Of course there were demands for better regulation of the financial systems; to revise the habits of governments in view of their economic policies; to get a handle on corruption, to fight social inequality — which seems to have gotten so much worse in recent times even in the western so-called democracies — to have governments adjust their policies according to the well-being of citizens rather than Gross National Product or economic growth. To start using new measures of citizens’ quality of life. But here, there were few specific proposals and ideas. As far as I could see, — I think I mentioned that already — there were few if any real politicians or economic and financing experts in the group. So many posts about these themes amounted to little more than wishful thinking or the usual grumbling about the government, the problems, and the usual evildoers.
Well, that all sounds like a lot of good intentions, but nothing really new and revolutionary. And you said many of the specific initiatives and ideas are already being implemented in various places? So that giant discussion didn’t really result in any revolutionary thoughts? As is ‘not having been thought of before’ to turn things around?
You are right. That was the reason for my sigh. Of course the discussion, the compilation of all the ideas and initiatives was extremely useful. At least I learned a lot from it. But I was somewhat disappointed, on the one hand, that many of the problem areas were not really covered, hardly even mentioned. That includes many of the key themes in the Secretary General’s call: the reckless use of resources and their predictable shortages, climate change, the world’s rapidly growing population and the challenges of providing food, water, shelter, energy, health care and education for all those people. On the other hand…
Ah, I see: the problems you mentioned earlier, the things to put on the agenda: the questions about the nation-based social order of the global society, whether the forms of governance are up to the challenges we are seeing — or even causing the problems — whether we need alternative forms of governance and what those would look like; the problem of control of power in government and private enterprise, the problem of better sanctions for non-compliance with laws and treaties and agreements, and the need for better decision-making rules for governance entities to replace voting; if I remember correctly: All that was not discussed?
Sorry, only marginally. Though I may not have caught all the material that was linked. There were some suggestions, a few are listed in the IBIS I mentioned. But not much discussion. It seemed as if ideas that didn’t come with an url, a link to a web site or other documentation, that were actually produced by participants in the discussion ‘on the spot’ were so unexpected that they weren’t taken seriously. As if creative ideas sparked by the discussion itself were seen as so undeveloped and unqualified, that they couldn’t even be discussed as ‘revolutionary’ ideas. Ideas which arguably, in my book, means ideas that have n o t already been published and reviewed by the accepted gatekeepers of opinion.
It seems that your systems thinkers, at least those in that discussion, were not a particularly original and creative crowd?
Well, at least they seemed more interested in googling other people’s ideas: yes, that is my impression. And yes, somewhat disappointing. One kind of justification that was hinted at was that we first had to ‘understand the system’ before we should begin to tinker with it and make revolutionary noises. The revolutionary a c t i o n aspect, by the way, was almost unanimously rejected in favor of a more evolutionary approach.
I suspect your disappointment has something to do with the fact that some of those undocumented, un-urled ideas were some of our favorite issues and proposals, eh?
Touché. Yes, there were some of the ideas we have been talking about and put out for discussion. [5] But then there was the proposal by some participants to pull together some kind of summary report for presenting to the UN or some other entity, from the material assembled in the discussion. That looked like a good opportunity to bring those ideas of ours into a larger concrete perspective. But I guess the notion of pulling all that together into a coherent strategy proposal for organizations like the UN was a bit over-ambitious.
Coherent strategy: sounds ambitious all right. But now you’ve made me curious, spill the beans! What in the world would you — based on all that material — put on the agenda of the UN to deal with the challenges of the Secretary General? Or of any other agency, if the UN isn’t the one to do that?
Wait. Slow down a bit. You are right in that the reservations many people have about the UN or any other global government should be taken seriously. For the UN, it’s not only because it’s seen as such a would-be world government, — (and I suspect that many people in the U.S. are merely worried about the U.S. losing its de facto status as a world superpower), but because it’s composed of nations, and because it has not even begun to sincerely discuss let alone solve the problems of its decision methods (voting) and control of power and corruption. So all of that is up for discussion; but for the time being, it looks as if the UN is just about the only plausible mechanism we have to get the discussion started and organized, for example with the so-called UN Global Compact the Secretary General mentioned in his speech.
A mechanism that is supposed to question its own legitimacy and existence? That would be a hard one to swallow for many people.
Well, it doesn’t have to be on the top of the agenda. But it should be somewhere on there, don’t you think?
I’d have to think about that. Meanwhile: what else do you see on the agenda?

