‘CONNECTING THE DOTS’ OF SOME GOVERNANCE PROBLEMS

There is much discussion about flaws of ‘democratic’ governance systems, supposedly leading to increasingly threatening crises. Calls for ‘fixing’ these challenges tend to focus on single problems, urging single ‘solutions’. Even recommendations for application of ‘systems thinking’ tools seem to be fixated on the phase of ‘problem understanding’ of the process; while promotions of AI (artificial / augmented intelligence) sound like solutions are likely to be found by improved collection and analysis of data, of information in existing ‘knowledge bases’. Little effort seems devoted to actually ‘connecting the dots’ – linking the different aspects and problems, making key improvements that serve multiple purposes. The following attempt is an example of such an effort to develop comprehensive ‘connecting the dots’ remedies – one that itself arguably would help realize the ambitious dream of democracy, proposed for discussion. A selection (not a comprehensive account) of some often invoked problems, briefly:

“Voter apathy” The problem of diminishing participation in current citizen participation in political discourse and decisions / elections, leading to unequal representation of all citizens’ interests;

“Getting all needed information”
The problem of eliciting and assembling all pertinent ‘documented’ information (‘data’) but also critical ‘distributed’ information especially for ‘wicked problems’, – but:

“Avoiding information overload”
The phenomenon of ‘too much information’, much of which may be repetitive, overly rhetorical, judgmental, misleading (untruthful) or irrelevant;

“Obstacles to citizens’ ability to voice concerns”
The constraints to citizens’ awareness of problems, plans, overview of discourse, ability to voice concerns;

“Understanding the problem”
Social problems are increasingly complex, interconnected, ill-structured, explained in different, often contradicting ways, without ‘true’ (‘correct) or ‘false’ answers, and thus hard to understand, leading to solution proposals which may result in unexpected consequences that can even make the situation worse;

“Developing better solutions”
The problem of effectively utilizing all available tools to the development of better (innovative) solutions;

“Meaningful discussion”
The problem of conducting meaningful (less ‘partisan’ and vitriolic, more cooperative, constructive) discussion of proposed plans and their pros and cons;

“Better evaluation of proposed plans”
The task of meaningful evaluation of proposed plans;

“Developing decisions based on the merit of discourse contributions”
Current decision methods do not guarantee ‘due consideration’ of all citizens’ concerns but tend to ignore and override as much as the contributions and concerns of half of the population (voting minority);

“The lack of meaningful measures of merit of discourse contributions”
Lack of convincing measures of the merit of discourse contributions: ideas, information, strength of evidence, weight of arguments and judgments;

“Appointing qualified people to positions of power”
Finding qualified people for positions of power to make decisions that cannot be determined by lengthy public discourse — especially those charged with ensuring

“Adherence to decisions / laws / agreements”
The problem of ‘sanctions’ ensuring adherence to decisions reached or issued by governance agencies: ‘enforcement’ – (requiring government ‘force’ greater than potential violators leading to ‘force’ escalation;

“Control of power”
To prevent people in positions of power from falling victim to temptations of abusing their power, better controls of power must be developed.

Some connections and responses:

Problems and remedies network

Details of possible remedies / responses to problems, using information technology, aiming at having specific provisions (‘contribution credits’) work together with new methodological tools (argument and quality evaluation) to serve multiple purposes:

“Voter apathy”

Participation and contribution incentives: for example, offering ‘credit points’ for contributions to the planning discourse, saved in participants’ ‘contribution credit account’ as mere ‘contribution’ or participation markers, (to be evaluated for merit later.)

“Getting all needed information”
A public projects ‘bulletin board’ announcing proposed projects / plans, inviting interested and affected parties to contribute comments, information, not only from knowledge bases of ‘documented’ information (supported by technology) but also ‘distributed, not yet documented information from parties affected by the problem and proposed plans.

“Avoiding information overload”
Points given only for ‘first’ entries of the same content and relevance to the topic
(This also contributes to speedy contributions and assembling information)

“Obstacles to citizens’ ability to voice concerns”
The public planning discourse platform accepts entries in all media, with entries displayed on public easily accessible and regularly (ideally real-time) updated media, non-partisan

“Understanding the problem”
The platform encourages representation of the project’s problem, intent and ‘explanation’ from different perspectives. Systems models contribute visual representation of relationships between the various aspects, causes and consequences, agents, intents and variables, supported by translation not only between different languages but also from discipline ‘jargon’ to natural conversational language.

“Developing better solutions”
Techniques of creative problem analysis and solution development, (carried out by ‘special techniques’ teams reporting results to the pain platform) as well as information about precedents and scientific and technology knowledge support the development of solutions for discussion

“Meaningful discussion”
While all entries are stored for reference in the ‘Verbatim’ repository, the discussion process will be structured according to topics and issues, with contributions condensed to ‘essential content’, separating information claims from judgmental characterization (evaluation to be added separately, below) and rhetoric, for overview display (‘IBIS’ format, issue maps) and facilitating systematic assessment.

“Better evaluation of proposed plans”
Systematic evaluation procedures facilitate assessment of plan plausibility (argument evaluation) and quality (formal evaluation to mutually explain participants’ basis of judgment) or combined plausibility-weighted quality assessment.

“Meaningful measures of merit”
The evaluation procedures produce ‘judgment based’ measures of plan proposal merit that guide individual and collective decision judgments. The assessment results also are used to add merit judgments (veracity, significance, plausibility, quality of proposal) to individuals’ first ‘contribution credit’ points, added to their ‘public credit accounts’.

“Decision based on merit”
For large public (at the extreme, global) planning projects, new decision modes and criteria are developed to replace traditional tools (e.g. majority voting)

“Qualified people to positions of power”
Not all public governance decisions need to or can wait for the result of lengthy discourse, thus, people will have to be appointed (elected) to positions of power to make such decisions. The ‘public contribution credits’ of candidates are used as additional qualification indicators for such positions.

“Control of power”

Better controls of power can be developed using the results of procedures proposed above: Having decision makers ‘pay’ for the privilege of making power decisions using their contribution credits as the currency for ‘investments’ in their decision: Good decision will ‘earn’ future credits based on public assessment of outcomes; poor decisions will reduce the credit accounts of officials, forcing their resignation if depleted. ‘Supporters’ of officials can transfer credits from their own accounts to the official’s account to support the official’s ability to make important decisions requiring credits exceeding their own account. They can also withdraw such contributions if the official’s performance has disappointed the supporter.
This provision may help reduce the detrimental influence of money in governance, and corresponding corruption.

“Adherence to decisions / laws / agreements”
One of the duties of public governance is ‘enforcement’ of laws and decisions. The very word indicates the narrow view of tools for this: force, coercion. Since government force must necessarily exceed that of any would-be violator to be effective, this contributes both to the temptation of corruption, — to abuse their power because there is no greater power to prevent it, and to the escalation of enforcement means (weaponry) by enforces and violators alike. For the problem of global conflicts, treaties, and agreements, this becomes a danger of use of weapons of mass destruction if not defused. The possibility of using provisions of ‘credit accounts’ to develop ‘sanctions’ that do not have to be ‘enforced’ but triggered automatically by the very attempt of violation, might help this important task.


 

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Artificial Intelligence for the Planning Discourse?

The discussion about whether and to what extent Artificial Intelligence technology can meaningfully support the planning process with contributions similar or equivalent to human thinking is largely dominated by controversies about what constitutes thinking. An exploration of the reasoning patterns in the various phases of human planning discourse could produce examples for that discussion, leaving the determination of that definition label ‘thinking’ open for the time being.

One specific example (only one of several different and equally significant aspects of planning):
People propose plans for action, e.g. to solve problems, and then engage in discussion of the ‘pros and cons’ of those plans: arguments. A typical planning argument can be represented as follows:
“Plan A should be adopted for implementation, because
i) Plan A will produce consequences B, given certain conditions C, and
ii) Consequences B ought to be pursued (are desirable); and
iii) Conditions C are present (or will be, at implementation).

Question 1: could such an argument be produced by automated technological means?
This question is usually followed up by question 2: Would or could the ‘machine’ doing this be able (or should it be allowed) to also make decisions to accept or reject the plan?

Can meaningful answer to these questions be found? (Currently or definitively?)

Beginning with question 1: Formulating such an argument in their minds, humans draw on their memory — or on explanations and information provided during the discourse itself — for items of knowledge that could become premises of arguments:

‘Factual-instrumental’ knowledge of the form “FI (A –> X)”, for example (“A will cause X’, given conditions C;
‘Deontic’ Knowledge: of the form “D(X)” or “X ought to be’ (is desirable)”, and
Factual Knowledge of the form “F ( C)” or “Conditions C are given”.
‘Argumentation-pattern knowledge’: Recognition that any of the three knowledge items above can be inserted into an argument pattern of the form
D(A) <– ((A–> X)|C)) & D(X) & F( C)).

(There are of course many variations of such argument patterns, depending on assertion or negation of the premises, and different kinds of relations between A and X.)

It does not seem to be very difficult to develop a Knowledge Base (collection) of such knowledge items and a search-and-match program that would assemble ‘arguments’ of this pattern.

Any difficulties arguably would be more related to the task of recognizing and suitably extracting such items (‘translating’ it into the form recognizable to the program) from the human recorded and documented sources of knowledge, than to the mechanics of the search-and-match process itself. Interpretation of meaning: is an item expressed in different words equivalent to other terms that are appropriate to the other potential premises in an argument?

Another slight quibble relates to the question whether and to what extent the consequence qualifies as one that ‘ought to be’ (or not) — but this can be dealt with by reformulating the argument as follows:
“If (FI(A –> X|C) & D(X) & F( C)) then D(A)”.

(It should be accompanied by the warning that this formulation that ‘looks’ like a valid logic argument pattern is in fact not really applicable to arguments containing deontic premises, and that a plan’s plausibility does not rest on one single argument but on the weight of all its pros and cons.)

But assuming that these difficulties can be adequately dealt with, the answer to question 1) seems obvious: yes, the machine would be able to construct such arguments. Whether that already qualifies as ‘thinking’ or ‘reasoning’ can be left open; the significant realization is equally obvious: that such contributions could be potentially helpful contributions to the discourse. For example, by contributing arguments human participants had not thought of, they could be helping to meet the aim of ensuring — as much as possible — that the plan will not have ‘unexpected’ undesirable side-and-after-effects. (One important part of H. Rittel’s very definition of design and planning.)

The same cannot as easily be said about question 2.

The answer to that question hinges on whether the human ‘thinking’ activities needed to make a decision to accept or reject the proposed plan can be matched by ‘the machine’. The reason is, of course, that not only the plausibility of each argument will have to be ‘evaluated’, judged, (by assessing the plausibility of each premise) but also that the arguments must be weighed against one another. (A method for doing that has been described e.g  in ‘The Fog Island Argument” and  several papers.)

