Archive for the 'Governance' Category

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:

Notes on Democracy, Government Size, and Control of Power

I The problem: democracy, government size: wrong issue?

The clamor for decentralization and smaller government is becoming so insistent that one gets suspicious. Who might be so interested in this — other than the poor citizens who feel so oppressed by the heavy hand of government that they don’t even begin to question the mantra? Voices from antiquity seem forgotten: “Divide et impera…” (‘Divide and conquer”) Who might be so intent on this, to rule by dividing us?

For all the problems of big government and the current manifestations of democracy (the very superiority of which is being called onto question by people who suffer from the incessant efforts of the big ‘democracies’ who are so heavy-handedly trying to introduce it in ‘developing’ regions), is it possible that it is all a wrong question, even deliberate smokescreen?

The arguments in favor of democracy are based on the ideal concept and aim: to ensure that all concerns and worries of all the people are being duly considered and met by ‘government’ decisions that affect them all (albeit in different ways). It is hard to argue with this ideal and with the view that there is no better concept of governance than democracy to achieve this, for all its flaws. It is the flaws that arguments against democracy are focused on: its cost, its cumbersome procedures, the size of resulting governments (whether or not this is due to democracy itself), the vulnerability to temptations of corruption, the ‘tyranny of the majority’ resulting from the majority-rule decision criteria, resulting in decisions that quite often end up hurting a lot of people, the appearance of government ending up working more for its own interests than for the people, in spite of the arrangements to rein in it power.

Does the fact that all other known forms of government tend to suffer from the same flaws suggest that there may be some key issues that are being consistently missed in this discussion? If so — rather than just jumping on the ‘smaller government’ bandwagon — it may be helpful to look at the basic underlying requirements for getting closer to the ideals mentioned above: to appropriately meet the concerns of all parties affected by governmental decisions as well as other influences in society.

Some suggestions for this:

1) The forum for communication and articulation of the concerns, desires, ideas. Such a ‘forum’ (the ‘marketplace’ for public discourse) must be accessible to all to voice concerns, problems, proposals, questions, arguments. It should effectively make the contributions accessible (visible) to all, in a way that allows convenient overview and forming judgments that in the end will support decisions — even in the form of ‘learning’ that is, revising judgments from their original ‘offhand’ position to more ‘deliberated’ opinions.
The larger the scope of problems and needed decisions become, the more this framework will need to include ‘translation’ functions to ensure full understanding: translation not only from one language to another (i.e. all languages involved into each other) but also the ‘languages’ of different disciplines contributing to the discourse, (that have developed their own ‘jargon’ in analyzing problems) to become understandable to people a outside those disciplines.

2) Linking the outcome of discourse to the eventual decisions. Discussions and all the information they generate are useless (in view of the democratic ideals) if they cannot meaningfully influence the decisions made in the end.
In practical terms, this requires two things:
2a): A meaningful measurement of the merit of that information
(specifically. the merit of arguments pro / con policy proposals); and
2b): A meaningful, transparent approach to linking the measure of argument merit to the criteria used in reaching decisions.

3) Ensuring adherence to agreements and decisions: the problem of sanctions. To the extent societal decisions involve agreements (also called ‘treaties’ or ‘contracts’ for decisions involving separate sovereign entities, or ‘laws’ involving agreements that apply to identifiable classes of similar behavior or phenomena, that are agreed upon to avoid having to re-negotiate agreements for each occurrence of such incidents ) there will have to be appropriate means to ensure that agreements, treaties, contracts, laws are adhered to and honored. This is usually discussed in terms of ‘sanctions’ imposed for the violation of such agreements and laws that must be ‘enforced’ — a principle which frequently breaks down at the top of all levels of government but becomes supremely critical at the highest global levels of power because there is no greater power to ensure adherence.

4) Control of power. To the extent that implementation of actions, programs, projects agreed upon, and the enforcement of adherence to the decisions is assigned to special persons or entities in society that are thereby given the power to carry out these responsibilities, there will have to be arrangements for the control of such powers, to prevent them from abusing their power to serve their own interests rather than the common interest: the phenomenon occurring in all known forms of government known as ‘corruption’.

II Requirements for improvement

These aspects call for some explanation of their significance — and the way they apply to most if not all forms of government — and of the dilemmas and problems involved in current forms of addressing them. It is, however, my opinion that better alternative means of addressing these problems are not only very much needed but also available or within reach. They will be discussed as they apply to each of the above items.

Aspect (1): Forum for communication.