You might get an overview in this diagram — a proposed framework for the overall project, with several major components. It integrates both the ‘top-down’ and the ‘bottom-up’ functions.
I see. Why are the bottom-up functions on the top of the diagram?
To emphasize the importance of the ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ in relation to each other. So the many small projects — ‘Action projects’, the mostly local, still small scale initiatives by people trying out something new: those are seen as the most important source of innovation and energy towards the needed transformation. Even if they follow different principles and do not conform to one consistent overall plan. Those initiatives should be encouraged and supported. We need the diversity of these experiments — if for no other reason than to find out what works and what doesn’t work.
I can think of some other reasons — but do go on with your explanation. For example, are you saying that all such projects should be supported, indiscriminately? With whose funds?
I’m not sure you are understanding these projects right. Many if not most of them are run by people who want to realize and demonstrate their independence from traditional structures of power, organization, administration — their own empowerment. So it’s not always about funding, but more about enabling, removing bureaucratic obstacles; about recognition and encouragement; and information-sharing about similar projects. But I do think a shift of ‘top-down’ funding from large projects towards small local initiatives would be useful. If you are asking me about setting priorities among such projects, I’d say we should favor projects that don’t just focus on one single aspect or objective but try to pursue several aims simultaneously.
For example?
Well, a rather modest example is the ‘Cart-mart’ idea we have discussed, if I remember correctly. To help revitalize downtown areas that have become monoculture office districts and in the process have driven out both residents and the small scale shops and businesses that supported them — so that these areas are deserted — and dangerous — after business hours. And all the people working there but have moved to the suburbs have to commute there, increasing traffic, but mostly individual automobile traffic since the suburbs are too low-density to support efficient and affordable mass transit; using fossil fuels, creating pollution, noise, traffic jams. So many cities are desperately trying to reverse that process — but having trouble doing so because economics and regulations are making it too difficult for ‘regular’ small shops.
That doesn’t surprise me — they are not attacking the problem where it matters — with the regulations about what uses should be allowed at the sidewalk level, for example.
Right. The Cart-mart idea could help initiate a transition process. Instead of regular shops, assemble a fleet of small carts or vans into a kind of bazaar, say, on an empty lot or on the ground floor of a larger building; provide common support facilities. The carts offer daytime-specific wares, and things that attract a high frequency of visitors — tax them inversely to their visitor-per square-foot-hour — but only for several hours at a time. The same space is used by several carts throughout the day. Opportunities for part-time, independent businesses. Local universities can run experimental businesses, support graduate students with part-time employment in actually running a business. These vans could begin selling locally grown produce; others could be supported by ‘Big Box’ stores outside the inner city. ‘Full time’ vans might travel to the suburbs and set up ‘instant markets for a few hours at a time to serve residents there — people who can’t drive, or who now don’t need to drive to the nearest supermarket for small purchases — which helps traffic and neighborhood cohesion — people having an opportunity to meet and chat. So the scheme serves several purposes at the same time.
I see what you mean.
Another project that came up in the discussion was the ‘OASIS’ project. It’s a proposal to use the fact that the oil tankers transporting oil from arid and desert places to the refineries in industrialized regions need ballast for the return trip. Instead of ocean or river water, the proposal is to use partially treated wastewater — ‘grey water’ — from those areas, and deliver it to desert areas to restore vegetation there: forests, agriculture. This reduces the wastewater problem in the industrialized places — water that is usually quite expensive to treat, and / or damaging to the rivers and waterways where they are often released. It reduces the problem of the release of the ballast water in the oil countries — introducing pollution and foreign species into those water. It helps restoring forests and agriculture in desert areas — not only developing food and forestry good production, but also, and perhaps even more importantly, improving the climate in those areas, increasing rainfall and absorbing CO2. Multiple benefits — get the idea?
Yes. In fact, it reminds me of the proposal somebody made some time ago — weren’t you involved in that one? — to grow crops on all the highway medians and right-of-ways that could be used to make biofuel and also could be irrigated with grey water. Using the highway maintenance equipment that’s already there to grow, cut and dispose of the useless grass they usually grow there. And reduce the pressure to use food crops for biofuel production, which makes food more expensive… Getting several flies with one swatter there too.
Right. Another, somewhat more involved example of such multi-purpose projects is the idea of encouraging the development of the kind of alternative innovation experiment projects we talked about a while ago, in areas that have been destroyed or damaged by natural of man-made disasters.They need — and usually get — considerable funding for reconstruction which is not always done in a very orderly and effective manner, — and if just restoring the previous state of affairs just provides fodder for the next disaster. Instead, the fact that new infrastructure and organization in such areas does not have to compete with existing systems — that perceive and often resist new, alternative approaches as competition — should be seen as opportunities for new ways of organizing and running communities — the kind of experiments we said we need. If successful, these systems could then begin to spur and accelerate the transformation of adjacent, undamaged areas. And if unsuccessful, the current systems could gradually take over those projects again — but we have the information about those experiments.
Well, I get the idea. Plenty of projects to support and to explore. But we got a little caught up in the details here — didn’t you want to explain your overall scheme first?
Thanks for getting me back on track. Well, to make the most of all these initiatives and projects, I’d say we need a global Coordination service or component. To share information and experiences: there is a need for compiling all that information. It involves translation — not only between real languages, but also from discipline jargon to language a wider audience can understand and interact with, discuss. That is not a local task but work for a global organization such as the UN, if we don’t have anything better. Note that ‘coordination’ does not mean top-down management or direction according to some imposed overall scheme into some specific direction — always a danger even for the most well-intentioned initiatives — but simply to keep up with the various initiatives, monitor what’s going on, facilitate the sharing of information.
