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On gratitude for being shown the true extent of problems?

On a Steaming Hot Midsummer’s Day In the Fog Island Tavern

– Trying to make some breeze with your head wagging, Abbé Boulah? Not sure that’s very energy-efficient?

– I agree, — but your tropical ceiling fans don’t quite do the job either, Vodçek. And I can’t get myself to put ice in my Zinfandel to cool myself from the inside. But no, it’s not even the heat here that’s making me wonder about the state of things. Though it definitely has to do with hot air. Of the political kind, that is.

– Hmm. Maybe I should  renew my old rule about political talk in here when it’s this hot. So what’s in that little blue book you’re studying that’s creating that strange attitude in you? 

– Well, it’s the U.S. Constitution — have you ever actually read it? With all the hot air being blown around all over about it, I thought I’d take another look at it. 

– You, a damn furriner? Because I don’t think you’re a citizen yet, just a green card guy, are you?

– Right, Renfroe. See,  I never could get myself to assert the required degree of allegiance to that document. Allegiance expected when you voluntarily take on a new citizenship. It’s not like when you’re born here, you’re a citizen, subject to the rules and Constitution, willy-nilly. Nobody asks you as a kid, when you’re made to stand up and swear allegiance to it, if you’ve even read and understand it. What would happen if you said:  “Wait, there something I don’t really understand and agree with here, so swearing allegiance would be, well, a lie…”?  If you did it as an adult about to become a citizen, because would it be right to start that new life with a lie: easy, you don’t get to be a citizen. So you don’t apply, and don’t get to say things like that. But kids? Even adult citizens?  

– There is a process where we can make amendments to change it, isn’t there? 

– Yes, I know. But it’s a long process, takes a long time even to get to a vote. And what if it doesn’t pass?  If you argued for an amendment and it lost, are you now an enemy of the constitution, of the interior sort,  against whom citizens are supposed to defend it? 

– Oh boy, I never thought about that.  So what are the things in the Constitution you don’t agree with? 

– You’re asking me, Renfroe?  Me, the damn furriner, who doesn’t  really understand the Constitution and isn’t allowed to join the discussion about changing it? 

– Well, are you against it, then? 

– No, Vodçek. On the contrary, I have always considered it a major achievement of humanity and a model for many other countries. But look at some of the weird things that are now developing! There must be some not so perfect things about this Constitution, if those things are possible and allowed under it?. So I was just curious about what all the hot-air-hubbub in the current political discourse is about, that involves the Constitution in one way or another. Wondering why people, on all sides of the political divides, don’t start talking about what could or should be changed in it to avoid some of the strange things to happen that arguably are, well…

– Unconstitutional?  

– Yeah! By all the Wall Street Bull’s Excrement! That’s the word! Detrimental, dangerous in the long run,  as well as powerfully ill-smelling. 

– Is it just your non-belief showing, my friend? Even hate? 

– Well,, you must admit some unbelievable people are getting away with unbelievable stunts.

– But they’re not getting away, looks like.  They’re here to stay, at least for four more years, if not more…

– You’re shrewdly tiptoeing around the question: what makes that possible? That’s what I want to know.

– Oh, I think there’s a good explanation: If you put out many contradictory tweets, you give all the true believers the freedom — freedom, isn’t that the big constitutional thing? — the freedom to pick whichever one to believe in?  And act on it?  Isn’t that the great MAGAIC? That we all should be thankful for? 

– Sounds great, until you’re branded and treated as a traitor, told to leave the country, if you don’t like what it’s becoming,– for believing in one the great MAGAIC master feels threatened by. Coming to think of it, the country that was stolen and cheated away from the true Americans in the first place? — So that nobody even starts to think about steps that might be taken to prevent those unconstitutional things?  It seems the good citizens of the country aren’t quite awake and sufficiently worried about these things, to start some serious thinking about that. 

– Well, there are plenty of groups out there clamoring for change, aren’t there? Nonbelievers, traitors, the lot of them, I say…

– Sure, Renfroe.  Even more questionable things are promoted under the banner of needed change, even if the change is represented at going back to some ‘real’ or true interpretation of the Constitution. What gets me:  it all boils down to campaigns to defeat this or that candidate for office, or the counter-candidate. All the ads and emails we get are just appeals to contribute money for the campaigns. About winning elections, gaining power. Very little if anything seems to get to the substantive issues that make the bad things happen, let alone making them better. Can they be fixed with just some different guys in the various offices? When the underlying structural conditions still will lead to the same bad developments that people get upset and angry about?  

– Good questions. So you think the country needs to wake up to see the need for real changes? 

– I do, Vodçek. I know all the unrest and the breathless media look like you’d want to calm things down rather than more ‘waking-up’. But is it making any genuine difference? 

– Hmm. So let me ask you a hypothetical question. Say you were in charge of things. What would  wise old  y o u  do to wake up the country to see the seriousness of the weaknesses in the Constitution? 

– Good question. And sufficiently hypothetical to avoid violating your no-politics  in the Tavern rule?

– We’ll see. Let’s just say I’m not paying close enough attention for a while. 

– Okay. Let’s pin your hypothetical assumption down first — that I’d really be somehow in charge to get things done.

– That’s hyper hypothetical indeed, I agree. Hyperthetical. But why?

– Well, from what I can see, all the protesting and well-meaning commentary hasn’t been very helpful, so far. Are tings getting worse rather than better? So I think a very different tactic is needed. Actual demonstration, real action, perhaps even painful lessons. 

– Hmm. All right, we’ll put you in your hyperthetical charge. So what’s your first step? 

– It’s not a well-ordered step-by step sequence. Things done simultaneously. To be effective,  it needs distraction, confusion. But of course,  explaining it has to start somewhere, and go on in a sequence. Don’t confuse that with the actual process!

– Duly noted. 

– So one thing I’d do is to refuse to make any of the usual disclosures required by law: tax returns, financial holdings and such. That’ll keep a lot of people aggravated and busy with ‘investigations’ of various kinds. It would even let me make a lot of money while that is going on. And I’d not even hide that. Let people get jealous! Meanwhile, I’d stuff the courts and important government positions with people who will do what I ask them to do.  Anything. I’d keep firing and replacing them if they don’t. If there are complaints about that, invent details from their work that lets me call them traitors or criminal incompetents. 

– Hear that, Renfroe? So what will those people do?

– Good question. While I’m putting out silly controversies for the headlines every day, they must make as little noise and get as little attention as possible, while they are relaxing or eliminating a lot of regulations, things like environmental protection bureaucracy rules that hamper certain industries or reduce their profits. So most people won’t realize it until the consequences become obvious — that’ll take some time, right? Obviously, those industries will support my policies and campaigns promoting ‘economic growth’. So while all those personnel changes are represented as efforts to combat corruption, they actually raise a smokescreen for intensified, let’s call it facilitated merited compensation for activities and contributions to the mission. 

– Corruption, in other words. Won’t the media raise a ruckus about  that?  

– That’s a harsh and unfriendly word, we’d have to keep the media from using it. We reserve that for when we talk about the opposition. But yes, that’s the point. Now consider: every issue has ‘counterarguments’:  small aspects that can be exaggerated into threats to national security or economy, hyped up to get my base supporters firmly convinced that I’m saving the country from disaster or evil conspiracies. But eventually seen as what they are. 