So a ‘search and match’ process as the first part of such a judgment process would have to look for those judgments in the data base, and the difficulty here has to do with where such judgments would come from.

The prevailing answers for factual-instrumental premises as well as for fact-premises — premises i) and iii) — are drawing on ‘documented’ and commonly accepted truth, probability, or validity. Differences of opinion about claims drawn from ‘scientific’ and technical work, if any, are decided by a version of ‘majority voting’ — ‘prevailing knowledge’, accepted by the community of scientists or domain experts, ‘settled’ controversies, derived from sufficiently ‘big data’ (“95% of climate scientists…”) can serve as the basis of such judgments. It is often overlooked that the premises of planning arguments, however securely based on ‘past’ measurements, observations etc, are inherently predictions. So any certainty about their past truth must at least be qualified with a somewhat lesser degree of confidence that they will be equally reliably true in future: will the conditions under which the A –> X relationships are assumed to hold, be equally likely to hold in the future? Including the conditions that may be — intentionally or inadvertently — changed as a result of future human activities pursuing different aims than those of the plan?

The question becomes even more controversial for the deontic (ought-) premises of the planning arguments. Where do the judgments come from by which their plausibility and importance can be determined? Humans can be asked to express their opinions — and prevalent social conventions consider the freedom to not only express such judgments but to have them given ‘due consideration’ in public decision-making (however roundabout and murky the actual mechanisms for realizing this may be) as a human right.

Equally commonly accepted is the principle that machines do not ‘have’ such rights. Thus, any judgment about deontic premises that might be used by a program for evaluating planning arguments would have to be based on information about human judgments that can be found in the data base the program is using. There are areas where this is possible and even plausible. Not only is it prudent to assign a decidedly negative plausibility to deontic claims whose realization contradicts natural laws established by science (and considered still valid…like ‘any being heavier than air can’t fly…’). But there also are human agreements — regulations and laws, and predominant moral codes — that summarily prohibit or mandate certain plans or parts of plans; supported by subsequent arguments to the effect that we all ought not break the law, regardless of our own opinions. This will effectively ‘settle’ some arguments.

And there are various approaches in design and planning that seem to aim at finding — or establishing — enough such mandates or prohibitions that, taken together, would make it possible to ‘mechanically’ determine at least whether a plan is ‘admissible’ or not — e.g. for buildings, whether its developer should get a building permit.

This pattern is supported in theory by modal logic branches that seek to resolve deontic claims on the basis of ‘true/false’ judgments (that must have been made somewhere by some authority) of ‘obligatory’, ‘prohibited’, ‘permissible’ etc. It can be seen to be extended by at last two different ‘movements’ that must be seen as sidestepping the judgment question.

One is the call for society as a whole to adopt (collectively agree upon) moral, ethical codes whose function is equivalent to ‘laws’ — from which the deontic judgment about plans could be derived by mechanically applying the appropriate reasoning steps — invoking ‘Common Good’ mandates supposedly accepted unanimously by everybody. The question whether and how this relates to the principle of granting the ‘right’ of freely holding and happily pursuing one’s own deontic opinions is usually not examined in this context.

Another example is the ‘movement’ of Alexander’s ‘Pattern Language’. Contrary to claims that it is a radically ‘new’ theory, it stands in a long and venerable tradition of many trades and disciplines to establish codes and collections of ‘best practice’ rules of ‘patterns’ — learned by apprentices in years of observing the masters, or compiled in large volumes of proper patterns. The basic idea is that of postulating ‘elements’ (patterns) of the realm of plans, and relationships between these, by means of which plans can be generated. The ‘validity’ or ‘quality’ of the generated plan is then guaranteed by the claim that each of the patterns (rules) are ‘valid’ (‘true’, or having that elusive ‘quality without a name’). This is supported by showing examples of environments judged (by intuition, i.e. needing no further justification) to be exhibiting ‘quality’, by  applications of the patterns. The remaining ‘solution space’ left open by e.g.  the different combinations of patterns, then serves as the basis for claims that the theory offers ‘participation’ by prospective users. However, it hardly needs pointing out that individual ‘different’ judgments — e.g. based on the appropriateness of a given pattern or relationship — are effectively eliminated by such approaches. (This assessment should not be seen as a wholesale criticism of the approach, whose unquestionable merit is to introduce quality considerations into the discourse about built environment that ‘common practice’ has neglected.)

The relevance of discussing these approaches for the two questions above now becomes clear: If a ‘machine’ (which could of course just be a human, untiringly pedantic bureaucrat assiduously checking plans for adherence to rules or patterns) were able to draw upon a sufficiently comprehensive data base of factual-instrumental knowledge and ‘patterns or rules’, it could conceivably be able to generate solutions. And if the deontic judgments have been inherently attached to those rules, it could claim that no further evaluation (i.e. inconvenient intrusion of differing individual judgments would be necessary.

The development of ‘AI’ tools of automated support for planning discourse — will have to make a choice. It could follow this vision of ‘common good’ and valid truth of solution elements, universally accepted by all members of society. Or it could accept the challenge of a view that it either should refrain from intruding on the task of making judgments, or going to the trouble of obtaining those judgments from human participants in the process, before using them in the task of deriving decisions. Depending on which course is followed, I suspect the agenda and tasks of current and further research and development and programming will be very different. This is, in my opinion, a controversial issue of prime significance.


Embracing contradictions — A Fog Island Tavern conversation.

– Vodçek, tell me, do you have a feeling Abbé Boulah has lost it?
– Bog-Hubert, my friend: you do look worried — did you overdo the testing of your new batch of Eau d’Hole? What in the world makes you ask such questions?
– Well, I just overheard him talk on the phone with his buddy up in town. Out on the deck while I was coming up the ramp; he didn’t seem to mind at all. And he was going on about how we ought to embrace contradictions, of all things. Speaking Latin and quoting Libbett, whoever that was.
– Libbett? Never heard of him. Ah, wait. Libbet’s not a person — at least not one our friend was talking about. Could he have been invoking the old logic rule of “ex contradictione sequitur quodlibet”?
– Was that what he kept shouting? What does it mean?
– It means “From a contradiction you can infer, conclude whatever”. Right, professor?
– Yes indeed. It’s also known as the rule ‘Ex falso quodlibet” It’s a warning about the fallacy of allowing contradictory claims in a system because any statement can be proven from them: anything follows, looking like ‘proof’, even though it’s nonsense.
– I don’t understand.
– Okay. Consider a statement (1) “Wine is good for you, or Abbé Boulah is a Lower Lugubrian spy”. Now we know that wine is good for you — even my doctor tells me that, so that statement is true, which means that whole claim is true. But a statement (2) to the effect of ‘Wine is not good for you’ can also be seen as true, since there are wines that are so vile they make you sick. Not in my tavern, of course. But then the fact that if (2) means the first part of statement (1) is not true would mean that its second part must be true, since otherwise the whole sentence would not be true. This ‘proves’ that Abbé Boulah must be a Lower Lugubrian spy. Or whatever you’d put in that second part.
– They teach that at la Sorbonne?
– Sure do. At least they did when William of Soissons came up with this rule in the 12th century.
– But is there even a place called Lower Lugubria?
– Right, Renfroe, I mean no. Not yet, at least. But the logic proves it, so it must be true, eh?
– Well, I’ll be dipped in Cajun hot sauce. So how come Abbé Boulah can call for anybody to ’embrace’ such nonsense? The government is going to deport him, and where will they send him if there ain’t no such place?
– Bears some looking into. Could it be that he means something else by the ‘quodlibet’ thingy?
– Interesting idea. Yes, I think he could have meant several things. You know he’s been working with his buddy on the planning discourse support platform idea for a while, where one of the problems has to do with whether there should be an ‘expert system’ or Artificial Intelligence component that could look at both the discussion entries and other data bases, and come up with useful comments to the discourse. And their concern has been, quite reasonably, that the planning discourse contains all kinds of contradictory information. Almost by definition — all the ‘pros and cons’, remember? So how can it draw any meaningful conclusions from all that?
– I get it. It’ll all be Lower Lugubrian… So?
– So they have been saying that unless the AI folks can come up with a meaningful way of dealing with the contradictions in the discourse — and in the other data bases, too, I’d guess, — there will be big questions about AI support for the planning discourse.
– Why is that?
– Well, normally, you’d trust whatever such a system comes up with because you think they are trustworthy and reliable — which depends on two things: One, that all the data from which they draw conclusions are true, or at least come with trustworthy probability estimates. And two: that the reasoning rule they use to draw conclusions are ‘valid — meaning that they will actually result in true conclusions if all their premises are true. So if you now admit contradictions in the data gumbo, how can you trust the conclusions?
– Well, isn’t the point of such systems to calculate, based on valid reasoning rules and checked-out facts, which of two contradictory claims is true and which one is wrong?
– That would be nice, wouldn’t it, Sophie. But it isn’t that easy to tell what’s what. Take the big controversy about climate change, and whether it’s all caused by human activity. There are many studies that show how warming trends seem to follow the amounts of CO2 that human activities emit. Using good, reliable data (meaning the data have been confirmed by other independent studies) and reliable scientific and statistical methods, ‘reasoning’ patterns, if you like. So those studies seem to ‘prove’ that human emissions have contributed to global warming. But there are also studies that use data you can’t dismiss as ‘false’, and equally valid statistical methods — that come up with conclusions that say there is no such connection.
– What do you mean, Professor?
– Well, Sophie: it turns out that much depends on what kind of data you are using — for example, whether you are measuring temperature changes on the earth’s surface  (on land) or over the ocean, or in the ocean, or in the air, and how high up you are measuring it. And it also depends on what time period you are looking at. So each of the studies may actually be quite ‘valid’ in themselves — reliable data and respectable methods — just looking at different data, and coming up with different results. So it takes some close scrutiny to evaluate those studies — the ‘system’ may report all of them as ‘reliable’ because it doesn’t realize that the kinds of data and the time period may make all the difference. So you still need to take a critical look at the studies.
– Okay. Let’s not get caught up in that climate issue right now. You mentioned that there were several possible reasons for Abbé Boulah’s strange call?
– Yes, thanks for reminding me. At least two, besides simply saying that we need to acknowledge all the contradictions in the discourse, and actively encourage people to express them for discussion and evaluation. Not sweeping them under the rug by pushing for ‘consensus’ or relying on ‘expert’ reports.
– Yes. We’ve discussed that — but people seem to be stuck on unified visions and leadership and consensus; well, I guess it takes time to sink in. But you weren’t done yet, were you, sorry?
– Right. We should also improve our tools for dealing with all those contradictions. Because there are actually some claims — the ‘deontic’ ones, that have to do with what people feel ‘ought to be’ — goals, objectives, concerns about things they don’t like in the current problem situation, or visions about what life might be that’s different — don’t we all wish that we could ‘make a difference’ in our lives? And those premises of planning arguments are not ‘true’ or ‘false’, not even properly assessed as ‘probable’; so logic has some serious trouble with them. Its valid syllogisms don’t apply. And we accept that people have the right to happiness in pursuing different goals. Look at even the common views of ‘costs’ and ‘benefits’ of proposed solutions: they aren’t the same for all affected parties: some of the ‘costs’ that some want to reduce are actually ‘benefits’ (income, profits,) for others, who want more…
– Hmm. You’re making things difficult here. So the government making decisions based of the famous ‘Benefit/Cost Ratio is actually … how should we say…
– Sweeping those issues under the rug? Yes. We need different decision tools.
– But there still could be more behind Abbé Boulah’s attitude?
– Well, maybe he is simply referring to the ‘Systematic Doubt’ method for analyzing a problem and generating solution ideas.
– What in ninety nonsequiturs’ names are you talking about, Professor?
– You never heard about this technique? It’s actually based on a nifty piece of logic — DeMorgan’s second theorem — which says that a the negation of a statement consisting of two or several claims joined by ‘and’, is equivalent to a statement of each of the negated parts joined by ‘or’:
~(a ^ b) = (~a v ~b)
Here, ~ means negation, ^ means ‘and’ ; v means ‘or’).
– So where does the contradiction come in?
– Impatient wench, Sophie. Say you have a problem and try to find a way, a plan, to fix it — eliminate it. Now make a statement consisting of several necessary conditions for that problem to exist: “a ^ b ^ c …” (De Morgan’s theorem works for any number of conditions.) You want the problem you want to go away? This can be expressed as ‘~(a^b^c…).  The equivalence of that statement to that of ‘ ~a v ~b v ~c…’ means that if only one of those necessary conditions could go away — negated, c o n t r a d i c t e d, get it? — the whole problem would not exist.
– So?
– Ah Renfroe — this gives rise to a beautiful approach to finding many possible solution ideas, don’t you see? The steps are:
* First, you look at the problem and find its all its necessary conditions
* You state those conditions in plain assertive sentences. This way of talking about problems takes a bit of getting used to; we usually just complain about it in negative sentences: such as ‘there isn’t any money in my bank account’ or ‘there’s no place to park’
* Then, you take each of the conditions and negate it: contradict it.  Write them out one by one.
* Now you look for ways to make these negated statements come true. There may be no way to do that for some statements, but often two or more. They may not all make sense — some can be plain nonsense or hilariously unfeasible, the process can be a lot of fun — but there may just be one or more good ideas for solving the problem, so you can pickup and elaborate on those.
You have been nudged to look at the problem from any different viewpoints; improving the chances of finding a good, feasible solution. All by contradicting the necessary conditions for the problem to exist.
– So Vodçek, you think this is what Abbé Boulah was talking about? It does make some sense now.
– Who knows, Sophie; we may just have to wait until next time he shows up here to ask him about that. But I can think of one more possibility of what he meant.
– Oh? As interesting as this Systematic Doubt one?
– Well, I’ll let you be the judge of that. It has to do with the meaning of ‘quodlibet’ in that old logic rule. Perhaps the professor can explain it better?
– Ah, I think I see what you are getting at, Vodçek. Yes, it would be quite in style with Abbé Boulah’s sometimes, hmm, unusual, way of thinking. Let’s see. ‘Quodlibet’ comes from ‘quod’ , meaning ‘what’, and ‘libet’ means ‘like’ or ‘please’. So maybe wasn’t referring to the meaningless ‘whatever’, random nonsense. He could have been trying to say that by ’embracing the contradictions’ in a planning situation, and using them with some imagination, we could end up with more creative, imaginative, but also pleasing solutions?
– As compared to just dwelling on the negative aspects about the problem, the complaints?
– Right. You agree, Bog-Hubert? You were the one who heard him talk to his friend — did that sound like it had something to do with Vodçek’s theory?
– Well it sure would explain the last comment I heard him say, that I didn’t understand at all at the time.
– What was that, again?
– I think he mentioned something about misquoting, or changing one of Winston Churchill’s lesser known sayings — but what I heard was: “The price of ‘quodlibet’ is responsibility.”