You mean just documentation, reporting, information-networking?
I get your drift. Of course there will be tasks and problems, even conflicts, which can’t be settled just on the local level but for which global agreements, treaties, contracts will be needed.
Ah: top-down decisions, after all?
You can’t tear yourself away from this kind of thinking, can you? No, these agreements can’t be decisions made by some global authority remote from local concerns of affected people. It looks like many of the problems within the EU and UN are related to the failure of these institutions to provide a workable connection between these concerns and the decision-making level. Or if there is that connection, to make that sufficiently clear to everybody.
I agree, there is a distinct perception of a significant disconnect. Just some formal provision of ‘representation’ of different groups– nations – based on majority-based ‘elections’ organized along party lines doesn’t seem to overcome that perception.
Right. So the problem will be to organize a workable global framework for bringing those concerns to the decision-making level. This means a dialogue, a discourse framework or forum. This might be best understood as a global ‘constitution’ for collective planning and policy-making. This too must be supported by a suitable information system — and in my opinion that systems should be based on the late Professor Rittel’s ideas for ‘issue based information systems’ (IBIS) and ‘argumentative planning information systems’ (APIS) [8]. The argumentative model of planning, understanding it as a process in which opinions about proposed plans — not merely ‘facts’ — are brought in by the concerned parties. The opposing opinions are supported by answers and — essentially — arguments.
Now, how is this different from the venerable parliamentary tradition — the principle of ‘let’s leave our weapons outside and discuss our differences, maybe work out a compromise we can all live with, and then decide’? That has been around for some time — but doesn’t seem to have really solved the problems?
Good question. There was an important link missing: the methods and criteria by which the decisions are reached are not linked effectively to whatever information and insight was achieved in the discussion: the merit of arguments and ideas does not influence the decisions made by majority voting in any transparent and meaningful manner, even in any of the so-called democratic forms of governance of that parliamentary tradition. So the proposed framework tries to provide that missing link by including a systematic and transparent method of argument evaluation [5,9] that can at least guide decisions and point out more clearly where decisions are blatantly ignoring the results of the discussion. Yeah, yeah, I hear your question: how is that different from what all the opinion polls are doing? The polls are — in the overwhelming majority of cases — merely reporting on people’s positions on issues, regardless of whether these are uninformed, offhand opinions and prejudices, or the result of careful discussion and critical analysis of arguments and information. And even then, the votes in decision-making bodies can ignore polling results…
That does begin to sound somewhat revolutionary, though I’m not sure how easy it will be to implement, especially on a global scale.
Yes, that is why the development of some globally organized forum or framework is such an important task. And that would properly be the responsibility of a global institution such as the UN. Let’s not forget another important task of that framework: just like the coordination component, the translation of all discussion contributions into all the other languages will be an absolute necessity to guarantee equal access and participation. And that includes the translation of disciplinary jargon into common language. Even in the discussion on the Systems Thinking forum, which was carried on in English only! — it became apparent that within the field of systems thinking, there are several different schools of thought, each with their own specialized vocabulary and acronyms, that made constructive communication difficult, even within that small group of people one might have assumed to be working from a common basis of understanding.
Yes I can see that. So what kind of issues would these mammoth global discussions be about? What are the topics?
That is an important question, one about which people will have very different attitudes. In principle, all proposals and agreements that cannot be settled on a purely local community level must be brought into a larger discourse forum. The rules for international air and sea traffic are examples of issues that must be settled on a global level. Some such rules might be trivial and the decision arbitrary: look at the rules for driving on public roads. There is no intrinsic reason that says driving on the right side of the road is more ‘correct’ or better than driving on the left. But there has to be an agreement about a common rule: Would you want to negotiate with every oncoming vehicle whether you are going to pass on this or that side, on the noble principle of anti-globalization and limited government? Good luck. Chaos. So such decisions have to be made on a large, even global scale.
Well, I have seen my share of chaos even in strictly regulated right-hand-driving traffic… But how many such global rules do we need?
There is a whole list of urgent problems that belong on such a global agenda. Problems for which we need not only workable agreements but even just better solutions and tools about which to decide. There are issues about the control of power, the development of better decision-making rules and criteria that we mentioned a while ago, the development of better means for ensuring that agreements and treaties and laws are adhered to and not broken — sanctions that don’t have to be ‘enforced’ by some entity (‘enforcement agency’) that is able to coerce people to comply through the application — or threat of application — of greater force than any potential violator.
Why do we need that?
Simple: if adherence to agreements is achieved by the threat of applying greater force, how do you achieve adherence to agreements by that enforcement agency itself, since by definition there is no greater, stronger power? So as long as any powerful agency or individual can be tempted to break the rules, to abuse its power, the establishment of ‘biggest’, strongest enforcement powers is a very dangerous thing. Who will hold the strongest power to the laws? The traditional safeguards — time limits, re-election, balance of powers — are reaching the limit if their effectiveness, and at the level of global governance have not been successfully established yet. So the solution would have to be to develop sanctions that don’t have to be ‘enforced’ but that will be triggered automatically by the very attempt of violation, wouldn’t you say?
I’m not sure that would take care of the entire problem of power, but I agree that it would reduce the excuses and extent of power agencies that can be abused. But I don’t see how it can be done: how would you do that?