Traditional forms of democratic / republican government have relied on the tool of representation. In very small communities, representation is achieved by actual presence of the affected parties — in ‘town hall’ meetings and assemblies. For any larger forms, where time (away from regular day-to-day activities) and travel to the place of governance prohibits ordinary citizens from attending, this concern is met in approximated form through election of ‘representatives’ charged with conveying the concerns and desires of the people to the forum and decision-makers. The larger the governmental structures, the more difficult it becomes to ensure that this ‘representation’ is adequate (i.e. matching the actual concerns and views of the people represented). Especially, when representatives are ‘elected’ on the basis of their platform (determined by political parties) on the basis of majority-rule election results in which significant percentage of the population does not participate, for whatever reason. The concerns about conveying to citizens an adequate overview of the discourse, the concerns of other affected parties, and of everybody ‘learning’ from all that information also become less convincingly served.

Modern media and technology of communication could improve on these problems, but currently suffer from several serious problems: the information available quickly leads to ‘information overload’ that ordinary citizens have little chance to overcome; Current means of reporting on the discourse lack the vital aspect of condensed overview; and to the extent actual discussion is being carried on in internet fora, blogs, networks, the discussion is fragmented, beset by repetition, incompleteness (because each forum often already is aligned with one ‘side’ or the other of an issue, in addition to a certain systemic incompleteness of pro/con argumentation) and sliding into personal attacks and mudslinging removed form the actual issue at hand.

The potential of new information technology for facilitating even large scale (up to global) discourse requires introduction of adequate translation functions, as well as a structure that organizes the information, eliminates repetition and provides overview. While there is currently no single ‘platform’ that offers a good solution to this set of expectations, these needed improvements are entirely within reach with available technology and software. Suggestions for such solutions will be sketched in part III.

Aspect (2): Linking the outcome of the discourse to decisions.

In addition to the tool of electing representatives and government officials on the basis of their campaign ‘platforms’ (the description of the kinds of decisions and policies they pledge to implement) this is currently being attempted by means of public accounts of ‘voting records’ and matching decisions (e.g. legislature votes) to public polls. These tools are becoming increasingly ineffective, and do not apply to decisions that were not part of the election campaign discussions — for example, officials that were elected on the basis of their stance towards abortion or sexual preference policies cannot easily be held to account for their votes on financial systems regulation. The specific requirements for 2a and 2b must therefore be examined, almost from scratch:

2a) A measure of the merit of the information produced in the discourse. If the discourse can be somewhat better organized and structured, it is also possible to have discussion participants engage in more systematic and in-depth assessment e.g. of the pro/con arguments, resulting in measures of plausibility (as perceived by the participants) of action and policy proposals. Suggestions for such provisions have been made; the methodological basis for such solutions is articulated for discussion and can be implemented with current technology, but requires testing, fine-tuning, and education to familiarize people with the approach.

2b) Current decision procedures and criteria — at all levels — fall woefully short of meeting the expectations for truly democratic decision-making. This begins with the election of representatives on the basis of majority rule, which systematically excludes the minority from having its concerns represented. Even where proportional representation ensures that at least all parties achieving a minimum voting support level (e.g. the 5% rule) will have a voice in the legislature, the practice of making the eventual decision based on the majority voting criterion is not only a quite unsatisfactory crutch or ‘shortcut’ for the admittedly desirable concern of reaching a decision at all. It also tends to make the discussion itself a moot issue: if the majority party ‘has’ the votes, no discussion is needed, and will therefore be merely perfunctory. And of course, the interests of the minority will as easily be ignored, to the point of not even attempting to modify the proposed policy to become more acceptable to all concerned.

In response to this deficiency, it may be tempting to use any measures resulting from solutions to the problem of (2a) directly as decision measures or at least guides for decisions. This is possible but not advocated for various reasons — mainly the systemic incompleteness of discourse (it will never uncover all concerns and motivations), and the resulting measures of proposal support (plausibility) and their ranges — degree of consensus or disagreement — that can be derived from the argument assessment may also be subject to manipulation. But the availability of such measures will at least encourage negotiation towards proposal modification (compromise as well as actual creative improvement) and discourage final votes that entirely ignore valid concerns of affected parties. Some improvements may also be achieved by considering alternative responses to the following aspect (3) of sanctions to ensure adherence to agreements and laws and (4): control of power.

Aspect (3): The problem of ensuring adherence to agreed-upon governance decisions — treaties, laws, contracts — is related to that of the control of power. But it should be examined on its own because there may be remedies that are independent of the power aspect, though it has traditionally almost always been addressed by the tool of ‘enforcement’ by an agency endowed with greater power (ability to credibly threaten and if necessary impose sanctions) than any party to an agreement or contract, or any transgressor of laws. The basic idea is that of ensuring adherence by means of the threat of coercion: of inflicting pain, disadvantages, punishments greater than the advantages expected from breaching the agreement: these threats must of course be ‘enforced’ by an entity bigger and stronger that any prospective transgressor.