– You seem quite optimistic about that?  

– Yes, because the rising inequality and injustice of it will become too obvious. But until then, I’d use those issues to paint the media as part of the evil conspiracies, as traitors, tools of unpatriotic groups or parties that only seek power. Which of course greatly increases my power; especially if I can get the owners of the media to keep their journalists on a short leash. There are ways to get that done, you know. Not by me: by others. I’d have a lot of help doing that. 

– Let me guess: the powers that have bought the media are holding the leash.  

– You’re catching on. That’s one part the Constitution doesn’t deal with well:  it didn’t anticipate that economic powers could buy both government and the media. I’d let them run with that, while getting things in place for a real power grab. I don’t even offer reasons for those things, just do them. Like killing off the post office to make voting by mail impossible: it’s just necessary to keep those extreme wing elements from taking over the country, you understand. 

– You mean the extreme left wing guys? 

– Let wing, right wing: did it never occur to you that right or left depends on where you’re looking from? See, when I talk to the Senate, the so-called left wing folks are sitting to my right, and I accuse them of many of the things that the right wing folks to my left are actually doing…

– I guess you’d have such a devious a game plan for the police and law enforcement too?

– Of course, glad you mention it. But those levers of power enhancement are already well in place and only need to be further cultivated to become fully aligned with my intentions. Look at the very term ‘law enforcement’! What does it tell you?

– Of course, there has to be a way to enforce the laws. 

– Yes. Everybody accepts the notion that ensuring that laws are upheld and violation must be prosecuted and penalized, and that it requires force. Greater power and force than any would-be lawbreaker, of course. Naturally. By definition. 

– You can’t argue with that. 

– See? That kind of lack of imagination would make it easy for me. But equally inevitably, it creates escalation. For example: if you ease the hurdles for everybody — including organized and disorganized crime — to get access to more powerful weapons, doesn’t it stand to reason that the law enforcement agencies  m u s t  be equipped with even more powerful equipment?  That’s the box people can’t think themselves out of.  So I’ll provide that, and encourage them. Then, criminals as well as the second-amendment militias counter that with more effective gadgets. So give the police military-type weaponry. It needs to get used up, anyway, to maintain the economic growth of the industries producing new stuff, see?  I’ll use every little confrontation or mis-step to increase the perceived need for more  power, even to bend the rules if needed. Until they become so powerful — but loyal to me — that there’s no viable opposition left that could threaten my power. And no bars to the temptations of abusing the power. That’s a natural law, if history tells us anything. 

– You don’t think all the folks who insist on their second amendment rights to have and carry weapons are going to start trouble about that? 

– Are you kidding? Tell them it’s their right, their power!  It’s even a bit ironic, isn’t it? Their very support is what ‘forces’ me to create those superior law enforcement and military forces, that ultimately will make their pathetic excuse ‘to protect them against the government’ the contradictory illusion it is. Subterfuge for selling more guns. To finally become so obvious it can’t be sustained. Admit it: people just like to shoot guns.  And, at least some folks like to kill with them. Some of them  like violence, destruction.  Killing. So I encourage the emergence of different factions and groups — but turning them against each other, rather than the government — while assuring all of them that the government will protect  t h e i r  particular groups. 

– Fascinatingly devious, I admit. 

– Yes. The gun issue is just one of the best examples of how the Constitution can be interpreted in so many different ways as to make all kinds of devious machinations possible and apparently ‘legal’, while causing considerable trouble. There are so many different areas — of immoral enrichment, corruption, outright crimes, to break laws and constitutional provisions that one can get away with;  the point is to use all those ‘loopholes’ to make the abuse obvious.

– Hmm. I don’t know. You really think that making all that so obvious will, as you say, make the people ‘wake up’ and take action? It actually scares me to think about what those actions might be. Getting a feeling it actually might be too late already, to avoid either chaotic unrest, or decline into, well —

– Don’t say it, Renfroe: It would get too seriously political: Vodçek is already breathing heavily, ready to cut us off.  

– Don’t tempt me, my friend. You’re getting close. Hmm. Why does all that somehow does sound eerily familiar? Can you at least tell us what remedies you have in mind for fixing the flaws in the Constitution that allows all that?

–  That’s just it: there’s not enough thinking going on about that. That’s what we need to get started! And shouldn’t you all be grateful for my opening your eyes about it? 

– Ah. Yes, I can see why you’d insist on gratefulness and loyalty. 

– And that’s why I’d need four more years, don’t you see? 

– Good grief. You’re making my head spin. 

– Don’t say it, Vodçek:  revolve? 

– Okay, that’s it. You’re cut off. 

–o–

EVALUATION IN THE PLANNING DISCOURSE – SUMMARY

An effort to clarify the role of deliberative evaluation in the planning and policy-making process. Thorbjoern Mann, May 2020.

INSIGHTS / IMPROVEMENT SUGGESTIONS: CONCLUSIONS?

The two dozen blogposts over past few months try to explore the many facets of deliberative evaluation as it relates to the planning discourse. Necessarily, the issue-by-issue treatment does not do justice to all the connections and relationships between them. Many questions that call for more exploration, testing and research were raised, but of course not resolved. Faced with public planning tasks today, we always have to make decisions based ‘on the best of our current incomplete knowledge’, so it seems appropriate to try to summarize that current state of knowledge. What can be learned from this exploration? The following notes highlight a few insights for discussion.

No ‘universal’ common approach

The first answer to this question may sound disappointing: There are so many different attitudes, perspectives, situations and tasks involved in planning that any suggestion of a ‘standard’ common approach or procedure would be rather inadequate to the specific conditions of each case, in one way or another. Therefore, it would be pointless to try to make general recommendations about details for specific approaches. They would be of the kind of ‘if approach or technique X is used, it should be done with specific details x1,x2, etc.” Those recommendations should be included in the specifications for individual techniques in the tool kit. The only meaningful ‘general’ rule should be to coordinate those agreements with tools used in other phases of a project, for the sake of consistency and avoiding confusion due to too many different jargon terms and rules.

Critical issues

In the course of the discussion, the initial set of issues calling for discussion had to be revised. Some questions emerged as more controversial and difficult to reconcile than others. They involve what seem to be fundamental theoretical objections to systematic ‘methods’ of evaluation, or simply efforts to sidestep the question since it is seen as unnecessary cumbersome addition to planning project. The first of these positions rests on the confidence that a valid theory applied to the process of generating planning or policy proposals will make evaluative scrutiny unnecessary; the second on belief in such concepts as ‘wisdom of crowds’, or the superior ability of intuition — of policy developers, of participants in the discourse, or of ‘leaders’ making the decision.