The principle is very simple — the model is the old Watts steam engine regulator: as the rotating weights rise with increasing speed, the lever on which they are attached closes the steam valve. Or the idea of the car ignition key that is connected to a breath alcohol sensor and simply won’t start the engine when the driver is inebriated. But I agree, simple as the idea is, the tools for application to the power control issue will require some R&D. The point is that this task must be put on the agenda and given some priority in the research component of this overall framework that you can see in the diagram. There are many such issues that such a research program should investigate to support both the various experimental projects and the discourse, as well as the education component that we still have to talk about.
I can see that this will take some effort of coordination and funding too. Just take the problem of ‘intellectual property’ and patents, given that research isn’t being done just in universities like in the good old days, but increasingly by private companies, industry, the military, agencies like NASA, think tanks, governments, — all with varying motivations and priorities driven by their funding.
Right: the need to coordinate all that so that it can be meaningfully brought into the global discourse runs smack into problems like that of industrial espionage — the desire of industry to keep its most advanced research secret and hidden from potential competitors. Hammering out adequate global adequate agreements for this will be a considerable effort. But it is clear that for precisely those reasons, it can’t just be left to private enterprise, as some people are demanding, people who see government or other public agencies as the problem and not as the solution. Yes, this will not be a small and easy task.
Will the arrangements for the education component in that diagram be any easier? Or are there already grand solutions for that problem?
Sorry, no great ready-made solutions for that one either. But some basic guidelines and principles can be sketched out, at least as they concern the role of education in the overall framework here.
Explain: what principles? I don’t think you can be talking about a grand scheme to revamp all the school systems in all the world’s countries?
No, you are right. Not even considering anything like common standards for all those schools everywhere. Rather, the idea is to graft some tools onto the existing structure for some aspects that were not sufficiently well provided in traditional schooling — such as the whole issue of sustainability, and above all the treatment of ought-issues, planning, in other words. The perennial quarrel about what f a c t s should be offered in the curricula is consistently missing this problem of how humanity can fashion meaningful and mutually acceptable plans for its own future: how we all o u g h t to live. Even the discussion and selection of ‘facts’ of scientific research — that are themselves constantly changing due to new investigations and theories — that is causing so much controversy and discord in education, is pushing this planning and policy-making issue aside, even as the compromises that are painfully negotiated just keep lowering overall quality…
And that gordic knot is supposed to be hacked through within this project? Lots of luck.
Hacked through? No, it’s not that ambitious. The problem is too big to be solved with some quick fixes. The idea is rather to introduce the aspects that have not been offered in the old curricula, step by step, using new media and technology. Take for example the discourse component with its supporting information system and argument evaluation approach: that is not in any syllabus of any traditional school system anywhere. If even logic is part of any general education program anymore, it does not include the study of the kind of arguments we always use in planning and policy-making discussions, — because those are not ‘valid’, from a formal logic point of view, like the good old syllogisms of Socrates and Aristotle — at best ‘inconclusive’, and thus disregarded by logicians. So that is an example of new content, content that is urgently needed, that should be prepared and offered with new tools within this overall framework.
And what are those tools you are talking about?
Internet, cellphones, video-games, for example. Cellphones are spreading fast even into the poorest countries and slums everywhere — and young people are catching on even faster than adults to their new possibilities. So things like the argumentative planning game that we are just trying to develop, could be used to introduce these new ideas and familiarize people with their use — via cellphones and internet. [9] The key, I think, will be to link the game rewards to cooperative and meaningful contributions to the discussion. Players get basic points for making any contributions, on the one hand — points that can be modified by all participants’ assessment of their merit –importance and plausibility. But on the other hand, part of the reward is based on the overall plausibility and quality of the final plan solution they are working out and negotiating — in a win-win rather than win-lose pattern of most other games. But that is just one example; other possibilities would be to adapt system simulation models (that are developed in the research component), of ecological, social, economic systems, to achieve successful sustainable strategies, to such games and teaching tools.
I understand: you think that if people get sufficiently familiar with the new approaches through games, they might begin to apply these approaches to real problems? And get them into the official planning institutions through the back door, as it were? Sneaky. And almost revolutionary, I agree. Do you think all this has a chance of being realized?
Honestly, I don’t know. Though I see it as more evolutionary than revolutionary. Because, after all, these proposals don’t call for wholesale abolition and revolutionary change of existing structures, but are building on those — or I should say, aim at growing new solutions in the cracks and blind spots of traditional structures. Is that revolutionary? Only if one insists on leaving the current systems entirely untouched to muddle through as before. But even the WEF and UN people have understood that business as usual won’t work anymore. And with these proposals, one can begin to actually do meaningful things on a small scale, as well as grow a global framework  to discuss overall agreements and solutions — a framework that does not lead to or require a big brother world government but aims at step-by-step minimal agreements that can open existing structures and transform traditional unsustainable practice to create opportunities for the creative development of many sustainable societal arrangements within an overall framework for peaceful and cooperative meaningful things on a small scale, as well as grow a global framework to discuss overall agreements and solutions — a framework that does not lead to or require a big brother world government but aims at step-by-step minimal agreements that can open existing structures and transform traditional unsustainable practice to create opportunities for the creative development of many sustainable societal arrangements within an overall framework for peaceful and cooperative coexistence.
I agree that it’s a desirable vision, and yes, a necessary one — but a big task. Is humanity ready for such a project yet?
I really don’t know. Some wise guy once said that it looks like humanity keeps coming up with problems that are always just a little beyond its ability to solve. And if they can’t be solved, they are just forgotten and replaced with other, new problems…
Ah — forgotten — like another night at the Fog Island Tavern? Cheers…