The very presence of such an enforcement entity is of course a problem in that it will have and pursue its own interests — interests that at times will be at odds with those of other members or segments of the community. It may then be tempted to pursue those interests simply by the explicit or unspoken hint at its own unmatched power. This can generate resentment — deserved or undeserved — that can itself grow to the attempt at resisting the enforcement power by either greater power (open rebellion) or subversive ‘guerilla’ tactics — either one usually not resulting in significant improvements overall, but often merely replacing one big enforcement power with another.

While the problem exists at even the smallest size governments, at village, county or county level, it becomes critical at the global or ‘world government’ level. For if the agreements reached by any form of governance model at the global level have to be enforced by an enforcement agency more powerful than any other institution, this agency itself will be tempted by abusing its power to further its own interests, without fearing any interference by other powers. The control of power by other means that the traditional tools then beams critical, and it requires the invention and introduction of new forms of sanctions for breaking laws, agreements and treaties — sanctions that do not require coercive enforcement by a bigger power.

The requirement calls for sanctions that are triggered ‘automatically’ by the very attempt at violation. There are technically feasible solutions at small scale for such measures — the Watts steam engine regulator being the original conceptual model. For example, the attempt to breach the contract with society in which we engage at the act of acquiring a drivers license, to not drive while intoxicated, may be less ‘punished’ than prevented by a device that senses whether a driver is intoxicated and immediately blocks the ignition of the vehicle: the contract is temporarily disabled, without the involvement of any enforcement agency. This is an example of a sanction ‘automatically triggered by the attempt at violation’. The development of such solutions for wider application and even for international / global affairs is arguably an extremely urgent necessity.

Aspect (4) The control of power has traditionally been dealt with in various ways: In ‘democracies’: time limits for officials and representatives and the necessity of re-election, the possibility of recall or impeachment, the separation and provisions for appropriate balance of powers among the governmental branches, public scrutiny, exposure and ‘shaming’ through the media. In other cultural settings, having decisions made by ‘patriarchs’ (who will listen to polite but noncommittal ‘what-if’ questions in the ‘family council’ that does not require any participant to commit themselves to a firm position before the decision). Patriarchs, at the end of their lives, are assumed to have acquired some wisdom and experience and be less concerned about personal gains and consequences of the decision (less likely to be influenced by temptations than younger people) and therefore likely to pay more attention to the common good of the community. They will make a decision that all participants can then embrace and implement (not having ‘lost face’ by being seen as the losing party like the minority voters in western democracies) and accept the responsibility. Other exempts of conflict resolution by non-coercive means are ‘divine judgments’: for example tossing a coin — though these shave often been elaborated in various dramatic and often also bloody ways.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that not only are these traditional tools for the control of power reaching the boundary of their effectiveness — not only because of the size of governments — but also because governments at any size and level are susceptible to the corrupting influence of powers outside government: corporations, religious entities, financial institutions, the media, the military, unions, and other entities that are lobbying legislators and government officials with increasing amounts of financial support. This has reached the absurd level of lobbyists actually writing laws cleverly hiding provisions favorable to their sponsors, that the legislators vote in without even reading all the details. It is therefore necessary to look for alternative and better forms of control of power, not only with regard to the specter of ‘world government’ and any larger size governmental institution — but for any entity endowed with power. A possibly fatal neglect — in honoring the principle of separating government and private business as wells religious institutions — has been that of allowing such entities to grow almost without constraints to amass power — power that has begun to illegitimately influence governments even to the point mentioned, of writing the laws favoring its interests (at the expense of others) which government then is asked to enforce on behalf of those powers.

The task to develop new and more effective forms of power controls is the most challenging one, mainly because funding for research, testing and implementation for such tools would have to be allocated by power entities that naturally are not interested in arrangements that would reduce their power. Taken together with the issue of replacing enforcement-type sanctions, it is arguably the most urgently needed, because the ‘enforcement’ tools available today to would-be global powers– the modern military weaponry — are dangerous and destructive enough to threaten human civilization on a global scale.

However, some principles can be sketched that can help point the way to better power controls.