– Is that what they are saying in Lower Lugubria?


Have Mercy With the Powerful — A Fog Island Tavern Discussion

– My, Vodçek, you seem to have a great time today – what are you laughing about?

– Ah Sophie, did you hear our friends here complaining about the powers that be – the government, the bosses, the tycoons, the media types – all the powerful folks in the world?

– Yes, part of it, but then I went outside for a while. What was so funny about it?

– Well, then there was this fellow who got kind of obnoxious, don’t ask me what he did or said – but then they asked me – me! — to kick him out…

– Oh, was that the guy who stumbled around the ramp and almost fell into the water getting into his boat? Was he drunk?

– Yes, that’s the one. Drunk? He must have been celebrating before he came in, I served him just one beer. No he was a natural obnoxic.

– Sounds like you did the right thing. But what did that have to do with their rants about power?

– Maybe he was getting on their nerves. And yes,  it got kind of ugly, but nothing worth worrying about yet. But then for them to ask me to be the boss and pull a power decision, it was just too funny, after their complaints about anybody doing that…

– Hey, don’t get things mixed up here, Vodçek – it’s your shop – and don’t tell me you didn’t agree with our complaints…

– Sure, Renfroe, I totally agree there are problems with power, have been for ages. But our friend Wilford here – was that your friend I had to ask to leave? No? – Our mild-mannered Wilford, of all people, starting to call for immediate overthrow of the government and Wall street and the media tycoons, and throwing all the bankers in jail — that was getting a little too – well déja vu; I just couldn’t take it seriously. Sorry, Wilford.

– What do you mean, it’s not serious? Those guys are dangerous; they are hurting us all, the country, the economy, the ecology, our foreign relations – something just has to be done! They are oppressing the people with their enforcement goons, violating all standards of human decency and morals, they are criminals! A revolution is long overdue! Those guys belong in jail or tossed off their highrise towers…

– Okay, okay, Wilford, calm down. We can’t do much from this fogged in-island for now anyway, might as well take a breath and think about it.

– That’s just becoming complicit in their crimes, if you ask me, Bog-Hubert! Well, just as soon as we can get back…

– Okay – let’s say you are right. So you are organizing a revolution, overthrowing the rascals. Then what? Who’s going to run things? How?

– Well, the people, of course! The workers, the powerless folks, the downtrodden…

– Hmm. Haven’t we heard that before, many times? What I know about history, too many such revolutions have been followed in due course by the rise of another set of powerful people, who began to behave just as badly as the folks they threw in jail – or worse. It’s going on right now! The famous Arab Spring revolutions, only a few years ago – what happened to those? So how would you prevent that? Or first, how do you explain it?

– Well, there are always people –- reactionaries – that want to grasp their power back. And of course they must be kept from doing that.

– So how are you going to do that?

– Well, Sophie, you have to watch them, keep them out of positions where they can get powerful again, keep them from agitating to get the old system back. Stands to reason, doesn’t it?

– And because they have been overthrown by force, necessarily, they will assume that if they can assemble some means of force again, they can do the same to the new regime – so you have to make sure that you’ll always have a stronger force available to prevent or put down such attempts … Begins to look very much like the old system all over again, doesn’t it?

– We’ll just have to insist on the democratic, legal protections against power abuse – but if the people are in power, why would they start oppressing themselves?

– That’s the big question, all right. It has happened too many times: Do we really know enough about that? Would it be useful to take a look at this idea of power, try to understand it better – before we start another bloody mess that results in the same thing, all over again?

– You just want us to sit here drinking all night cooking up pipe dreams, don’t you, Vodçek?

– Well I never would allow you to use the terms ‘cooking’ in connection with pipe dreams, Bog-Hubert. And I love to have you keep me company in my tavern, yes. But Sophie here looks like she’d like to give that investigation a try, even though she doesn’t even partake of my bodacious Sonoma Zin… How about it, Sophie?

– Okay – do you have any ideas where to start? Bog-Hubert? Didn’t you discuss this some time ago with Abbé Boulah? Did anything come of that?

– Well now that you mention it, he did have some unusual, almost paradoxical ideas about power.

– Huh? Do you remember any of them?

– Vaguely. It was a dark and stormy night, you know… Well, one part I remember was that he thought the need or desire for power is something almost like a human right.

– You are kidding, aren’t you? Abbé Boulah said that?

– Yes. Well, the way Wilford puts it, isn’t he saying the same thing – just from the lower end up? Empowerment! Power to the people! Freedom means being empowered to do things of your choice, not some bosses or superior’s choice. And you have to be ‘empowered’, have the power, possibility and resources, to do that.

– Oh. Put like that, it almost makes sense. But that isn’t the kind of power we are fighting, is it?

– No, Sophie, but the distinction isn’t always clear enough. What you are worried about is when having power to do things starts to include telling other people what you want them to do. And some of those are even what we want and agree with?

– You’ve got to explain that, Bog-Hubert.

– I’ll try. See, when it comes to things we’d like to do that could affect other people, we sort of agree that the democratic way to deal with that is to talk about it. To turn ‘my plan’ and ‘your plan’ into ‘our plan’ that we both can endorse and support. And the ‘leave our guns outside, sit down and talk’ part, the old parliamentary principle, that’s is what we are trying to improve upon. To make sure the decisions are really based on the merit of what we are talking about – not just overriding half of it with a majority vote. That’s an important task, isn’t it? Especially now that we are faced with increasingly ‘global’ decisions.

– What do you mean by ‘global decisions’?

– Well, take the example of the rules of the road, or oceans, or international flying conventions. Travel and trade rules and conventions. Some are arbitrary – like,  do we drive on the right or left side of the road? But we have to have some agreement about that.

– I see, makes sense. And more complex decisions will take some talking, and better decision-making methods. Okay.

– Yes. But then there are situations for which we need decisions that can’t wait for a long participatory discussion process. On a ship in the ocean that’s suddenly encountering an iceberg, somebody has to make a quick decision whether to pass it to the port or starboard, or stop and back up. That’s what we need the captain for. People in a position of empowerment — power — to make such decisions, on our behalf. And have everybody go along with all the actions needed to carry out the commands.

– Ah, I see what you mean: these are power decisions we expect the captain to make. — And of course he wants to be a captain, wants to be able to make such decisions: they are more significant, more important, than if he were alone in a dinghy to make his own decision.