[1] Speech of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon at the World Economic Forum 2011 in Davos:
[2] Discussion “UN call for revolutionary thinking and action to ensure an economic model for survival… How to make this happen?”
Warning for global suicide and time running out, Ban Ki-Moon called last Friday at Davos for revolutionary thinking and action to ensure an economic model for survival. What is needed to take a global interconnected perspective on the issues and threats our planet is facing and start action? How can this gain traction and produce the desired effect?
Moderator: Helene Finidori [Giraud] .
[3] Summary H. Finidori: UN call for revolutionary thinking and action to ensure an economic model for survival… How to make this happen?
The question below is an on-going discussion that started on the LinkedIn Systems Wiki Group in February 2011. After 1100 posts, we felt the need to start a summary to refine the discussion on particular issue and collaborate on some tools and models to help bring more sustainable practices to life. The various sections of the summary can be accessed through the link below. Do not hesitate to comment. If you wish to comment on the question itself in more general terms and participate in the discussion, please join us on the LinkedIn thread.
[4] Working IBIS TM: Draft available upon request:
[5] Work on evaluation of planning arguments:
Mann, Thorbjoern: Argument Assessment for Design Decisions, Dissertation, Department of Architecture, University of California, Berkeley, 1977.

– “Some Limitations of the Argumentative Model of Design” in: Design Methods and Theories, Vol. 14, No. 1, 1980. Also published in Polish in the yearbook of the Department of Praxiology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, Poland 1983.