The first is the recognition that power itself is a kind of human need — in its basic form of ’empowerment’, the condition for realizing ‘freedom’ which is considered a human right. (The issue of ‘rights’ is one also deserving re-thinking, but this is a separate topic.) ‘Freedoms’ without the resources and ability — power — to take advantage of them are nonexistent. Freedom as human right is usually thought of as the ability to pursue one’s own life survival needs and ‘happiness’ — provided they are not interfering with anyone else’s interests. But people perceive freedom both ways: a) as the ability to do or refrain from doing as they please and b) as the ability to prevent or induce others to do or refrain from doing things. Increased power to do (b) is — perhaps perversely and ‘sinfully’ — but most certainly perceived as just as much an increase in one’s ‘freedom’ as that of doing (a). This could mean that effective reduction of the power to do (b) might be achieved through the increase in more appealing opportunities for doing (a), not just constraints on (b).

A second aspect is the principle mentioned under aspect (3) above — the possibility of sanctions triggered automatically by the attempt at violation of rules and agreements, instead of coercive sanctions enforced by a bigger power. If such ‘sanctions’ to prevent power abuse were aimed less at punitive effects than at removal of the resources and authority needed to exercise and implement the necessary actions for the violation, this would obviate the need for a superior enforcement power. At the level of global treaties and agreements (laws) the availability of such sanctions would remove the objections to ‘world government’ institutions that are based on the concern of the temptations to power abuse by such a global enforcement agency.

A third consideration goes back to the view of power as a human need. While much rhetoric is aimed at the moral obligation to meet human needs most such needs will have to be ‘paid for’ — in one currency or another, by the recipient or somebody else. So this principle might be applied to the need for power as well, and thereby form a constraint on its abuse. This might require a different kind of ‘currency’ — for example, a currency consisting both of elements having to do with competency (as in competency tests for a drivers license, for example) and things like public trust that has to be ‘earned’ through service and performance in activities similar to those required for positions of power. A kind of ‘civic credit’ points currency. The credit points could then be required as up-front performance bond or ‘ante’ — that will be lost in case of power abuse or poor performance — or as the ‘release’ currency for the person in power to obtain the resources needed for a decision. While the account will be ‘used up’ with each decision and its total depletion reducing the person’s power to zero, successful decisions will ‘earn’ more points. Power points may also be transferred from supporters’ accounts to leaders (to the limit of those supporters’ accounts of credit points) to be depleted with each decision, lost for unsuccessful decisions, or regained with successful performance, and ‘repaid’ to supporters. The accounting problems for such schemes may still look prohibitively complicated but are entirely within the capability of available technology, technology familiar from credit cards, credit scows, driving violations records etc.

III Examples of solutions

Meeting the challenges sketched out above will require considerable research and development, discussion, testing, education to familiarize people with the application of solutions. Some such solutions are still entirely at the conceptual stage; for others there are existing examples of techniques that can illustrate what the solutions might look like. In the following, some such examples will be explained in more detail. The examples should be seen as offering demonstration for discussion that solutions are possible and within reach, not yet as readily applicable tools.

The first example is the idea of a discourse framework or platform for information sharing and discussion of action or policy proposals. It is based on the ‘argumentative model of planning’ proposed by Rittel [1]. It views the design and planning process as an argumentative process during which questions and ‘issues’ are thrown up, to which people adopt positions (such as ‘for’ or ‘against’ a proposal) and support / defend those positions with answers and arguments.

The information system supporting such a process will be structured not in the traditional way with ‘documents’ as the constituting elements, but according to ‘topics’ and ‘issues’. New information technology makes it possible to construct a framework organized in this manner, to which anybody can contribute questions, issues, answers and arguments, and thus become a truly ‘democratic’ tool for citizen participation in public decision-making at small or large scale.

For large scale application, a ‘translation’ service component will become increasingly important — not only to translate contributions from one natural language into all others, but also to translate the ‘scientific’ or technical jargon from various disciplines (even from various schools of thought within individual disciplines) into commonly understandable language.

Further essential components will be the following:

– The compilation of contributions — especially the pro and con arguments about plan or policy proposals — into concise, condensed displays that show the bare-bones content of contributions (without the elaborate rhetorical ballast oft accompanying discussion contributions — but each entry will be stored in a ‘verbatim’ file for reference);

– Displays of ‘maps’ — topic maps, issue maps, argument maps — linked to the various contributions, that provide a convenient visual overview of the discourse and of the relationships between the topics, issues, and arguments;

– The ‘evaluation’ component where participants can enter their assessment of the merit of questions, answers, and arguments. This component can be based on the approach developed by T. Mann [2] for the assessment of planning arguments. In contrast to common opinion polls which only gather support or opposition ‘votes’ from surveyed citizens, this approach provides much more detailed information by asking participants to evaluate individual argument premises according to their plausibility and importance. It thereby helps pinpoint much more accurately the specific aspects of concern by various participants: which features of a proposed plan are perceived as damaging or unacceptable by some, what claims are insufficiently supported by evidence, which issues require more discussion, and encourages the modification of proposals in response to voiced concerns to achieve outcomes more acceptable to most affected parties.