– Right. And hasn’t history  shown that it’s precisely those kinds of decisions that are the source of the trouble?  They are, in principle, ‘legitimate’ – we expect them to be made for us. But we know they are also addictive. People in such positions of power want more and more ‘responsibility’, for more and more important decisions. Getting power-drunk. Empowerment and freedom – becoming fatally intertwined.

– ‘Fatally’ – sounds ominous. Aren’t there rules, provisions, to keep such decisions ‘legitimate’, orderly?

– Sure; humanity has invented a number of tricks to keep that under control. One of the tricks is the hierarchical organization – of governments and businesses, armies etc. At each level, a person is ‘subordinate’ to the rules and oversight – and directions – from the level above him or her – but has considerable freedom to decide things for the levels below. A kind of control, you agree?

– Ah. Except for the lowest level: the grunts, the slaves, the unskilled workers…

– Yes, Renfroe. And for the highest level… Which is where things become dangerous – in spite of the so-called safeguards against abuse that have been invented for modern governments: elections, time limits, impeachment provisions made possible by sophisticated ‘balance’ of powers of different government branches. Those things are the best we have, but they still don’t seem to work well enough anymore.

– Why?

– Well, there are several reasons why things get mucked up. One is the feature of ‘enforcement’. You made your laws, agreements, according to the clean democratic rules. But then you have to make sure that everybody actually follows and adheres to those rules. Which is why we have ‘enforcement’ institutions – police. The word itself – enforcement — indicates the poverty of the thing: we apparently can’t think of any way of making sure the laws are followed than by threaten violators with force or coercive consequences, and pursuing violators with necessarily greater force and power than any would-be violator. Otherwise it won’t work, right?

– Hmm.  I see where you are going. Now you have an enforcement agency with considerable power – and no greater power to keep it from falling victim to temptations of abusing their power.  So the sheriff – who knows that even the mayor has been recklessly exceeding the speed limit, perhaps even under, shall we say, some influence… but has not taken any enforcement action against Hizzonner, in return for perhaps some generous provisions in next years budget. I know; shocking, shocking. Some forms of power that aren’t on the books. Not even talking about campaign contributions by businesses subject to city regulations… You said there were several such snakes in the grass? The private sector gaining some undue control over government being one?

– You said it. Campaign contributions buying elections, the story is getting old. Another is the military. Sure, we need it, to defend our dear country against all those bad enemies – it must have bigger, badder weapons that anybody else, and nobody bigger to keep it from, well, losing some billions here and there in the fog of war exercises… Now think: any wonder that so many countries end up with a military takeover after a ‘revolution’ or other government screw-up?

– Heavens, it’s a miracle we don’t have bigger problems with all that…

– We do, Sophie, we do. Seems we just don’t see it, or if we do, we are in denial. See, sometimes ‘mistakes are made’. Well, I’m sure it doesn’t happen here – there are those other countries where people in power sometimes make mistakes. Not here, of course. So those mistakes may hurt some people, innocent or not so innocent. But who would now like to get the powerful miscreants out of power. What to do? Well we – the good guys in power, we can’t admit that of course: if those troublemakers would get their way, the ‘enforcement ‘ consequences would be… unpleasant, eh?  So: There are no mistakes made, at least not by anybody you can identify. And those traitorous people, troublemakers, who just claim to have been hurt but are mad or mentally disturbed and equally power-hungry, they must be kept under control. In jail, best, or in mental hospitals, or otherwise discouraged from causing more trouble.  Disappeared? Strange things happen. Some of those people are very careless, you know. Swallowing toxic stuff or getting into accidents…

Now there are smart ways and not so smart ways of doing that: Not so smart is to use police or state power directly, however efficiently and tempting. Much smarter: first, get the media to paint those people with suspicious colors, get enough citizens all worked up over the greedy, treasonous habits of those troublemakers. And then have some folks on hand about whom you have some real evidence of real misdeeds. But you don’t release that evidence, just get these goons to ‘act’ like enraged citizens to drive the fear of the you-know-who into the minds of those people – and of anybody else who might have equally misguided ideas… Of course you don’t have any ideas who those enraged citizens might be. Just patriots…

– You are beginning to really scare us here, Bog-Hubert. Enough to make us believe that a revolution might be necessary after all – if we weren’t too scared of the remedy too. So Abbé Boulah and you, and that buddy of yours up in town, you have no better ideas for how to deal with this? Stormy night not stormy enough for more productive brainstorm?

– Would we be sitting here having to ask Vodçek to get rid of troublemakers if we did? Well, maybe there are some ideas that could at least improve things a little. The power thing is too engrained to be fixed with one kind of magic stroke.

– I remember now – it has to do with that planning discourse platform you guys keep harping on? The kind of discourse contribution reward points you want to give people for meaningful information they enter into the discussion?

– Good guess, Sophie. Yes, it turns out that there are a few, you might say, ‘collateral’ effects of that platform that could be turned into a kind of control of power.

– Okay, enlighten us. I know you talked about that before, but not in connection with the power issue, as I remember it.

– Yes. Well, the basic idea behind that discourse platform is of course to find a better way to connect the final decisions with the merit of the contributions – the questions, ideas and proposals, arguments, and other information people bring into the discussion to be given ‘due consideration’. Actually, if we could achieve just that much, it might lessen the problem that decisions achieved by plain majority voting might be based on entirely different motivations than the sanctimonious promises made by officials in the discussion.

– But do you really need those contribution points for that?

– I think so. In order to develop any ‘measure’ of contribution merit, you have to have something to measure, some entity you ‘count’ and some way to indicate how meritorious that items is. So the first thing we need is some ‘point’ that identifies an original contribution to the discourse hat a participant has made. At first, it’s ‘neutral’ or ‘empty’ – just indicates how many entries a person has made. Good or bad, silly or profound. But later, in the process of evaluating plausibility and importance of that item, that point becomes ‘plausible’ and significant (in the assessment of other participants) or ‘implausible’, without merit, if it turns out to be false, insufficiently supported by further evidence or reasoning.

– I remember that, yes. So how does that help control power?

– Patience. So each participant ends up with an ‘account’ of contribution merit points. Participating in many public projects, over time, that account can become a meaningful indicator of the overall merit of the person’s contribution to public issues. It might become a valuable part of a person’s qualification for public office: an indication of the person’s commitment to public welfare as well as reliable judgment about such issues. Wouldn’t you want the official, the captain, to be able to make sound judgments – especially if they have to be made in a hurry? So that account would be another way to get people of good sound judgment into public office.

– That isn’t a guarantee yet,  that good people won’t fall victim to power temptations though, is it?

– No, or not really enough. Though maybe good judgment may make them less vulnerable? Anyway: here’s where Abbé Boulah makes a real leap. He says: If the need or desire for power is an actual, even legitimate human need, like food, clothing, housing etc. – why shouldn’t it be treated like one of those needs?

– What do you mean – treated like one of those needs?

– Well, what do you have to do to get food, housing? You pay for it. So Abbé Boulah says: let people ‘pay’ for power decisions. But of course you can’t use money as the currency for that, since money hasn’t always been ‘earned’ in quite the same way. So you use the credit point account. Each power decision will require a ‘credit point payment’. If you used up your points, no more power. I’m sure we can devise the technology for implementing that: any power decision will be ‘signed’ only with the appropriate amount of credit points.

– Wait: some officials may have to make decisions that require many more credit points than anybody can have earned in a private account? What about those?

– Good point: If you support an official and want her to be able to make such important decisions, why not transfer some of your own credit points to her account? You can perhaps even specify the precise decisions for which you designate your contribution. That way, you too, become ‘accountable’ for that decision, using y o u r  ‘power’ credit to actually influence decisions. But then you are using up your power credits just like the official.

– Shouldn’t we also be able to withdraw our credit points support from an official who is making some decisions you do not support?

– Good point, Vodçek. Now ‘power to the people’ actually begins to mean something?

– But there must be also be a way to ‘earn’ credits back for having made successful decisions? A ‘return on credit’ investment?

– Brilliant idea. It would take some technical finagling, as I said. But I don’t see why it can’t be done – the opinion polls and advertising big data collectors are dealing with complex data of this kind every day…

– If I remember correctly, wasn’t there some other mechanism having to do with power, that was somehow connected to this whole scheme?

– Yes. It was Abbé Boulah’s rant about learning from mistakes. It may not be connected to the credit points idea though, if I remember correctly.

– Sounds like you guys were having a very good time, Bog-Hubert…

– Who wouldn’t have a good time celebrating brilliant ideas?

– Well, what was the idea?

– It had to do with the fear factor, Sophie. Remember how we said that people make mistakes, and then feel compelled to cover up those mistakes, by shady means, which makes them vulnerable to criticism and unpleasant consequences if they admit to having made them, — if mistakes are ‘punished’ as they usually are. And it’s that fear that escalates the improper use of power to avoid and evade the consequences. Now Abbé Boulah also thought that this was a great loss of a very different kind: the opportunity to learn from mistakes – both our own and others. So he suggested it might be a good idea to reward people who have made mistakes – at least by not punishing them – if they would admit the mistake and give a cogent explanation of what went wrong, what miscalculations were made, — as a kind of valuable discourse contribution. And in the process remove some of the fear – of discovery, of being blamed, and punished for mistakes. The fear of the powerful that now drives many to improper uses of power.

– Mercy on the powerful? That’s a lot of powerful stuff to think about, Bog-Hubert. So what are you going to do about it?

– Good question. Cheers.


Levels of assessment depth in planning discourse: A three-tier experimental (‘pilot’) version of a planning discourse support system

Thorbjoern Mann, February 2018

Overview

A ‘pilot’ version of a needed full scale Planning Discourse Support System (‘PDSS’)
to be run on current social media platforms such as Facebook

The following are suggestions for an experimental application of a ‘pilot’ version of the structured planning discourse platform that should be developed for planning projects with wide public participation, at scales ranging from local issues to global projects.

Currently available platforms do not yet offer all desirable features of a viable PDSS

The eventual ‘global’ platform will require research, development and integrated programming features that current social media platforms do not yet offer. The ‘pilot’ project is aiming at producing adequate material to guide further work and attract support and funding a limited ‘pilot’ version of the eventual platform, that can be run on currently available platforms.

Provisions for realization of key aims of planning: wide participation;
decisions based on merit of discourse contribution;
recognition of contribution merit;
presented as optional add-on features
leading to a three-tier presentation of the pilot platform

One of the key aims of the overall project is the development of a planning process leading to decisions based on the assessed merit of participants’ contributions to the discourse. The procedural provisions for realizing that aim are precisely those that are not supported by current platforms, and will have to be implemented as optional add-on processes (‘special techniques’) by smaller teams, outside of the main discourse. Therefore, the proposal is presented as a set of three optional ‘levels’ of depth of analysis and evaluation. Actual projects may choose the appropriate level inconsideration of the project’s complexity and importance, of the degree of consensus or controversy emerging during the discourse, and the team’s familiarity with the entire approach and the techniques involved.