– “Procedural Building Blocks: The Interface Between Argumentative Discourse and Formal Evaluation Procedures in Design” Proceedings, Eighth European Conference. on Cybernetics and Systems, Vienna, 1986.

– “Linking Argumentative Discourse with Formal Objectification Procedures” Chapter 8 in: Knowledge Based Systems for Multiple Environments, Cohort, Anderson, Bandler, eds. Ashgate, Gower,UK.1992.

– “Application of the Argumentative Model of Design to an Issue of Local Government” Proceedings, Eleventh European Meeting on Cybernetics and Systems, Vienna 1994.

– “Expert Systems for Design and Planning: Requirements and Expectations”, (Poster presentation) Proceedings, International Conference on Engineering Design, Prague, 1995.

– “Development and Evolution of the Argumentative Model of Design” Presentation, Gesellschaft für Mathematik und DatenVerarbeitung, Bonn 1999.

– “The Fog Island Argument” XLibris 2007. In German: “Das Planungsargument” (E-book: CIANDO 2008)

– “Das Internet und der politische Diskurs aus der Sicht der Planung: Gedanken und Vorschläge”
(E-book: Nordmarketing) 2008

– “The Fog Island Tavern” — chapter 20: “The Commissioner’s New Expert System” and chapter 21 “Expert System Morphing into Design Participant” Unpubl. manuscript 2009

– “The Structure and Evaluation of Planning Arguments” (Informal Logic Journal) Dec. 2010)
[6] OASIS:
[7] Proposal World organization: on the Linked-In discussion: International_Organization_of_Citizens_for_the_Sustainable_Management_of_Societies
[8] Horst Rittel publications on Issue Based Information Systems and related matters:
Kunz, W. und Horst Rittel: “Issues as Elements of Information Systems’ Working paper 131, Institute for Urban and Regional STudies, University of California, Berkeley 1970.
– Rittel, H. and M. Webber (1974): “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning” in Policy Sciences 4, 1974.
– Rittel, H. et al. (1972): Intensivere Nutzung der räumlichen Kapazität im Hochschul-bereich, Project for the German Bundesministeriums für Bildung und Wissenschaft, Bonn, Project report. Heidelberg: Studiengruppe für Systemforschung.
– Rittel, H. (1972) “On the Planning Crisis: Systems Analysis of the ‘First and Second Generations’.” BedriftsØkonomen. #8, 1972.
– (1977) “Structure and Usefulness of Planning Information Systems”, Working Paper S-77-8, Institut für Grundlagen der Planung, Universität Stuttgart.
– (1980) “APIS: A Concept for an Argumentative Planning Information System’. Working Paper No. 324. Berkeley: Institute of Urban and Regional Development, University of California.
– (1989) “Issue-Based Information Systems for Design”. Working Paper No. 492. Berkeley: Institute of Urban and Regional Development, University of California.
[9] Draft paper: The Argument Evaluation Game. (unpubl. 2012) Available upon request:

On Experts and Expert Judgment


Reading a recent issue of Critical Review Journal (Vol. 22, #4, 2010) which is devoted to reviews of Philip Tetlock’s book Expert Political Judgment (2005), I was encouraged by what seemed to be a long overdue examination of the role of experts in society in general, and politics in particular. I had not read the book, and was looking at the articles in the journal mainly for material related to my own major interest, that of arguments we use in planning, design, political discourse, and of the evaluation of such arguments.

I was a little disappointed to see that the book appears (judging by the discussion in the six papers reviewing it) to have focused on one specific issue — that of the reliability of experts’ predictions of political and other developments in society. I am not in the least disputing the value of such an investigation, nor am I in the position of judging the validity of the methods used by Tetlock, and thus not of his findings. They seem to be quite critical of expert judgments, perhaps even too critical, in the opinion of some of the reviewers.