A related question arises from the practice of a number of ‘management consulting’ approaches that rely on facilitator-guided small group events aiming at consensus or consent decisions or recommendations for single solutions generated by a theory (such as the Pattern Language) or orchestrated discussion. Such groups usually consist (in the case of organizations contracting with an outside consultant firm) of selected company employees with special skills or detailed knowledge of the problems to be remedies. The ‘decisions’ reached then become recommendations to the organization’s management. If such approaches are suggested for larger public projects, they would take the form of ‘expert’ panels informed of the public’s concerns through surveys or interviews but reaching their recommendations in the small group discussions but usually not involving any formal systematic evaluation procedure. To allow for a greater degree of public participation, it would become necessary to construct a hierarchical structure of small face-to-face group ‘circles’ (to adopt the vocabulary of one such approach. Each higher hierarchy level of circles consists of representatives of the lower circles, using the same approach or facilitating mode to process the results of the lower circles into recommendations for the respectively next higher level. This problem constitutes one of several strong arguments for an ‘asynchronous’ online but ‘flatter organization of the discourse, which is precisely the aim of the overall ‘public planning discourse support platform’ for which new forms of discourse orchestration and decision-making are needed.

The map of critical issues in the diagram resulting from these insights had to be revised, showing the elements of evaluation on one side and the issues arising from different views about the role of evaluation in the planning process on the other.

Figure 1 — Issues and Controversies, Revised

Embedding a ‘toolbox’ of specific techniques in an overall framework

The needed systems of technological support of a general planning discourse platform or forum with wide ‘asynchronous’ public participation for larger projects will have to adopt some common assumptions, agreements, and vocabulary. Some such agreements are of course needed for any small or large project, whether based on F2F interactions or not. Any platform will imply some such agreements, and this poses a significant challenge to its design: to keep a delicate balance between those necessary agreements and the need to accommodate different views even about such initial provisions. One key lesson from the exploration is that there is a large variety of perspectives on which agreements would rest. The platform should not impose one such perspective but must remain flexible, open to the variety of views and preferences participants may bring to the table. It should focus on reaching common agreements for each project, as an integral project task, based on decisions by each project’s participants.

The overall framework must therefore be as simple and inviting to potential participants as possible. As people become more familiar with the platform, it can then offer guidance and opportunities for selecting special techniques and methods from a ‘tool kit’ collection techniques and tools to facilitate in-depth analysis and evaluation of the particular issues arising in different projects, as needed in the perception of participants. The choices should include the option of reaching recommendations and decisions without any explicit systematic deliberation. This, of course, raises questions about what would make decisions legitimate and compelling for the affected populations, and what responsibilities or ‘accountability’ provisions it would raise for the respective decision-makers. The idea of using the ‘currency’ of ‘discourse merit points’ to require decision-makers to pay for decisions begins to address this issue.

Figure 2 — A ‘basic’ (neutral’) planning process with evaluation as an optional ‘toolbox’ element

Procedural agreements and process

The need for flexibility can be accommodated with the provisions for the procedures to be followed to reach a decision. The diagram below shows one example of a basic framework, drawn from the tradition of parliamentary procedure that will be familiar to most people in countries with parliamentary-type governance. The key feature is the ‘Next step?’ motion that can be raised at appropriate times during the discourse, that can call for a decision, etc. but also for the implementation of a ‘special technique’ for more thorough analysis.

Translation services language-language and disciplinary jargon to conversational language

Many problems facing humanity today are ‘international or even ‘global’, with affected parties living in areas governed by many different government entities, speaking different languages. Thus, a general platform for the treatment of such projects must provide adequate translation services between different natural languages, as a matter of course. But since the discourse will draw on scientific and professional knowledge from many disciplines (and consulting firms), it will also need ‘translation from the ‘discipline jargon’ of the contributing experts.

The argument against ‘argumentation’ as unnecessarily ‘argumentative’ and adversarial

The investigation was largely motivated by the initial question of how to evaluate the merit of arguments in what Rittel called the ‘Argumentative Model of Planning’. The objections against the very word ‘argument’ can of course be dismissed as misunderstanding the meaning of the term: It is not ‘fighting word’ implying a basically adversary attitude but an offer to reasoning, — a reason –showing how a position either for or against a proposal will ‘follow from’ or can be supported by premises that the audience already accepts or will come to accept upon being show further evidence.

The existence of such misunderstanding must be acknowledged as a potentially significant and destructive factor in the planning process. I have suggested to clarify the distinction with a different abel such as ‘quarrgument’ for the kind of exchanges leading to adversarial-only verbal or physical ‘quarrels’. But a better option is perhaps to avoid the term entirely, with a provision to immediately replace an argument (if one is entered into a discourse) with the questions about the premises used. Instead of the ‘argument’ version of an entry like:

“Plan A will cause effect B, given conditions C,

B is desirable, and

C will be present”

(which may be ‘stored for reference in the ‘Verbatim’ record of the platform), the displays for the assessment will show the questions:

– Will A cause B, given conditions C)?

– Should effect B be aimed for? and

– Will conditions C be present?

The aggregation into argument plausibility, argument weight, and plan plausibility follow the same steps as those shown in the section of planning argument evaluation but skip the display of arguments plausibility and weight, to hide the controversial term.

The ‘subjective judgment versus objective fact and measurement’ controversy

The discussion of evaluation here cannot offer a ‘resolution’ of the controversy whether design and planning decisions should be based on subjective (intuitive) judgments or objective (‘rational] measurement-based ‘facts’, nor how to distinguish between these kinds of judgments. The recommendation is — for the time being and for the sake of effective process in given practical situations — to leave the controversy aside. Instead, whenever there arises a situation in which a decision-maker is asked to or claims to make decisions ‘on behalf’ of other affected parties — to call for the mutual explanation of the respective bases of judgment: explanation to the satisfaction of the other party, not to some theoretical standard or expert opinion. This may shift the issue to the realms of general research, education or public information. It may be in need of research and clarification in those domains, — but cannot be settled separately in the area of planning.

Claims of validity of planning and decision-making methods

The investigation of evaluation in the planning process was motivated by a sense that the planning decision-making process is in need of improvement (especially with respect to evaluation) and a sense that some improvement is possible. This should not be taken as a claim of being a ‘more perfect’ approach. Rather, the insights from the review suggest that such claims would be pretentious and inadvisable. As just one example, consider the expectation that a planning decision should be based on ‘due consideration’ (and thorough evaluation) of ‘all the pros and cons’ about a planning proposal, as a leader may solemnly promise. It may seem plausible at first sight, but it was seen that it is difficult if not impossible to be certain that ‘all’ those arguments — all potential evaluation aspects — have been or even can be identified. From a systems modeling perspective, the question of the proper (acceptance) of the boundary of the system at hand, is a matter of the system modeler’s judgment more than the system’s ‘true’ properties. The pressure to justify model assumptions with data leads to a preoccupation with past data and measurable variables, over future unknown possibilities, new research knowledge and subjective motivations.

Argumentation as practiced in ‘parliamentary’ discourse predominantly deals with ‘qualitative’ effects: an argument that ‘plan x will achieve a precise quantitative outcome y of variable v in a specific time frame t ‘ is not nearly as plausible as the general but vague qualitative version that ‘Plan x will, in time, improve things with respect to v’. And the qualification of planning arguments ‘given circumstances or conditions C’, if taken seriously, will call for an interminable systems analysis of the arguments’s complex context. Realization of such interminable complexity will quickly nudge participants to end more thorough scrutiny of these questions: understandable and perhaps even defensible, but not justifying claims of ‘perfect’ method. But should such questions arise — and they arguably should sometimes be encouraged — systems modeling and data analysis, diagrams and visual mapping can enhance participants’ understanding, and should be offered as needed in the discourse. By the same token: the possibility of systematic assessment e.g. or arguments will necessitate weeding out repetitive entries in displays and worksheets to the discourse, which can improve overview and understanding.