Contents:
1 General provisions
2 Basic structured discourse
3 Structured discourse with argument plausibility assessment
4 Assessment of plausibility-adjusted Quality assessment
5 Sample ‘procedural’ agreements
6 Possible decision modes based on contribution merit
7 Discourse contribution merit rewards

—-
1 General Provisions

Main (e.g. Facebook) Group Page

Assuming a venue like Facebook, a new ‘group’ page will be opened for the experiment. It will serve as a forum to discuss the approach and platform provisions, and to propose and select ‘projects’ for discussion under the agreed-upon procedures.

Project proposals and selection

Group members can propose ‘projects’ for discussion. To avoid project discussions being overwhelmed by references to previous research and literature, the projects selected for this experiment should be as ‘new’ (‘unprecedented’) and limited in scope as possible. (Regrettably, this will make many urgent and important issues ineligible for selection.)

Separate Project Page for selected projects

For each selected project, a new group page will be opened to ensure sufficient hierarchical organization options within the project. There will be specific designated threads within each group, providing the basic structure of each discourse. A key feature not seen in social media discussions is the ‘Next step’ interruption of the process, in which participants can choose between several options of continuing or ending the process.

Project participants
‘Participants’ in projects will be selected from the number of ‘group members’ having signed up, expressing an interest in participating, and agree to proceed according to the procedural agreements for the project.

Main Process and ‘Special Techniques’

The basic process of project discourse is the same for all three levels; the argument plausibility assessment and project quality assessment procedures are easily added to the simple sequence of steps of the ‘basic’ versions described in section 2.
In previous drafts of the proposal, these assessment tools have been described as ‘special techniques’ that would require provisions of formatting, programming and calculation. For any pilot version, they would have to be conducted by ‘special teams’ outside of the main discourse process. This also applies to the proposed three-level versions and the two additional ‘levels’ of assessment presented here. Smaller ‘special techniques teams’ will have to be designated to work outside of the main group discussion, (e.g. by email); they will report their results back to the main project group for consideration and discussion.

For the first implementation of the pilot experiment, only two such special techniques: the technique of argument plausibility assessment, and the evaluation process for plan proposal ‘quality’ (‘goodness’) are considered; they are seen as key components of the effort to link decisions to the merit of discourse contributions.


2 Basic structured discourse

Project selection Group members post suggestions for projects (‘project candidates) on the group’s main ‘bulletin board’. If a candidate is selected, the posting member will act as its ‘facilitator’ or co-facilitator. Selection is done by posting an agreed-upon minimum of ‘likes’ for a project candidate. By posting a ‘like’, group members signal their intention to become ‘project participants’ and actively contribute to the discussion.

Project bulletin page, Project description

For selected projects, a new page serving as introduction and ‘bulletin board’ for the project will be opened. It will contain a description of the project (which will be updated as modifications are agreed upon). For the first pilot exercise, the projects should be an actual plan or action proposals.

Procedural agreements

On a separate thread, a ‘default’ version of procedural agreements will be posted. They may be modified in response to project conditions and expected level of depth, ideally before the discussion starts. The agreements will specify the selection criteria for issues, and the decision modes for reaching recommendations or decisions on the project proposals. (See section 5 for a default set of agreements).

General discussion thread (unstructured)

A ‘General discussion’ thread will be started for the project, inviting comments from all group members. For this thread, there are no special format expectation other than general ‘netiquette’.

Issue candidates
On a ‘bulletin board’ subthread of the project intro thread, participants can propose ‘issue’ or ‘thread’ candidates, about questions or issues that emerge as needing discussion in the ‘general discussion’ thread. Selection will be based on an agreed-upon number of ‘likes, ‘dislikes’ or comments about the respective issue in the ‘general discussion’ thread.

Issue threads: For each selected issue, a separate issue thread will be opened. The questions or claims of issue threads should be stated more specifically in the expectation of clear answers or arguments, and comments should meet those expectations.

It may be helpful to distinguish different types of questions, and their expected responses:

– “Explanatory” questions (Explanations, descriptions, definitions);
– “Factual’ questions (‘Factual’ claims, data, arguments)
– “Instrumental questions” (Instrumental claims” “how to do …”)
– “Deontic” (‘Ought’- questions) (Arguments pro / con proposals)

Links and References thread

Comments containing links and references should provide brief explanations about what positions the link addresses or supports; the links should also be posted on a ‘links and references’ thread.

Visual material: diagrams and maps

Comments can be accompanied by diagrams, maps, photos, or other visual material. Comments should briefly explain the gist of the message supported by the picture. (“What is the ‘argument’ of the image?) For complex discussions, overview ‘maps’ of the evolving network of issues should be posted on the project ‘bulletin’ thread.

‘Next Step?’
Anytime participants sense that the discussion has exhausted itself or needs input of other information or analysis, they can make a motion for a ‘Next step?’ interruption, specifying the suggested next step:

– a decision on the main proposal or a part,
– call for more information, analysis;
– call for a ‘special technique’ (with or without postponement of further discussion)
– call for modifying the proposal, or
– changing procedural rules;
– continuing the discussion or
– dropping the issue, ending the discussion without decision.

These will be decided upon according to the procedural rules ‘currently’ in force.

Decision on the plan proposal

The decision about the proposed plan — or partial decisions about features that should be part of the plan — will be posted on the project’s ‘bulletin board’ thread., together with a brief report. Reports about the process experience, problems and successes, etc. will be of special interest for further development of the tool.

3    Structured discourse with argument plausibility assessment

The sequence of steps for the discourse with added argument plausibility assessment is the same as those of the ‘basic’ process described in section 2 above. At each major step, participants can make interim judgments about the plausibility of the proposed plan, (for comparison with later, more deliberated judgments). At each of these steps, there also exists the option of responding to a ‘Next step?’ motion with a decision to cut the process short, based on emerging consensus or other insights such as ‘wrong question’ that suggest dropping the issue. Without these intermediate judgments, the sequence of steps will proceed to construct an overall judgment of proposal plausibility ‘bottom-up-fashion’ from the plausibility judgments of individual argument premises.

Presenting the proposal

The proposal for which the argument assessment is called, is presented and described in as much detail as is available.
(Optional: Before having studied the arguments, participants make first offhand, overall judgments of proposal plausibility Planploo’ on a +1 / -1 scale, (for comparison with later judgments). Group statistics: e.g. GPlanploo’ are calculated (Mean, range…) and examined for consensus or significant differences. )

Displaying all pro/con arguments

The pro / con arguments having been raised about the issue , displayed in the respective ‘issue’ thread, are displayed and studied, if possible with the assistance of ‘issue maps’ showing the emerging network of interrelated issues. (Optional:) Participants assign a second overall offhand plan plausibility judgment: Planploo”, GPlanploo”)

Preparation of formal argument display and worksheets

For the formal argument plausibility assessment, worksheets are prepared that list
a) the deontic premises of each argument (goals, concerns), and
b) the key premises of all arguments ((including those left unstated as ‘taken for granted’)

Assignment of ‘Weights of Relative Importance’ w

Participants assign ‘weights of relative importance’ w to the deontics in list (a), such that 0 ≤ wi ≤ 1, and ∑wi = 1, for all i arguments.

Assignment of premise plausibility judgments prempl to all argument premises

Participants assign plausibility judgments to all argument premises, on a scale of -1 (totally implausible) via 0 –zero – (don’t know) to +1 (totally plausible)

Calculation of Argpl Argument plausibility

For each participant and argument, the ‘Argument plausibility’ Argpl is calculated from the premises plausibility judgments. E,g. Argplod = ∏ (premplj) for all j premises of the argument.

Calculation of Argument Weight Argw

From the argument plausibility judgment s and the weight of the deontic premise for that argument, the ‘weight of the respective argument Argw is calculated. E.g. Argwi = Argplod * wi.

Calculation of Plan plausibility Planpld

The Argument weights Argw of all arguments pro and con are aggregated into the deliberated plan plausibility score Planplod for each participant. E.g. Planpld = ∑(Argwi) for all i arguments.

Calculating group statistics of results

Statistics of the Plan plausibility judgment scores across the group (Mean, Median, Range, Min /Max) are calculated and discussed. Areas of emerging consensus are identified, as well as areas of disagreements of lack of adequate information. The interim judgments designated as ‘optional’ above can serve to illustrate the learning process participants go through.

Argument assessment team develops recommendations for decision or improvement of proposed plan

The argument assessment team reports its findings and analysis, makes recommendations to the entire group in a ‘Next Step?’ deliberation.

4 Assessment of plausibility-adjusted plan Quality

Assigning quality judgments

Because pro / con arguments usually refer to the deontic concerns (goals, objectives) in qualitative terms, they do not generally generate adequate information about the actual quality or ‘goodness’ that may be achieved by a plan proposal. A more fine-grain assessment is especially important for the comparison of several proposed plan alternatives. It should be obvious that all predictions about the future performance of plans will be subject to the plausibility qualifications examined in section 3 above. So a goodness or quality assessment may be grafted onto the respective steps of the argument plausibility assessment. The following steps describe one version of the resulting process.

Proposal presentation and first offhand quality judgment

(Optional step:) Upon presentation of a proposal, participants can offer a first overall offhand goodness or quality judgment PlanQoo, e.g. on a +3 / -3 scale, for future comparison with deliberated results.

Listing deontic claims (goals, concerns)

From the pro / con arguments compiled in the argument assessment process (section 3) the goals, concerns (deontic premises) are assembled. These represent ‘goodness evaluation aspects’ against which competing plans will be evaluated.

Adding other aspects not mentioned in arguments

Participants may want to add other ‘standard’ as well as situation-specific aspects that may not have been mentioned in the discussion. (There is no guarantee that all concerns that influence participants’ sense of quality of a plan will actually be brought up and made explicit in a discussion).

Determining criteria (measures of performance) for all aspects

For all aspects, ‘measures of performance’ will be determined that allow assessment about how well a plan will have met the goal or concern. These may be ‘objective’ criteria or more subjective distinctions. For some criteria, ‘criterion functions’ can show how a person’s ‘quality’ score depends on the corresponding criterion.
Example: plan proposals will usually be compared and evaluated according to their
expected ‘cost’; and usually ‘lower cost’ is considered ‘better’ (all else being equal)
than ‘higher cost’. But while participants may agree that ‘zero cost’ would be
best so as to deserve a +3 (couldn’t be better’) score, they can differ significantly
about what level of cost would be ‘acceptable’, and at what level the score should
become negative: Participant x would consider a much higher cost to be still
‘so/so’, or acceptable, than participant o.
+3 –xo————————————————–
+2 ———–o–x—————————————
+1 —————-o—–x——————————-
+/-0 ——————o———x———————–
-1 ———————–o————x—————–
-2 ——————————o———x————-
-3 ——————————————————- ($∞ would be -3 ‘couldn’t be worse’)
$0 |       |        |        |        |         |        |        |         |  > Cost criterion function.