The issue forced me to re-examine my own views of the role of experts, specifically in planning, where I had long supported the position of complementing (at least) expert contributions to the planning discourse with participation by the people affected by a plan. This position was not so much based on empirical evidence as on theoretical and logical considerations: the information about consequences of plans — the way a plan affects people — is only partially predictable on the basis of expert (i.e. textbook and previous experience) knowledge, but distributed ‘out there’; and the judgments about the deontic premises involved — whether such consequences are desirable or undesirable, and to what degree, is plainly not a matter for the experts to decide, unless they are also among those affected — but such affectedness is mostly a grounds for rejecting judgments on the basis of not being sufficiently ‘disinterested’ and tainted by ‘conflict of interest’.

So there are good reasons to look at this issue in some more detail. The first question might be: what is the purpose of expert judgment? The answer could range from simply “to provide specialized information not available to the average person and political decision-maker” to “helping the average citizen to take positions, vote, or support political decision-makers, on important issues”: a kind of shortcut of judgment in the spirit of division of labor on which society depends so pervasively. This raises the question of what makes an expert and expert’s judgment reliable, trustworthy. The issue becomes significant not only because of the importance of issues for which we are bombarded with ‘expert’ advice in the media, but also because of the less savory spectacle of selection of experts in courts not on the basis of the trustworthiness of expertise but on their willingness to support the respective prosecution or defense positions.

The list of criteria for expert advice trustworthiness is long and varied:
– evidence of training, and possession of degrees in the subject matter;
– evidence of experience in official government, academic or private enterprise positions related to the subject matter;
– the kind and prestige of the respective institution;
– sometimes the position itself (editor, department director…);
– age;
– gender;
– political, ethnic, ideological group association;
– ‘being on TV’;
– extent of followership, election margin or polling results;
– stated position (and ‘voting record’) on issues.

The last item, ‘voting record’ finally begins to approach a really meaningful basis of judgment trustworthiness, one aspect of which was the target of Tetlock’s investigation: how reliable did an expert’s judgment turn out to be in a variety of significant situations, as supported by evidence? Unfortunately — or merely disappointing for me because his studies are an undeniably important start, — Tetlock chose to investigate this only for one type of judgment involved in policy-making and political decisions: that of predictions, in his case, of the economic development of different states as measured by GDP.

Seen from the perspective of my analysis of planning arguments, this kind of judgment is only one of the various types of judgments involved in those arguments. And it may be useful to examine these types in some detail, because it may help to clarify what one might expect form expert advice.

The ‘standard planning argument’ in its basic form has the following structure: it offers support for a proposed plan X, or for opposition to X, by means of the claims
‘Yes, X should be adopted (or not adopted)
(It is true that) X will result in consequence Y
Y ought to be pursued (is desirable)

in more formal notation:

D(X) (a ‘deontic’ i.e. ‘ought’ claim)
FI( X REL Y) (a factual-instrumental claim)
D(Y) a deontic claim.

REL can be one of many different types of relations; causation being the most common, but ‘being instrumental to’, (hence the general label ‘factual-instrumental’ that admittedly does not cover the range of such relationships) association, similarity, analogy, class-inclusion, property-assignment, logical implication and other relationships can occur.
The argument pattern can be expanded by providing information about the conditions C under which the relationship F(X REL Y) is thought to hold:

FI (X REL Y | C)
and D(Y)

perhaps even

FI {(X REL Y) | C1}
D{(Y) |C2}

This structure can now serve to examine the different types of expertise that will support such arguments: an expert may be knowledgeable about ALL of the above claims, or just one, or a selective combination of claims.
For example:
An expert may just know all about the plan X and its details, workings, provisions. More likely, his expertise is expected to pertain to the REL claim between X and Y: based on knowledge about the laws (natural or human) behind the cause-effect link, for example. ‘Complete’ expertise for this claim type would have to cover all possible relationships between X and Y, but also — for the discussion as a whole — all possible relationships between X and all possible consequences Y. Even more exacting: the ‘wrong question’ objection to such an argument may point out that while Y may be a desirable objective, there are other means –other potential X-plans — that might be more effective in achieving Y. This quickly becomes a quite demanding expertise, especially if the effects are described in terms of effects on various affected parties — people, and other creatures or conditions, the set of which is in reality quite difficult to ascertain.