A further warning to avoid ‘obvious’ confidence in premature judgments must be seen in the many different forms of aggregating both personal and group judgments into decision guides or indicators — they should not even be called and misused as ‘decision criteria’.

Requirements for acceptance: training, education

Even with the best efforts for making the basic framework as simple and understandable to lay participants as possible, the variety of possible attitudes, expectations, assumptions and corresponding techniques and tools raises the question of accessibility for as many segments of communities as may be affected by planning projects and the problems they aim to address. How can the average person comfortably participate in the planning discourse if the concepts, language, tools and needed procedural agreements are unfamiliar and thus confusing? Even this ‘average’ expression is ‘wrong’: don’t crises and emergencies tend to affect and hurt poorer, less educated people more than even the ‘average’ members of the community? But it is the information of those people that is needed to properly address their concerns.

Traditionally, a main task of public education is to prepare citizens for the planning and political discourse. It is not likely that the needed understanding and skills required for even basic participation in the kind of online asynchronous planning and policy-making process sketched out in the proposed planning discourse platform and its provisions for evaluation are offered by current education systems. And the prospect of getting the bureaucracies of all the world’s education systems, whether public or private, to include this material in its curricula itself looks like a planning project of unprecedented magnitude and complexity. So it seems that the task of education and training all potential users as well as the needed staff for the platform calls for radically new approaches. Would an online ‘planning game’, based on a simple version of the process, run on cellphones that are increasingly available even in poor communities be a better step towards this task? (This idea was tentatively explored in a paper on Academia.edu). The challenge of education and training itself might be the first project serving as the necessary test case and experiment, fueled and funded by not much more than all the consultant’s competitive desire to have their approach included in the ‘tool kit’ of a simple common overall platform and process.

–o–

The Missing Concern: It’s About Power, Systems Thinkers!

From the Fog Island Tavern

……………………………………………….Discourse Bog-Hubert Thinking (of some kind)

– Say, Vodçek: What is Bog-Hubert doodling over there? So engrossed in his bubbles… Not even noticing his coffee getting cold?

– Yes, Sophie, I’ve been wondering too. He does get intense trying to think sometimes. Must be some bug Abbé Boulah put in his ear: they had a long discussion here about something a while ago. Did you hear what it was about, Dexter? Sitting closer to them, weren’t you?

– Yes, but I didn’t understand what it was about. Sounded like some new economic or governance system they are trying out over on the Rigatopia rig. Made me curious all right, but I wanted to wait to ask them to explain until they’d worked it out. But then Abbé Boulah had to go somewhere, left Bog-Hubert stewing in his bubble network, lost in his system loops. So I guess it’s not fully cooked yet, what he’s stewing over.

………………………………………………………………………….Throwing Out the Old System?

– Systems, huh? About government? It’s about time we got some systems thinking into that.

– Come on, Vodçek: Isn’t the government the very system that’s gotten so rotten it really should be replaced?

– Why Sophie, I am shocked. Have you gotten into the throw-out-the system crowd too?

– I don’t know about that, Vodçek. I just hear so much talk about ‘new system’ this, ‘new system’ that, — if the system is so bad, why do we need more ‘systems thinking’ to fix it?

– So you are into the new ‘awareness’, the holism, Gaia, the WE not ME movements? Don’t they all want to throw out the current ‘system’? Even the folks who are ranting against BIG Government, even as they are running like crazy to get to run it?

– Don’t throw all that into the same trash bin, Vodçek. There are differences: ‘throwing out’ is one thing, but what some of those people are talking about is ‘system transformation’. And I don’t think you’ll deny that there are some things that are very wrong in the current ‘system’ or whatever you want to call it?

– Okay, should we try to sort this out? Maybe professor Balthus — just coming in there — can help? Good morning, professor.

– Good morning. Help out with what? If you can get me some coffee, Vodçek, and explain your conundrum, I’ll try.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………..Conundrum?

– Well, here’s your coffee. Now, I don’t know if it qualifies as conundrum. It is a little strange. We are seeing Bog-Hubert over there, uncharacteristically oblivious to anything else around him, working on some diagram. We suspect it’s about a system of some kind — he’s already used up four of my napkins. And while we were speculating about what it might be, the unsavory issue came up about all those movements that are calling for systems change, new systems, awareness and throwing out the old system etc. Did I state that to your satisfaction, Sophie? Dexter?

– You left out ‘system transformation’, Vodçek.

– Sorry about that. Okay, Transformation, too.

– I see. No, wait: I don’t see. What’s the problem?

…………………………………………………………………………………………Problem Embryonics

– Ahh yes, the problem. There seems to be an embryonic but, I suspect, fundamental disagreement: Calls for more ‘systems thinking’ clashing ominously with calls for throwing out the system, and all the thinking associated with it. Getting close to a quarrgument.

– Oh brother. A systembryonic quarrgument? Calls for more coffee, make sure I’m really awake yet. Well, I agree that ‘the system’ they are complaining about has some, let’s say, inherent problems. But I confess that I have gotten tired, in my old days, of all those calls for throwing out the system, in whatever new ideological or spiritual getup or camouflage?

– Why is that?

……………………………………………….’System Transformation’ — Or ‘Regime Change?

– Oh: Take a look at history. Some older and recent experiences with system overthrow, for example. Revolutions. Some of those were motivated by ‘systems overthrow’ of the ‘new system’ kind. Others were acclaimed, if not secretly or openly supported, by folks who would arguably be considered by the former as representing the ‘old system’ — as just a different system. They tended to call it ‘regime change’ — even if the ‘transformation’ turned out just as revoltingly bloody and disgusting as the revolutions of the first kind. So is it necessary to take sides, to recognize that in too many cases the outcome was strikingly similar?

– What do you mean?

– Well, look at what happened! Yes, they got rid of some nasty people. Tyrants, dictators. Installed ‘democracy’, perhaps, or some regime based on religion. With new leaders, the heroes of the revolution? Or relics from some still earlier old regime two or more revolutions back, bringing back the oh so good old days? Either way: a few years later: they look suspiciously like just another oligarchy or dictatorship. And the calls for throwing out the rascals starts all over. Do we ever learn?

– Huh.

……………………………………………………………………………………..What Are We Missing?

– So what’s the lesson there? What are we missing?

– Good question, Sophie. And I don’t see it being asked — it’s asking what’s missing from both, from all the old and new systems, what’s the common flaw?

– Why is that, professor?

– If I knew the right answer to that, would I be sitting here letting my coffee get cold? Even to that one, there are several hypotheses, theories. You have one, Vodçek? Or you, Commissioner? I see you both twitching.

– Yes. Isn’t it obvious? The people where we tried to help getting democracy, they’re just not ready for it. They need strong leaders, but they don’t know how to elect the right ones.

– Ah, you mean US?

– No domestic politicking here, folks, or I put diuretics in your coffee and send you off into the poison ivy brambles outside to pee.

– Trying for a strongman stature, are you, Vodçek? Getting with those trends?

– Seriously, guys: is this a matter for bad jokes?