“Weighting’ of aspects, subaspects etc.

The ‘weight’ assignments of aspects (deontics) should correspond to the weighting of deontic premises in the process of argument assessment. However, if more aspects have been added to the aspect list, the ‘weighting’ established in the argument assessment process must be revised: Aspects weights are on a zero to +1 scale, 0 ≤ w ≤ 1 and ∑wi = +1 for all i aspects. For complex plans, the aspect list may have several ‘levels’ and resemble an ‘aspect tree’. The weighing at each level should follow the same rule of 0 ≤ w ≤ 1 and ∑w=1.

Assigning quality judgment scores

Each participant will assign ‘quality’ or ‘goodness’ judgments, on a +3 to -3 scale (+3 meaning ‘could not possibly be better’, -3 ‘couldn’t possibly be worse’, with zero (0) meaning ‘so-so’ or ‘can’t decide’, not applicable) to all aspects / subaspects of the evaluation worksheet, for all competing plan proposals.

Combining quality with plausibility score for a ‘weighted plausibility-adjusted quality score Argqw

Each (partial) quality score q will be combined with the respective argument plausibility score Argpl from the process in section 3, resulting in a ‘weighted plausibility-adjusted quality score’ Argqplwi = Argpli * qi * wi .

Aggregating scores into Plan quality score PlanQ

The weighted partial scores can be aggregated into overall plan quality scores: e.g. :
PlanQ = ∑i (Argqplwi) for all n aspects. or
PlanQ = Min (Argqplw) or
PlanQ = ∏ (Argqpli +3)wi -3
(The appropriateness of these functions for a given case must be discussed!)

Group statistics: GArgqpl and GPlanQ

Like the statistics of the plausibility assessments, statistical analysis of these these scores can be calculated. Whether a resulting measure such as Mean (PlanQ) should be accepted as a ‘group judgment’ is questionable, but such measures can become helpful guides for any decisions the group will have to make. Again, calculation of interim results can provide information about the ‘learning process of team members, ‘weaknesses’ of plans that are responsible for specific poor judgment scores, and guide suggestions for plan improvements.

Team reports results back to main forum

A team report should be prepared for presentation back to the main discussion.

5     Sample procedural agreements

The proposed platform aims at facilitating problem-solving, planning, design, policy-making discussions that are expected to result in some form of decision or recommendation to adopt plans for action. To achieve decisions in groups, it is necessary to have some basic agreements as to how those decisions will be determined. Traditional decision modes such as voting are not appropriate for any large asynchronous online process with wide but unspecified participation (Parties affected by proposed plans may be located across traditional voting eligibility boundaries; who are ‘legitimate’ voters?). The proposed approach aims at examining how decisions might be based on the quality of content contributions to the discourse rather than the mere number of voters or supporters.

Default agreements.

The following are proposed ‘default’ agreements; they should be confirmed (or adapted to circumstances) at the outset of a discourse. Later changes should be avoided as much as possible; ‘motions’ for such changes can be made as part of a ‘Next step’ pause in the discussion; they will be decided upon by a agreed upon majority of participants having ‘enlisted’ for the project, or agreements ‘currently’ in place.

Project groups.

Members of the Planning Discourse FB group (Group members) can propose ‘projects’ for discussion on the Main group’s ‘Bulletin Board’ Thread. Authors of group project proposals are assumed to moderate / facilitate the process for that project. Projects are approved for discussion if an appropriate number __ of group members ‘sign up for ‘participation’ in the project.

Project Participants

Project participants are assumed to have read and agreed to these agreements, and expressed willingness to engage in sustained participation. The moderator may choose to limit the number of project participants, to keep the work manageable.

Discussion

Project discussion can be ‘started’ with a Problem Statement, a Plan Proposal, or a general question or issue. The project will be briefly described in the first thread. Another thread labeled ‘Project (or issue) ___ General comments’ will then be set up, for comment on the topic or issue with questions of explanation clarification, re-phrasing, answers, arguments and suggestions for decisions. Links or references should be accompanied by a brief statement of the answer or argument made or supported by the reference.

Candidate Issues

Participants and moderator can suggest candidate issues: potentially controversial questions about which divergent positions and opinions exist or are expected, that should be clarified or settled before a decision is made. These will be listed in the project introduction thread as Candidate Issues. There, participants can enter ‘Likes’ to indicate whether they consider it necessary to ‘raise’ the issue for a detailed discussion. Likely issue candidates are questions about which members have posted significantly different positions in the ‘General comments’ thread; such that the nature of the eventual plan would significantly change depending on which positions are adopted.

‘Raised’ issues

Issue Candidates receiving an agreed upon number of support (likes, or opposing comments, are accepted and labeled as ‘Raised’. Each ‘raised’ issue will then become the subject of a separate thread, where participants post comments (answers, arguments, questions) to that issue.
It will be helpful to clearly identify the type of issue or question, so that posts can be clearly stated (and evaluated) as answers or arguments: for example:
– Explanations, definitions, meaning and details of concepts to ‘Explanatory questions’;
– Statements of ‘facts’ (data, answers, relationship claims) to Factual questions;
– Suggestions for (cause-effect or means to ends) relationships, to Instrumental questions;
– Arguments to deontic (ought-) questions or claims such as ‘Plan A should be adopted’, for example:
‘Yes, because A will bring about B given conditions C , B ought to be pursued, and conditions C are present’).

‘Next step?’ motion

At any time after the discussion has produced some entries, participants or moderator can request a ‘Next Step?’ interruption of the discussion, for example when the flow of comments seems to have dried up and a decision or a more systematic treatment of analysis or evaluation is called for. The ‘Next step’ call should specify the type of next step requested. It will be decided by getting agreed-upon number of ‘likes’ of the total number of participants. A ‘failed’ next step motion will automatically activate the motion of continuing the discussion. Failing that motion or subsequent lack of new posts will end discussion of that issue or project.

Decisions

Decisions (to adopt or reject a plan or proposition) are ‘settled’ by an agreed-upon decision criterion (e.g. vote percentage) total number of participants. The outcome of decisions of ‘next step?’ motions will be recorded in the Introduction thread as Results, whether they lead to an adoption, modification, rejection of the proposed measure or not.

Decision modes

As indicated before, traditional decision modes such as voting, with specified decision criteria such as percentages of ‘legitimate’ participants, are going to be inapplicable for large (global’) planning projects whose affected parties are not determined by e.g. citizenship or residency in defined geometric governance entitites. It is therefore necessary to explore other decision modes using different decision criteria, with the notion of criteria based on the assessed merit of discourse contributions being an obvious choice to replace or complement the ‘democratic’ one-person, one-vote’ principle, or the principle of decisions made by elected representatives (again, by voting.)
Participants are therefore encouraged to explore and adopt alternative decision modes. The assessment procedures in sections 3 and 4 have produced some ‘candidates’ for decision criteria, which cannot at this time be recommended as decisive alternatives to traditional tools, but might serve as guidance results for discussion:
– Group Plan plausibility score GPlanpl;
– Group Quality assessment score GPlanQ
– Group plausibility-adjusted quality score GPlnQpl;
The controversial aspect of all these ‘group scores is the method for deriving these from the respective individual scores.

These measures also provide the opportunity for measuring the degree of improvement achieved by a proposed plan over the ‘initial’ problem situation a plan is expected to remedy: leading to possible decision rules such as that rejecting plans that do not achieve adequate improvement for some participants (people being ‘worse off ‘after plan implementation) or selecting plans that achieve the greatest degree of improvement overall. This of course requires that the existing situation be included in the assessment, as the basis for comparison.

Special techniques

In the ‘basic’ version of the process, no special analysis, solution development, or evaluation procedures are provided, mainly because the FB platform does not easily accommodate the formatting needed. The goal of preparing decisions or recommendations based on contribution merit or assessed quality of solutions may make it necessary to include such tools – especially more systematic evaluation than just reviewing pro and con arguments. If such techniques are called for in a ‘Next step?’ motion, special technique teams must be formed to carry out the work involved and report the result back to the group, followed by a ‘next step’ consideration. The techniques of systematic argument assessment (see section 3) and evaluation of solution ‘goodness’ or ‘quality’ (section 4) are shown as essential tools to achieve decisions based on the merit of discourse contributions above.
Special techniques teams will have to be designated to work on these tasks ‘outside’ of the main discourse; they should be limited to small size, and will require somewhat more special engagement than the regular project participation.
Other special techniques, to be added from the literature or developed by actual project teams, will be added to the ‘manual’ of tools available for projects. The role of techniques for problem analysis, solution idea generation, as well as that of systems modeling and simulation (recognizing the fact that the premise of ‘conditions’ under which the cause-effect assumption of the factual-instrumental premise of planning arguments can be assumed to hold, really will be the assumed state of the entire system (model) of interrelated variables and context conditions; an aspect that has not been adequately dealt with in the literature nor in the practice of systems consulting to planning projects.)

6 Decision modes

For the smaller groups likely to be involved in ‘pilot’ applications of the proposed structured discourse ideas described, traditional decision modes such as ‘consensus’, ‘no objection’ to decision motion, or majority voting may well be acceptable because familiar tools. For large scale planning projects spanning many ordinary ‘jurisdictions’ (deriving the legitimacy of decisions from the number of legitimate ‘residents, these modes become meaningless. This calls for different decision modes and criteria: an urgent task that has not received sufficient attention. The following summary only mentions traditional modes for comparison without going into details of their respective merit or demerits, but explores potential decision criteria that are derived from the assessment processes of argument and proposal plausibility, or evaluation of proposal quality, above.

Voting:
Proposals receiving an agreed-upon percentage of approval votes from the body of ‘legitimate’ voters. The approval percentages can range from simple majority, to specified plurality or supermajority such as 2/3 or 3/4 to full ‘consensus’ (which means that a lone dissenter has the equivalent of veto power.) Variations: voting by designated bodies of representatives, determined by elections, or by appointment based on qualifications of training, expertise, etc.

Decision based on meeting (minimum) qualification rules and regulations.
Plans for building projects will traditionally receive ‘approval’ upon review of whether they meet standard ‘regulations’ specified by law. Regulations describe ‘minimum’ expectations mandated by public safety concerns or zoning conventions but don’t address other ‘quality’ concerns. They will lead to ‘automatic’ rejection (e.g. of a building permit application) if only one regulation is not met.