This component will be the critical tool providing a measure of the merit of discussion contributions, which can be linked to the decisions taken by whatever decision-making authority in the end. Various statistical measures derived from the individual evaluations can be used to guide decisions, such as the mean plausibility value for a proposal, each plausibility value calculated from the argument weights which in turn depend on the plausibilities and importance weights of individual premises; the range and variance of results as an indication of the degree of consensus or disagreement in the group of participants. (The approach does not propose to replace conventional decision criteria such as voting by designated decision-making bodies, but provides a tool matching those decisions against the evaluation results, moving the process closer to one in which decisions are appropriately based on the merit of the arguments and other information contributed by participants.)

Another tool that can support public decision-making is the approach to measuring the value of built environment developed by T. Mann [3] that can be expanded into more general ‘quality of life’ indicators of the kind that are increasingly discussed as replacements or at least complements to traditional measures of economic performance guiding government decisions — such as growth rates or Gross Domestic Product. The approach is based on assessments of the value (quality) of the occasions offered in an environment, (the occasions constituting the lives of residents) as modified by the functionality of the environment for each specific occasion, and the appropriateness (inspirational value) of the images evoked by the environment. Using such a tool, the expected ‘performance’ of a proposed plan can be assessed in terms of how well it adds to the quality and value of the occasions (e.g. occasion opportunity value) of residents’ lives, considering both ‘new’ occasions added as well as familiar occasions deleted from the basket of opportunities.

In comparison with the ‘almost ready for application’ ideas for the discourse framework and measures for merit of arguments discussed in the preceding sections, the solutions for ‘automatically triggered sanctions’ eliminating the need for enforcement agencies, as well as those for better power controls require much more research and discussion. For the sake of better understanding by means of a kind of ideal sci-fi vision, the following scenario might be considered.

Each citizen carries a device — a kind of ID card — on which the personal identification information is stored, as well as financial accounts, educational and other ‘competence’ information (that entitles the holder e.g. to operate equipment of hold decision-making positions in society. This could include ‘credit points’ earned not only through acquisition of knowledge, experience, and skills, but also by civic service entitling the holder to public ‘trust’ and holding public office. It could include medical information for use in medical emergencies. Such information will only be stored on this device, nowhere else, to prohibit misuse. The basic information to establish identity is the only part that will be stored in a public registry.

Part of this device could also be used to hold information such as the merit of contributions to public discourse (as evaluated by the entire body of participants) — information that can be used to demonstrate competence for public decision-making positions. This ‘currency’ will be used to activate the resources required for the implementation of decisions of the particular office — that will therefore be ‘used up’ with each additional decision, and only be replenished with ‘new’ credit points earned on the basis of the performance of the decisions taken.

Supporters of a political candidate or official may contribute to that candidate’s decision-making credit power by transferring some of their own credit points to that person — thereby assuming responsibility for the decisions made by that official (which can also be seen as a kind of ‘investment’ in the candidate’s policies). The points earned from the performance of the each decision will have to be ‘paid back’ to supporters. (Supporters may ‘recall’ their credit points if they perceive that their support is being used for inappropriate purposes — such as abuse of power.)

The same device of ‘credit point accounts’ required to activate resources for any kind of official action can then also be used as ‘security deposit’ for agreements and treaties among larger entities — and instantaneously ‘lost’ or ‘frozen’ upon attempts of violation, so that any implementation of violation activities will be prohibited — as in the simple example of the ignition device sensing whether a driver is inebriated, and preventing the drunk driver from starting the car.

These speculations are made in the hope of impressing upon readers both the necessity of developing these tools, and their feasibility — even if actual fine-tuning and implementation will still require much work.

IV References

[1] Kunz, W. and H. Rittel: (1970) “Issues as Elements of Information Systems.” Working Paper No. 131, Institute of Urban and Regional Development, University of California, Berkeley.
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.

[2] Mann, Thorbjoern (1977) Argument Assessment for Design Decisions, Dissertation, University of California, Berkeley.
– (2007) The Fog Island Argument, XLibris, (In German: Das Planungsargument, E-book, Ciando, 2008)
– “The Structure and Evaluation of Planning Arguments” in Informal Logic Vol. 30. No. 4, December 2010

[3]  Mann, Thorbjoern (2011):  “Value of Built Environment Based on Occasion and Image” (unpublished)