– Okay, Sophie: what’s y o u r theory? Spiritual awakening? Prayer back into the schools? Or closing public schools and leave education to the churches, synagogues, mosques? Pagan full moon dances in the steaming jungles of North Florida?

– That’s it, Vodçek: You a r e using the strong man tactic to scare us out of our wits!

– Well, professor: I assume you’re going suggest a stronger role of science in governance, aren’t you?

………………………………………………………………………………..Detour: Science in Charge?

– Wouldn’t hurt, but if you expect me to argue for scientists to trun government, to become the great leaders, no. No philosopher-kings either, much as I hate to get into quarrels with Plato fans.

– Didn’t we discuss this issue some time ago here, about how designers, planners, and I assume government leaders should take a lesson from that science rule about hypothesis-testing?

– You mean Abbé Boulah’s adaptation of Popper’s refutation rule?

– Yeah, that’s the one — let’s ask Bog-Hubert about that, he knows Abbé Boulah better. Bog-Hubert: can you take a break from your doodling?

– Yes, yes, Sophie, I heard that, you guys were starting to raise your voices. What Popper said was something like this:

“We are entitled to tentatively accept a scientific hypothesis

(he means some speculation about how the world works)

to the extent we have done our very best to test it —

which means to find evidence — to show that it is wrong, —

and it has survived all those tests.”

Wasn’t that it, professor?

– As far as I remember, yes.

– So even in science, it’s still tentative, no certainty?

– Right, Sophie. Halfway. Maybe we can be certain that when we observe a black swan, the hypothesis that swans are white is wrong?

– Okay. But why ‘halfway’?

……………………………………………………..Abbé Boulah’s Adaptation of Popper’s Rule

– Look at the mantra: It says “tentatively accept” — and “to the extent” etc. Leaving the warning that we might have done some more rigorous testing, tried out some better hypotheses, to become more confident. But never totally certain. Part of that is getting into details, in science, about how to frame hypotheses and how they fit into more general theories, about probability and so on. But it’s actually clearer when we look at Abbé Boulah’s adaptation of that rule to planning: We don’t have tests on the basis of observation and measurement in planning, because planning is all about the future which isn’t here yet. So it replaces ‘test‘ with ‘argument‘. It goes something like this:

“We can accept a planning proposal as tentatively plausible

(only) to the extent we have done our very best

to expose it to the most critical arguments against it, (the ‘cons’)

and it has survived all those arguments —

meaning that the cons have been shown to either be flawed

or outweighed by the pro arguments in its favor”

– I see, Bog-Hubert. The ‘halfway’ point you mentioned is that just because we have countered all the con argument against a plan, it isn’t a certain proof like the black swan. But there may be better proposals, or it may solve the wrong problem or be the wrong way of talking about it?

– Couldn’t have said it better myself. And don’t forget that different folks doing the ‘weighing’ — to outweigh the cons, as the rule suggests — may come to different results.

………………………………………………………..Back to the Issue: What Are We Missing?

– So getting back to our issue here, professor: Would one of the theories explaining why we keep making the same mistakes with governance systems, be that we don’t know how to argue well enough about plans, — in all governance systems? And about governance systems?

– That’s a good candidate. I’d say it’s part of the problem. But there are others, I’m sure you know: you mentioned ‘systems thinking’, and other approaches, many consultants’ brands of institutional change management. But do we have to go through all of those?

– Well… I guess, when you said you didn’t have the answer to our first question, you also meant that you didn’t have a better idea than all those approaches?

– Well, what I meant was that there isn’t one big flaw, one attitude, or return to some previous article of faith, that can explain everything. About that, your systems folks are right, there are many forces in the system that interact in ways that we can’t say we fully understand, but they are valiantly trying to get that understanding.

……………………………………………………………………………….Understanding the System?But Acknowledging that We Don’t Know What the ‘Next System’ Should Be

– That’s what we have been saying all along — I mean Abbe Boulah and his buddy at the university. And if we acknowledge that: we see all the interesting theories and proposals and initiatives out there that people are putting out and pushing: we have to appreciate all those efforts, even if we suspect that some of them are not going to work out — but the thing is, we don’t know. We don’t know, and we don’t agreeon what the ‘Next System’ should look like. So the interim conclusion is that we should not only let them all pursue those diverse efforts. Even support them — on some conditions, of course.

– What are those conditions — I mean if you were in a position to impose conditions, which I’m not sure I’d be comfortable with?

– The conditions are simple: Don’t try to overthrow the ‘whole’ current system by violent or coercive means; and don’t get in the way of other experiments, even if you disagree with them. This also meas not to hurt or persecute people who don’t agree with you. That will probably require that the experiments will be small, local, tolerant of each other.

– Difficult enough to make that work smoothly…

– I agree. But there are two main arguments for that strategy: First, that there are so many different geographical, climatical, cultural and economic conditions that make it plausible to try out many different experiments according to those conditions. That itself might improve humanity’s resilience to emergencies and crises, some of which we can predict and some we can’t.

– Hmm. Makes some sense, though it’s not exactly a shining, promising vision to get an enthusiastic movement going. But what’s the other reason?

– Yes. The other reason for encouraging many diverse, even contradictory experiments? Again: even if we think there will have to be one global, unified ‘system’ to get us through all those crises, we currently have to admit, again: that we don’t know and are very far from agreeing about what that system should be like.

– I see that, yes: Our previous record with grand systems of global aspirations hasn’t been that encouraging. More importantly: if we try to impose one such system, by coercion. force, revolution, propaganda, and other devious means, it will only lead to resistance and wars — wars being of course not only one of the very problems we have to try to avoid, but increasingly so devastating to both losers and victors, that no grand system will help us to recover from them.

……………………………………………..Sharing Experiences For Discussion, Evaluation

– Yes. So the third condition for supporting ‘alternative’ schemes is that they must share their experiences — both successes and failures and problems they run into — so that we — humanity as a whole — can learn what works and what doesn’t, and can eventually come to agreement about whether we can fashion a global system that everybody can agree with and support.

…………………………………………………..Negotiating Common Road Rule Agreements

– Or, if the outcome is that a global unified system is not the way to go, what fewer global agreements we will have to negotiate to keep a more diverse strategy alive and prospering. The common ‘rules of the road’ we’ve been talking about.

– That does sound more like a vision. Still not exactly one you’ll get people to want to fight for though?

…………………………………………………………………………. A Vision Worth Fighting For?

– You mean the folks that like to fight to beat or kill or humiliate other people, or take their stuff? Yes, that will be a problem: if that’s what it takes to make one group or other ‘great’ and successful. But isn’t that precisely one of the problems we are facing, that we’d like to remedy?

……………………………………………………………………..Needed: The Discourse Platform

– Hey, Bog-Hubert: I’d like to hear more about that Abbeboulistic vision, if that’s what it is. How, well, I don’t know how to put this — how would you make that work?

– Great question, Sophie. Yes, there are some provisions we need to talk about. And some new tools. It eventually gets to the one issue that has been strangely neglected in all the approaches we see. Let’s see. First, I think we can agree that there must a platform, a forum, where all the experiences can be brought in for information, discussion, and working out preliminary agreements. There are some papers that describe what such a platform might be like.

– Who’d organize such a platform? Would it be the UN or something like it?