Decision based on specified performance measures
Decision-making groups can decide to select plans based on assessed or calculated ‘performance’. Thus, real estate developers look for plan versions that promise a high return on investment ratio (over a specified) ‘planning horizon’. A well known approach for public projects is the ‘Benefit/Cost’ approach calculating the Benefit minus Cost (B-C) or Benefit-Cost ration B/C (and variations thereof).

Plan proposal plausibility
The argument assessment approach described in section 3 results in (individual) measures of proposal plausibility. For the individual, the resulting proposal plausibility could meaningfully serve as a decision guide: a proposal can be accepted if its plausibility exceeds a certain threshold – e.g. the ‘so-so’-value of ‘zero’ or the plausibility value of the existing situation or ‘do nothing’ option. For a set of competing proposals: select the one with the highest plausibility.

It is tempting but controversial to use statistical aggregation of these pl-measures as group decision criteria; for example, the Mean group plausibility value GPlanpld. For various reasons, (e.g. the issue of overriding minority concerns), this should be resisted. A better approach would be to develop a measure of improvement of pl-conditions for all parties compared to the existing condition, with the proviso that plans resulting in ‘negative improvement’ should be rejected (or modified until showing improvement for all affected parties).

Plausibility-adjusted ‘Quality’ assessment measures.
Similar considerations apply to the measures derived from the approach to evaluate plans for ‘goodness or ‘quality’ but adjust the implied performance claims with the plausibility assessments. The resulting group statistics, again, can guide(but should not in their pure form determine) decisions, especially efforts to modify proposals to achieve better results for all affected parties (the interim results pinpointing the specific areas of potential improvement.

7 Contribution merit rewards

The proposal to offer reward points for discourse contributions is strongly suggested for the eventual overall platform but one difficult to implement in the pilot versions (without resorting to additional work and accounting means ‘outside’ of the main discussion). Its potential ‘side benefits’ deserve some consideration even for the ‘pilot’ version.

Participants are awarded ‘basic contribution points’ for entries to the discussion, provided that they are ‘new’ (to the respective discussion) and no mere repetition of entries offering essentially the same content that have already been made. If the discussion later uses assessment methods such as the argument plausibility evaluation, these basic ‘neutral’ credits are then modified by the group’s plausibility or importance assessment results – for example, by simply multiplying the basic credit point (e.g. ‘1’) with the group’s pl-assessment of that claim.

The immediate benefits of this are:
– Such rewards will represent an incentive for participation,
– for speedy assembly of needed information (since delayed entries of the same content will not get credit).
– They help eliminate repetitious comments that often overwhelm many discussions on social media: the same content will only be ‘counted and presented once;
– The prospect of later plausibility or quality assessment by the group – that can turn the credit for an ill-considered, false or insufficiently supported claim into a negative value (by being multiplied by a negative pl-value) – will also discourage contributions of lacking or dubious merit. ‘Troll’ entries will not only occur but once, but will then receive appropriate negative appraisal, and thus discouraged;
– Sincere participants will be encouraged to provide adequate support for their claims.
Together with the increased discipline introduced by the assessment exercises, his can help improve the overall quality of discourse.

Credit point accounts built up in this fashion are of little value if they are not ‘fungible’, that is, have value beyond the participation in the discourse. This may be remedied
a) within the process: by considering their uses to adjust the ‘weight’ of participant’s ‘votes’ or other factors in determining decisions;
b) beyond the process: By using contribution merit accounts as additional signs of qualification for employment or public office. An idea for using such currencies as a means of controlling power has been suggested, acknowledging both that there are public positions calling for ‘fast’ decisions that can’t wait for the outcome of lengthy discussions, and that people are seeking power (‘empowerment’) almost as a kind of human need, but like most other needs we are asked to pay for meeting (in one way or other), introducing a requirement that power decisions will be ‘paid for’ with credit points. (One of the several issues for discussion.)

—ooo—


On the idea of discourse contribution credit points

* Say, Vodçek, esteemed keeper of this fine Tavern: where’s your prime regular Abbé Boulah? I haven’t seen him here for some time?

– I’m not sure, Bog-Hubert — but I have a feeling he’s out on this place in the ocean again. This new refugee community on that old oil rig — Rigatopia or whatever they call it. They keep trying new governance schemes out there, and Abbé Boulah seems to take an intense interest in what they are doing, if he’s not actually the one cooking up those things himself. I thought you knew more about that than what I can pick up here while I’m washing cups and glasses?

* You’re right, he often runs his ideas by me when we’re out fishing, or when he’s checking out my latest batch of Eau d’Hole in my swamp refuge — but every once in a while he just gets a new idea and takes off… Hi, Sophie — did you get a sense of what he’s up to this time?

+ No, sorry. But last time I was here, there was a guy who was trying to gather information about one of those Rigatopian ideas — a journalist, or perhaps some government snoop wondering if they are planning to invade the mainland. That was about some new kind of ‘civic credit’ scheme saving democracy or controlling power, I didn’t really understand it since I was there on the other end of the bar having an argument with Renfroe about protecting the sea turtles nesting here on the island. I wanted to join them to find out how all those issues fit together, but you know Renfroe, he just wouldn’t quit. Turtles all the way down to final call. Do you know any of that civic credit scheme, Bog-Hubert?

* Oh yes, they’ve been trying different versions of that idea for some time. I guess it gets confusing because they are trying to use it for so many different aims. Some just see it as an important part of their ‘planning discourse’ support scheme, getting people to contribute important information about a problem or plan, but not clogging the record just repeating the same points over and over. Others see it as the main tool for getting to decisions that are based on the merit of all that information. And then there are those who are most interested in how this scheme can help control power — at least they seem to think it can. To get the whole picture, you have to understand how it relates to their way of running public planning discussions.

+ Can you give us a sense of what it’s all about?

* I can try. Vodçek, can you get that air out of my glass here? I may need some more sustenance fuel to get through the whole thing.

– Sure. Sonoma Zin, right?

* Yes. Thanks. Okay. Let’s start with their planning discourse. They are trying to involve all their citizens in a discussion about important problems and issues out there, to arrive at decisions that everybody or most people can support because they had a chance to voice their opinions, develop and contribute ideas, and have all of those concerns given ‘due consideration’. Ideally, ending up with everybody being comfortable with the outcome. Even if those clean all around ‘win-win’ solutions are hard to achieve.

+ You can say that again. So?

* Okay. They want to encourage everybody who has something to say about a plan to actually bring it up, to enter it into the discussion. Questions, ideas, information about the situation, concerns, arguments pro and con. Participation. So they offer ‘contribution credits points’ for all such entries.

+ Oh boy…

* I know what you are saying: you’ll get flooded with all kinds of repetitious garbage? No; they handle that by making sure you get the point for an entry only if it’s the first of that information content; repetitions don’t get the credit.

– Ah, clever move: It encourages people to hurry up to get their information in, — it speeds up things, and also keeps the record from getting clogged up with all the repetitious stuff. Right?

* Right, Vodçek. You don’t think so, Commissioner?

= How do they decide whether a piece of information is repetitive — that it is essentially the same as another one that has been entered already? Because they may be worded differently and don’t sound the same at all? Is there a machine that does that automatically?

* I guess there are ‘artificial intelligence’ programs that can do that — you’ll have to ask our digital friend Dexter about that — but in a small project where there aren’t too many participants, you can ask the people involved: ‘Hey, aren’t you both talking about the same thing? If their explanation about what their entry ‘means’ uses the same information, it’s likely the same; if not, okay, it’s a separate, different aspect.

– How do you reassure people that those points that have been entered — that can’t be repeated to make sure they’ll be considered — will actually b e given due consideration?

* Good question. It requires that in getting to the decision, there will be a process that transparently guarantees that all entries will factor into the decision judgments. This means that each item must be evaluated and given some measure of significance — plausibility and importance –, and then combined into some measure of performance of the overall issue to be decided. For example, for a proposed plan, all the ‘pro and con’ judgments people have been raising will be merged into an overall plausibility measure.

– Yes: We’ve been talking about that before: Abbé Boulah’s buddy has developed a technique for doing that. It may not be the ultimate solution, but it shows that such a process is possible.
The point is that all contributions to the discussion — all arguments and their premises — must be ‘evaluated’. They won’t all have the same ‘merit’, right?

* Precisely. Some arguments may have a flawed — fallacious — structure; some premises may not be true or plausible; they may not have sufficient supporting evidence or further arguments. We don’t have to go into detail about the details or possible variations of that process here: the outcome is that all entered information items that will be considered in reaching the decision must be given some merit score in that process. A basic claim ends up being given a ‘positive’ score if has been judged to be plausible, sufficiently well supported, or ‘negative’ if it turns out to rest on false or unsupported premises.

= Sounds complicated. But tell me: Who decides that?

* Ah, another good question. You are putting the finger on the problem that people have very different opinions about whether a piece of information has merit or not — is ‘true’ or ‘probable’ or ‘plausible’.

+ Isn’t the idea of the discourse that we hope to straighten outmost of the tricky differences? That the arguments and the evidence people offer to support them will ‘settle’ the issues, that people will end up agreeing on the ‘truth’?

* Sure, Sophie: ideally. That’s the idea behind the grand old parliamentary principle: let’s leave our Uzis outside, let’s talk, try to explain our concerns to each other, and together find the right answer. But the reality is that just as each plan will have ‘costs’ as well as ‘benefits’, a consequence of implementing a plan that is seen as a benefit by some will end up being seen as a ‘cost’ to those who are expected to endure or pay for it.

– So all participants will still end up with their own judgments about each argument and premise?

* Yes. And the question of how to put them all together is always and inevitably a controversial issue that must be agreed upon. Now it’s becoming obvious that the current predominant method for reaching a decision — majority voting — is precisely NOT living up to the aim of getting a decision based on the merit of the information and reasons contributed” the information and concerns of the minority is utterly ignored and discarded.

– I understand Abbé Boulah and his Rigatopians are looking for different ways of making decisions that have a closer and more transparent link between discussion merit and decision? That is a truly important work in progress, but it’s a different issue than Sophie’s question about the credit points, isn’t it? Can we get back to that one?

* Okay. It was just necessary to put that question into the context of the whole discourse process. Well, there may be different ways of getting to an assessment of the merit of the information items that people contribute to the discourse. But the upshot is that each contribution by a person, that has now been evaluated — by the whole group of participants, or a separate task force that will devote the necessary time and effort to do that — all those merit scores of the contributions a person has made to the project can be added up into a kind of ‘civic credit’ account for that person.

+ So? What good will that do? What are those points good for?