Or the expert may be merely knowledgeable about the conditions C, or C1 and C2, under which the relationship REL is expected to hold: the facts, data about these conditions. Such knowledge is based on empirical evidence — ‘data’ — for current conditions (actually most of those are based on past data); and predictions about such conditions that would have to hold for consequences for the plan in the future will have to rely on other REL- relationships. Interestingly, these are the kinds of judgments examined by Tetlock, and his results seem to indicate (again, according to the reviews) that expert judgments about these are no better than mere statistical extrapolations of past and current data. The role of such conditions should distinguish between C1 and C2 conditions: whether a factual condition for a natural causal relationship exists is a different issue than the question of conditions under which parties affected by a plan will consider its consequences desirable or undesirable.

The common criticism leveled against experts is of course that of making the jump from expertise in any or all of these ‘factual’ questions to the expert’s right to make claims and recommendations pertaining to deontic claims: ought-claims. This includes not only the consequence Y but also the very issue under discussion: Plan X.

Nevertheless, such expertise is claimed. What would it be based on? There are several possibilities.
There is the possibility or tendency of turning this question too into one of fact — by reference to
– pre-existing laws, constitutions; and perhaps logical implications of the claim Y from laws or constitutional principles;
– election or polling results that specifically express general (or majority) acceptance or preference for the goal Y in question; thereby also positing the general acceptance of the majority decision rule, or course;

The legitimacy of treating deontic questions as questions of fact has been the subject of much discussion in the literature. There is no question that some experts’ attempt to posit desirability of plan consequences on behalf of those affected, or ‘in the general interest’ or ‘common good’ runs into considerable difficulties of legitimacy and justification; and it should be obvious that expertise in the various factual issues listed above does not concern expertise in judging deontic claims on behalf of others. (The U.S. Declaration of Independence recognizes this implicitly in the provision that government actions derive their legitimacy (‘just powers’) from the consent of the governed.)

Whenever deontic claims have to be justified by further argument, these arguments will inevitably make reference to further deontic claims — on the assumption that those will be accepted or left unchallenged by questioners. These claims include the validity of previous decisions (precedents); general principles of oral, ethical nature (often backed by religious doctrine) for which experts may claim expertise based on study and familiarity with the respective texts. There is a common tendency to argue for a plan on the grounds that it pursues noble and valid ‘principles’ or ‘ideals’ — even when there are valid questions about whether the proposed plan will actually achieve this (or conform to the principles). Such arguments are being proposed with great conviction by ‘experts’ on the deontics in question, and often carry considerable weight in the discourse even when their factual-instrumental and factual claims stand on wobbly legs.

An interesting kind of claim is that of the ‘vision’ of the future situation (sometimes called ‘scenario’) thought to result from the plan. Appeal is to the desirability, beauty, preferability to that situation, or to the ‘image’ (self-image’) of the people inhabiting that further, and have contributed to it.

It should be obvious that few if any experts can convincingly demonstrate expertise in all these areas. They may be ‘experts’ with respect to one or a combination of question types. Thorough demonstration of expertise would arguably be preferable if based less on the indicators of expertise listed above than on actual arguments about the question at hand, each argument being adequately (that is, to the satisfaction of affected parties) supported by the evidence and further arguments for each premise. This, of course, would not serve the purpose of providing ‘shortcuts’ to judgment very well, in that it would require marshaling all the subject-area knowledge pertinent to each argument, and require the other participants to make judgments about those in turn (which they may not be willing, able / qualified to do.)

Can we draw any conclusions from these considerations? I would consider the following: It would be useful to clearly distinguish if not the experts, then the type of expert judgment they contribute. It would then be possible to devise surveys and experiments measuring the reliability or validity of experts’ judgments for each type. For example, the questions Tetlock used to test experts’ reliability in making predictions should be modified to include specification of the conditions C under which the predicted results can be expected to materialize, and some confidence judgment (probability) about whether they will occur (persist from the present, or emerge). For other types of claims, different kinds of tests would be necessary; and such tests should be developed.

It would be useful to structure public discourse in such a way that the different claims constituting arguments pro and con proposed plans are clearly visible to all, and the expert judgment pertinent to each type of claim be clearly and visibly associated with the respective claims. The discourse should provide opportunity to request further backup of expert judgment upon request. And finally, for decisions of great importance, there should be provisions for a process of evaluating the arguments (pro and con) in detail, considering each of the premise types separately, before taking a decision. (Such provisions were discussed e.g. in my book ‘The Fog Island Argument’, and the Informal Logic article “The Structure and Evaluation of Planning Arguments’).