– That’s a big question. Many people would be against that, because it would be not only organized along the lines of existing systems — nations — that they see as part of the problem, especially as this translates into the decision-making rules it uses. Voting, for example. Small nations, big nations, money, the way nations are increasingly influences by big transnational corporations and other entities. And because it looks suspiciously like the Big Brother World Government many people are afraid of.

– So it would have to be ‘impartial’ with respect to any competing governance systems? Tall order.

– Right, Vodçek. We talked about some of the principles that should govern the ‘Public Planning Discourse’ that this entity would support — like the idea that decisions should be more determined by the merit of contributions, arguments, the pros and cons, to the discourse, than by votes. The papers we talked about have suggestions for that, we think, that should be discussed. It would take some effort to get people to learn and understand how that works. What you said a while ago, Sophie, that we don’t know how to argue planning proposals well and make decisions accordingly. Work to do.

– So was that what you were doodling about over there, Bog-Hubert?

………………………………………………………………The Missing Aspect: Control of Power

– Not really. I think we are ready to bring those ideas into the discussion. No, what I talked about with Abbeboulah was the issue that’s missing in all those approaches and theories — the issue nobody is talking about other than in the traditional terms that are part of the problem…

– Well, what’s that big problem?

– The problem of power, of course. Power. And how to control it.

– Why is that a problem? I mean, yes it’s a fact of life, like hunger and greed and diseases: they happen, it’s a constant battle. But don’t we have adequate provisions in place, I mean in the US and most liberal, democratic modern constitutions, — the separation of powers, elections, term limits and so on? So yes, it’s a problem, but we just have to make sure the rules are followed, don’t we? I’m not making light of it, I just don’t see …

…………………………………………………………………Inadequate Current Power Controls

– I understand, professor. And from what I know about these things, I think that these governance designs are some of humanity’s greatest achievements. But what we are seeing is that they are not enough: they are just provisions for the government segment of societies. And they are being overrun by other forces: technology, the economic power of so-called private business — the trans-national corporations, as well as the national and global finance sector. And who controls the media.

– Huh. Are you talking about election financing? Yeah, I agree that it’s disgusting. But people are beginning to see through that aren’t they? There are some campaigns that are getting huge amounts of money from small individual voter contributions only, and some billionaires who are trying to buy elections with their massive advertising campaigns aren’t doing so well at all?

– It’s much more than that, I’m afraid. Just take the one phenomenon as an example: The lobbyists in the capital, — yeah, they can’t give congressmen and government officials big expensive gifts anymore. But what they are doing is to get close to the representatives and senator’ aides, help them write the proposed bills, where they take advantage of the old ‘turkey’ tradition that allows bill sponsors to add funding for special interest ‘turkey’ projects for their constituents in laws that are mainly, and titled, about something else entirely. So you get trillion-dollar bills about the fight to deal with epidemics that have 500 billions worth of provisions that help big corporations, and billions worth of special help for owners of private business airplanes in them — that even people who are against such practices can’t vote down because that would kill or delay the main bill the people desperately need. And the lobbyists promise those aides lucrative jobs in their companies after their term is over.

– Good grief.

– You can say that again… And the leaders and even representatives of such ‘democracies’ who are ‘helping’ other countries kick out their dictators are selling those countries systems that are even more vulnerable to such power abuses — because they want to make sure their own corporate sponsors will make some nice profits in those places. Of course, those forces find it much easier to deal with the new power holders in those countries than to deal with the unruly, ignorant masses, — and using their economic contributions to help the addictive force of power to turn them into … dictators.

…………………………….What Can Be Done About Power? And What Shouldn’t Be?

– So what do you think ought to be done about that?

– The first thing is to get people to think about the problem — to inform them about all the abuse, which is difficult if the media are controlled by forces behind the shenanigans.

– Well, that’s one thing. And some people are getting all worked up about it — agitating, organizing protest rallies, ‘occupying’ this institution or that, getting themselves arrested — I don’t really see that helping. And if you get a little pandemic running, that lets you order people to stay home and arrest them if they get together in groups of more than ten people — all very conveniently justifiable of course — I wouldn’t begin to argue with that — you’ve got things nicely under control.

– So again: what do you think should be done about it? You got to have some solutions to offer people? Some ideas? First steps?

……………………………………………………………………………………………….Some First Ideas

– Yes. Well, it so happens that in the proposals for the Public Planning Discourse that we talked about, there are some provisions that could be used to begin to diminish the role of money and power in politics and public planning. But it’s just one part of the issue, no general panacea, and certainly not something that can bring overnight change. Part of the purpose of the Planning Discourse is to support the development and discussion of new ideas, new solutions. Ignite the creativity of all segments of society, not just disrupt, destroy, marginalize, suppress. That idea of ‘disruptive creativity’ is a dangerous one, likely to backfire no matter how brilliant.

– That’s certainly different from all the movement campaigns that are flooding my social media platforms: they all are just asking for money to promote their ideas, to dominate the development, not really encourage or contribute new ideas or insights.

– You’re not alone in that perception, Sophie. But let’s hear more of those ideas, Bog-Hubert.

– Okay, Vodçek. First let me remind you of the two general rules Abbé Boulah keeps repeating, that applies to these ideas too:

………….No Sudden Overthrow: ‘Gradual Parallel’ Systems Implementation

The first one is: Any new solutions — even if they are design for ‘global’ unified systems or agreements — should not be introduced ‘overnight’, by force or coercion or surprise, but gradually, on a small scale, ‘parallel’ to the existing systems. The old ‘skunkworks’ idea of R&D companies are a good model for that. Or his ‘innovation zones’ proposal, to introduce new systems first in areas (geographical or other) that have been devastated by natural or man-made disasters — so that they will be perceived as disaster recovery aid rather that as deliberate efforts to displace the old traditions and thereby generating unnecessary opposition from folks depending on the relative stability of conditions for their own means of survival.

– I remember, we did discuss those a while ago here, didn’t we?

……………………………………………..’Collateral’ Aspects Of Discourse Improvements:

…………………………………………………………Merit Points for Discourse Contributions

– Good, so we don’t need to spend much time repeating the details on that: but keep in mind that the proposals should meet that rule as much as possible. The other recommendation is that new system provisions should try to serve many different purposes simultaneously, not just one. And if you remember our discussions about the ‘side-effects’ or ‘collateral benefits’ of the notion of ‘merit points’ for citizen contributions to the planning discourse, you’ll see that they are a good example of that kind of idea, — and they could contribute to new, different power controls.

– Would it be useful if you could give us a brief summary of that, Bog-Hubert?

– I’ll try. It started with the investigation of how pro and con arguments about plan proposals could be evaluated, so that decisions could be more visibly and transparently linked to that merit. So there was the technique of developing a measure of plausibility for such arguments, and for constructing a measure of plausibility support for plan proposals. This seemed necessary to get around the problem that for projects to deal with ‘wicked’ problems affecting people in many different governance entities, decision-making by ‘voting’ is no longer a good tool (if it ever was): How to decide who is entitled to vote, for example? And are voters in different legislative bodies equally seriously affected, even adequately informed about the implications of the plan, etc.?

– Would be nice if that could be made to work, yes. But there’s more, to that collateral fallout, you say?