* That is the beauty of the idea: — yes, the account is useless and a waste of time unless it’s a game and you can boast of your credit score — but you are right: The credits have to be fungible — you’ll have to be able to exchange them for something. So how about adding them to your resume, as an added qualification aspect for jobs? Especially if you are applying for a job where you have to make decisions on behalf of the public — remember, there are many such positions where decisions have to be made that can’t wait for a lengthy public discussion. So perhaps it’s useful to have some evidence of the kind of judgment you will bring to such tasks: If your account shows a lot of entries that have gotten high merit scores (say, a ratio between total merit scores and the number of entries you made), would we be more confident that you’ll make good decisions than if you have a record of a lot of entries but a negative overall credit tally? Or no such credits at all?

+ Hmm. That may be a good basis for electing people to public office, do you think?

* Abbé Boulah couldn’t have said it better! And that idea can still be extended into some ‘unexpected corollary benefit’ opportunities.

= Huh? Not just those ‘unexpected consequences’ — usually of the unpleasant kind? Do explain.

* Well, how about two possibilities. Connected, related possibilities. One is the idea of requiring people in such ‘power decision positions’ to ‘pay’ for such decisions. With credit points.

= Oh boy. Paying for doing the job they were elected or appointed to do?

* I knew that one would get your attention, Commissioner. Don’t worry though: not with money, with credit points. Consider: Part of the reason people want to get elected or appointed to such exalted positions is because they want power. Isn’t the desire for power almost something like a human ‘need’? Or ‘right’? If you are campaigning with and for the ‘downtrodden’, what are they asking for? Empowerment! Power to the people! and all that. But in this here awkward reality, all the other needs we have, like food or housing, we are asked to pay for. So why not power? And asking people to pay for the opportunity to make power decisions with credits they ‘earned’ with plausible and useful judgments — is that too much to ask?

+ Hmm, It’s something to think about. As opposed to having them buy those positions — with real campaign money they asked us to chip in — as if they didn’t have enough money they scrounged off the profits they made from selling our work in the first place?

– You are beginning to sound like some candidate, Sophie. Are you planning to run for something? Meanwhile: What’s the other aspect you were mentioning, Bog-Hubert ?

* Right: First, let me ask you if this first idea isn’t one way to make people in power ‘accountable’: meaning that they have an account from which they put up some kind of security they’d lose if their decisions don’t work out. So the idea is this: depending on the importance of the decision: put up an amount of your credit points you are willing to bet on the success of that decision, and as a ticket for being such an important person. If it works out, you may earn more credits; if it doesn’t, you lose those credits you put up. And if you have gambled away all your credits on foolish decisions, step aside. So isn’t this scheme another — innovative and, I’d say much needed — way to control power?Not a complete panacea, of course, but then our traditional means of power control don’t seem to be working too well anymore: there’s work to do on that issue, I think. Some different thinking?

+ Interesting idea. We should discuss that some more, maybe tomorrow night? Any chance Abbé Boulah might be back? But for now: …

* Yes, yes, I know, Sophie: about the second point. It also has to do with accountability. But this is about the accountability of the supporters of candidates and people in power positions. Consider that, as a form of support for a candidate, people might transfer some of their own credits to a candidate’s campaign, or to a person in a power position. Instead of money that currently is just used to buy expensive repetitions of inane campaign slogans and mudslinging accusations of competitors, your transferred credit points ’empower’ the candidate with your confidence in her or his judgment. If the person starts making stupid judgments, you can withdraw your contributions before losing them all to the Caligula-infected schemes of leaders whose power has actually made them sick, poisoned their judgment. In a sense, you ‘invest’ your precious credits, your own reputation, in the candidate’s future judgment. If the decisions work out, the candidate may pay you some ‘dividends’ on your investment. If the decisions flop, you lose it. Not only the official. It makes you accountable as well.

– Ah, I can see a whole new market emerging: Candidate power decision gut-feeling futures: selling short, selling long; candidate future decisions hedge funds…

+ Good grief, Vodçek: Please pour us another round here instead of scaring us with these grim visions…

* I’ll second that. I can see you guys aren’t quite ready for this kind of creative thinking yet. But just let me ask you this: For those issues we mentioned: getting people to participate meaningfully in planning decision discourse, rewarding them for meaningful contributions, not for uninformed rehashing of others lies; for making decisions based on the merit of discourse contributions, for evaluating that merit in the first place, for reducing the role of money in politics, for developing better controls of power: do you have better schemes up your sleeves? Then let’s hear them. Cheers, by Abbé Boulah!

***


Some dumb BIG UBI questions from a non-expert

The idea of an unconditional basic income looks like a good idea – a plausible extension of the common concept of life-supporting infrastructure — roads, communication, water supply, sanitation, police protection, defense are all part of that concept of providing essential conditions for all citizens.

One of the most frequent arguments is that such a guaranteed basic income would replace dozens of other support programs with their expensive and dignity-destroying bureaucracy, and provide recipients ‘freedom’ to allocate their funds in the way that corresponds best to their different individual needs, and pursue their own creative preferences.

The obvious question of how it would be financed is usually brushed off with that comment on savings from replacement of those programs, and seems to shut off further questions – as well as further investigation and discussion.

Since the devil often hides in the details of such noble endeavors, it seems necessary to look at some of those questions that aren’t being discussed.
At the risk of oversimplification, would it be useful to start with some basic assumptions and a very simple diagram of the main aspects, and their specific implications?

One assumption is that such a Basic Income should be sufficient to support a citizen’s needs for living a reasonably dignified life, providing the essential means for shelter, nourishment, clothing, health care, education, and so on. It should represent an adequate ‘life support’ package of life in a civilized society. Obviously, determining the size of such an income will require some investigation and discussion; it seems that it will not be easy to settle upon one size that will adequately but not extravagantly support residents in all locations, climates, and life situations. But some analysis of basic provisions for such a program it can be assumed as settled somehow.

Another assumption is that it should be ‘universal’ – that is, that all citizens should receive it regardless of their other economic or other situation. So some proposals – such as one providing the income for citizens over 21 years of age – already seem to twist that assumption somewhat.

A somewhat obvious assumption is that this basic income cannot be taxed — it is indeed sometimes being described as a ‘negative income tax’. The obvious implication that it therefore must be financed out of government income from other sources – in an economy consisting only of the components of producing the ingredients of that basic life support bundle, but no further production of ‘luxury’ items that would not be attainable with that income, the government distributing the Basic Income would have to tax everybody’s entire Basic Income to run the program – or just print money, which would end up in the pockets of the producers, and irresponsibly cause unstoppable inflation. But this raises the question of what items should be considered as ‘luxury’ and therefore taxed to supply the revenues for the UBI.

The question of financing might be started — to reveal some disturbing issues — with some very simplified assumption about such an economy. Considering the main components: The population would consist of

1) People who are working and producing – as a first simple assumption, only the ingredients of the basic life support system; let’s call this group ‘P’;
2) People who do not produce anything: ‘NP’;
3) The Government – ‘G’– that distributes the UBI income to everybody (for the sake of simplicity, it could be assumed that this is all done by computers, and that ‘the Government’ would not also consist of people receiving the UBI;
4) An element that might be called ‘Distribution’ – ‘D’ — (it might also be just a ‘machine’; but it is necessary to assume such an institution or ‘market’ where the actual products of the life support package LS can be exchanged for the money of the UBI (and vice versa).

The simple ‘system’ of this economy could now be crudely diagrammed as follows:

Figure 1 UBI ‘self-financed’ with only LS production?

P produces (P+NP)*LS and transfer this to D,
Having receiving $P*Bi from the government, this sum is transferred to D in return for P*LS life support packages (the content of individual packages may differ according to people’s different preferences) but the entire package is P*LS and ‘worth’ $P*Bi; so P’s are ‘paying’ $P*Bi to the distributor D. The P population ‘consumes’ P packages of LS.

NP are receiving $NP*Bi from the government and buy NP*LS worth this much from D, so transferring that sum to D. This part of society ‘consumes’ NP units of LS.

G To be able to pay out the next ‘round’ of Bi payments, the Government must receive the sums $P*Bi + $NP*Bi back from the Distributor D.

So far, so good; this ‘system’ seems to be ‘sustainable’. But is it? What, if anything, is P getting for producing all the life support packages? Just the amount needed for the P people involved in production to stay alive — $P*Bi?

The UBI proponents will argue that the UBI can’t be financed (as the scheme of Fig. 1 does) from the UBI payments: it must come from the production and payments of goods and services NOT in the LS package description: ‘luxury’ items ‘LX’.

The diagram for this arrangement might now look like the following (Fig. 2):

.

Fig. 2 UBI financed (only?) by taxes on ‘Luxury’ products

Now P is producing not only the needed LS packages for everybody in that society, but also an indeterminate amount of ‘luxury’ goods and services. These items are also transferred (sold) to the Distributor D, and then sold back to members of the Producer group P. These people must now have earned some additional funds – of course, from their profits of having produced some of the PX goods. That is, D must have paid them for those. (Shouldn’t they have been paid something for producing the excess number of LS packages for the NP group? This would of course mean that the total sum of payments to P for LS must be larger than $P*Bi – but where does the difference come from?)

If the assumption is to be satisfied that the whole UBI scheme must be financed from the ‘luxury’ items part of the economy, this will determine the total amount of payments—and thus the price of the luxury items – involved in this sector: For the scheme to be viable under the stated assumption, the sum (LX ‘taxes’) to be paid to the government must equal (at least) $ (P+NP)*Bi – regardless of the size of this sector, the number and quality of luxury items produced and sold. Question: How can the UBI-mandated price of a luxury item be established / predicted based on how much it will contribute to the needed government UBI Payments? This seems to fly in the face of standard views of economics, such as that the price for a good or service should be determined by the cost of producing it, a reasonable profit margin, and from then on by demand.

I am sure these and similar questions can be answered by better qualified experts. For example, the overall problem that the viable financing of the UBI system will be inexorably linked to the ratio of P to NP – which is likely to change over time – and therefore likely demand adjustments to those changes even in the amount of UBI payment the government can ‘afford’? or in the purchasing value of those payments – in violation of the ‘guaranteed’ part of the BIG promise of ‘Basic Income Guarantee’?

I’d like to see the proponents of the idea spend some effort in answering these admittedly annoying little detail questions – even to the public who may not have had the chance to review any more detailed proposals than the PR propaganda pieces focusing only on the main ‘reduce government’ and similar arguments. Including questions I have blanked out from this little inquiry: the issue of the resources going into the production of all these goods and services, the question of different amounts of time, skills, education etc. to produce them, and the role of the entire ‘distribution’ segment, including transportation, interim financing, advertising, and selling, the aspect of ‘consumed’ goods (e.g. food’) as opposed to durable goods (houses), and the whole wicked issue of insurance to deal with randomly occurring needs whose costs exceed anybody’s ability to pay for them out of an UBI Payment. It seems that the public discussion of this concept has not covered all pertinent issues yet.