– Yes, Dexter. To encourage citizens to contribute such arguments — but also other information, ideas, it seemed useful to offer contributors some rewards for doing that: ‘merit points’. But not just for any wild and unsupported claims, and endless repetition of the same stuff: only the ‘first’ entries of the same essential content would ‘count towards points. We think that would encourage people to get their contributions in as fast as possible. And the entries would be evaluated by the discourse community for plausibility and importance, significance: rewarding plausible claims with adequate supporting evidence positively and lies, mere speculation and flawed thinking negatively.

– I see. This would become a kind of ‘valuable player’ account for contributing citizens?

– Right. A ‘reputation’ record of meaningful contributions.

– Interesting. What would that be good for?

– Excellent question, Vodçek. For the kind of ‘currency’ in such an account to become meaningful, it must become ‘fungible’, that is, people must be able to use it. A first use would be, I think you’d agree, that this record might become part of a candidate’s election or appointment to public office. It would be an indication not only of citizen’s interest an willingness to engage in public affairs, but also of their quality of judgment. Reckless, unsupported claims or outright lies would be getting ‘negative’ ratings, so a devious busybody’s account of a lot of nonsense entries wouldn’t be as valuable.

– I see the potential value in that idea, Bog-Hubert. But this part of our discussion started out with your wild claim about power being the big problem, didn’t it? So now you are just saying it helps getting better people into official positions. Those would be positions with power, wouldn’t they? Aren’t the people in such positions just as susceptible to the temptations of power than they are now? So how does this help the power problem?

…………………………………………………………………………………….Merit points and power?

– Ah: now we are getting to the interesting parts. Perhaps we should first see if we can agree on some basics about power. It’s not just a kind of necessary evil, that we can’t do anything about, but a key human desire, perhaps even something like a ‘right’. Part of our basic ‘right’ to the pursuit of happiness? If we acknowledge that people ‘need’ not only basic life necessities like food and shelter, and the relative absence of threats to those, but also the freedom to that pursuit — power, empowerment — to ‘make a difference’ in their lives. We think that’s a fundamental right, don’t we? And that becomes a problem only when it gets in the way of other people’s right to pursue their different forms of life and happiness.

– But don’t we need to have people in some kinds of power positions in any form of organized society?

– Right. commissioner. ‘Power to the people’ also means the people’s power to appoint people to positions where they make decisions on behalf of the rest of us. So we can feel secure in our smaller different pursuits. I guess you are worried about the conflict between the ideas we just mentioned, about how the people’s assessment of the merit of discussions about plans and policies plans that should determine the decisions, and now the sudden admissions that we need people in power to make such decisions for us? As you should be.

– Yes, that’s a good way to put it.

– Okay. Would it help to make some crude distinctions about the kinds of decisions that we need in society? One kind is the orderly ‘running’ of things in society — mostly routine, ‘maintenance’ decisions, carrying out the detailed implementation of policies. And also what to do in case there are unprecedented emergencies, for which there are no policies yet, and no time to wait for the outcome of careful thorough discussions to agree on them. The other kind are the policy issues themselves: for those, we need the discourse and wide popular participation and assessment of the merit of the information people contribute.

– I’m not sure the distinction is always as clear as you make it sound? Somewhat fuzzy?

– I agree, professor. But is it sufficient to see that we need both: the captain of the ship to decide whether to pass the iceberg to starboard or port, the chief engineer make the engine deliver the needed power to safely steer past it and not get driven into the ice below the surface, the helmsman to carry out the captain’s order?

– I see. So the merit point accounts would help us decide whether we can trust the different kinds of chiefs to make their respective decisions expertly and responsibly. And you are saying that current elections aren’t doing that well enough?

– Or that even initially well-intentioned, competent people can be ‘corrupted’ ? Yes — by money, or the promised they had to make to entities financing their election campaigns, or by the addictive power of power.

– So how does that merit point system deal with that problem?

– Well, don’t you see? The merit point accounts now contain a new ‘currency’. And that can be used, just like we use money to pay for life’s necessities, as a matter of course, to ‘pay‘ for the privilege of making important decisions. The more important, the more you’ll have to ‘pay’. And doing that, as a kind of ‘investment’ in your decisions, you’ll end up using up your credits. We must link the use of the power command buttons to the merit point account: no more credits in your account, no power for the button.

– Well. As the Norwegian Bachelor Farmers in Minnesota would say: That’s certainly ‘different‘.

– What do you know about Bachelor Minnesota Farmers, Sophie?

– Just listening to Garrison Keillor in my younger days…But what about necessary decisions that need to be made, even by a captain who’s used up his credit, or who’s called on to make decisions for which his account doesn’t have enough points in it?

………………………………………………………….Does ‘Accountability’ Require Accounts?

– Well, he may have supporters, won’t he? People who have accounts with some credits in them: can’t they transfer some of their credits to their great leader, to ’empower’ him or her to make those big decisions. Which now makes them ‘accountable’ too: the fancy talk about ‘accountability’ is really meaningless without there being an account that can be emptied out if you invest your hard-earned reputation in the wrong leaders or the wrong decisions you’ll empower them to make?

– Sounds better than just money, where we don’t know whether it was stole or ‘hard-earned’. I suppose we should be able to specify what kinds of decisions we are endorsing with our support points?

……………………………………………………….Implementation on a ‘Skunkworks’ Basis?

– Good idea. Well, the adoption of such a system would certainly be a topic for a wider discourse in a larger platform that our little gang of ‘taverniers de la table ronde’ here. But do you see how it could be started out as a ‘parallel’ system — perhaps as something the polling industry could take on as a ‘skunkworks’ project? Small, local, experimental, to see how it works?

– Careful: You’re cruising for a permanent labeling as a ‘merit point skunk’, my friend…

– By people who don’t have anything better to contribute, that would be a danger we’d have to live with. Until their current systems start exuding even stronger odors.

– Aren’t we there yet? So your doodling over there, that was about how to sneak such a system into the larger society, Bog-Hubert?

– Yeah. Well, it needs some more work, doesn’t show all the system parts. Aren’t there any systems thinking folks around that could help with that, Dexter?

– I can’t say I’m aware of any, off the cuff…

– Yes! Awareness! That’s it! That’s what we need! Right, Vodçek?

– Who said that? I’ll have to consider emergency power decisions…

Eerily erring electioneering?

In the Fog Island Tavern on a dreary day in February:

– You look worried, Bog-Hubert: What’s bugging you today?
– Oh boy. I never thought I’d see Abbé Boulah getting worked up over politics, but let me tell you, Vodçek: this election is getting to him.
– Really? I thought he’d written off this whole voting business long ago, as a totally misguided crutch to bring any political or planning discourse to a meaningful decision?
– Yeah, he keeps working on his schemes to improve that. But you should have heard him this morning — you’d think he’s still training hard for his old pet project to get endurance cussing accepted as a new Olympic discipline —
– So what is it that’s getting riled up on this one now?
– Well, I think he’s mainly disappointed in the candidates’ apparent inability to learn from past mistakes, and to focus on what’s really important. For example, this business about starting to discredit the current front runner, because he’s too, shall we say, unorthodox for the party establishment.
– What’s wrong with that? It’s politics, isn’t it?
– Fulminating stinkbomb-bundles and moccasin-mouth-ridden swamp-weed kudzu tangles: you too, now?
– Oh Bog-Hubert: excellent — you’re shooting for a medal in that sport too?
– By all the overgrown rusty Dodge truck skeletons in my cousin’s front yard: Don’t you, don’t they get it?
– Get what? it’s BAU politics. So, care to explain?
– Well, isn’t it obvious: Rather than tearing each other apart, shouldn’t they try to figure out what it is that makes the frontrunner’s — and the opposition’s message more appealing to those voters they want to convince to vote for them, and come up with a b e t t e r message, a more appealing and convincing vision?? Because that strategy is bound to come back and kick’em in the youknowwhat…
– Hmm. I see what you mean, by Abbe Boulah’s drooping mustache! And It’s giving the opposition free stinkbombs to launch at whoever ends up being the nominee…
– Yeah. And not only that: What if part of the problem is precisely that old habit of the old swamp establishment — of both parties — that those disgruntled voters are getting tired of? And that’s the rusty musket the establishment keeps shooting itself in the foot with?
– I can see why this upsets our friend. The futility of the hope that they’ll ever learn, I mean. Let’s try to get him back to work on those better ways he’s working on…
– I’ll drink to that. Do they make a decent grappa from Sonoma grapes?

— o —

EVALUATION IN THE PLANNING DISCOURSE — TARGET AUDIENCE

An effort to clarify the role of deliberative evaluation in the planning and policy-making process.  Thorbjørn Mann,  February 2020

TARGET AUDIENCE


Audience and Distribution: Overview

The target audience for the results of the effort to evaluate the role of evaluation in the planning discourse is admittedly immodestly diverse. While it may be of interest to many participants in the social media groups currently discussing related issues who will be consultants, offering services and tools planning, problem-solving‘ and ‘change management’ to corporate and institutional clients, the focus here will be on public planning, at all levels from small, local communities to national and international and ultimately global challenges. Thus, the issues concern any officials as well as the public involved in planning. But it is especially at the global level of challenges and crises that transcend the boundaries of traditional institutions, that traditional decision-making modes and habits break down or become inapplicable, generating calls for new ideas, approaches and tools. Increased public participation is a common demand.

The planning discourse at all levels will have to include not just traditional planning experts, decision-makers in all institutions faced with the need for collective action, but also the public. New emerging IT tools and procedures must also be applied to the evaluation facet of planning engaging all potentially affected parties, and leadership as well as the public will have to be involved and become familiar and competent with their use. This will call for appropriate means for generating that familiarity: information, education.

Obviously, at present, whatever discussion and presentation tools are chosen for this exploration of evaluation in public planning discourse, they will not be adequate for informing and achieving the aim of developing definitive answers, not even carrying out an effective discussion. It must be seen as just a first step in a more comprehensive strategy. To the extent that meaningful results emerge from this discussion, the issue of how to bring the ideas to a wider audience for general adoption will become part of the agenda. It should include education at all levels, down to general education for all citizens, not only higher levels. Thus, the hope is to reach planners and decision-makers for general education.

The audience that can be reached via such vehicles as this blog, selected social media, and perhaps a book, will be people who have given these issues some thoughts already, that is: ‘experts‘. So any discussion it will incite, will likely involve discipline ‘jargon’ of several kinds. But in view of a desired larger audience, the language should remain as close to conversational as possible and avoid ‘jargon’ too unfamiliar to non-experts. Many valuable research results and ideas are expressed in academic, ‘scientific’, or technical terms that are likely to exclude parties from the discussion that should be invited and included.

Given the wide range of people and institutions involved with planning, the question of ‘target audience’ may be inadequate or incomplete: it should be expanded to look at the best ways for distributing these suggestions. Besides traditional forms of distribution such as books, textbooks, manuals, new forms or media of familiarizing potential users may have to be developed; for example, online games simulating planning projects using new ideas and methods. This aspect of the project is especially in need of ideas and comments.

–o–

EVALUATION IN PLANNING DISCOURSE: DECISION CRITERIA

Thorbjørn Mann, January 2020

DECISION CRITERIA

The term ‘Decision criteria‘ needs explanation, so as to not be confused with the ‘evaluation criteria‘ used for the task of explaining one’s subjective ‘goodness (or ‘quality’ ) judgment about a plan or object by showing how it relates to an ‘objective’ criterion or performance measure (in section /post …) The criteria that actually determine or guide decision may be very different from those ‘goodness’ evaluation criteria — much as the expectation of the entire effort here is to get decisions that are more based on the merit of discourse contributions that clarify ‘goodness.

For discourse aiming at actual actions to achieve changes in the real world we inhabit: when discussion stops after all aspects etc. have been assessed and individual quality judgment scores have been aggregated into individual overall scores and into group statistics about the distribution of those individual scores, a decision or recommendation has to be made. The question then arises: what should guide that decision? The aim of “reaching decisions based on the merit of discourse contributions” can be understood in many different ways, of which actual ‘group statistics’ are only one — not only because there are several such statistical indicators. (It is advisable to not use the term ‘group judgment‘ for this: the group or set of participants may make a collective decision, but there may be several factions within the group for which any single statistic may not be representative; and the most familiar decision criterion in use is the ratio of votes for or against a plan proposal — which may have little if any relation to the group members’ judgments about the plan’s quality.)

The following is an attempt to survey the range of different group decision criteria of guiding indicators that are used in practice, in part to show why the planning discourse for projects that affect many different governance entities (and, finally, decisions of ‘global’ nature) are calling for different decision guides than the familiar tools such as majority voting.

A first distinction must be made between decision guides we may call ‘plan quality’– based, and those that are more concerned with discourse process.

Examples of plan quality-based indicators are of course the different indicators derived from the quality-based evaluation scores:
–  Averaged scores of all ‘Quality’ or ‘Plausibility’ (or combined) judgment scores of participating members;
–  ‘Weighted average’ scores (where the manner of weighting becoming another controversial issue: degree of ‘affectedness’ of different parties? number of people represented by participating group representatives? number of stock certificates held by stock holders?…)
–  As the extreme form of ‘weighting’ participant ’judgments: the ‘leader’s judgment;
–  The judgment of ‘worst-off’ participants or represented groups (the ‘Max-min’ criterion for a set of alternatives);
–  The Benefit-Cost Ratio;
–  The criterion of having met all ‘regulation rules’ — which usually are just ‘minimal’ expectation considerations (‘to get the permit’) or thresholds of performance, such as ‘coming in under the budget’;
–  Successive elimination of alternatives that show specific weaknesses for certain aspects, such that the remaining alternative will become the recommended decision. A related criterion applied during the plan development would be the successive reduction of the ‘solution space’ until there is only one remaining solution with ‘no alternative’ remaining.

Given the burdensome complexity of more systematic evaluation procedures, many process-based’ criteria are preferred in practice:

– Majority voting; in various forms, with the extreme being ‘consensus’ — i. e. 100% approval;
– ‘Consent’ — understood less as approval but acceptance with reservations either not voiced or not convincing a majority. (Sometimes only achieved / invoked in live meetings by determinations such as ‘time’s up’ or ‘no more objections to the one proposed motion).
– ‘Depth and breadth’ of the discussion (but without assessment of the validity or merit of the contributions making up the breath or depth);
– ‘All parties having been heard / given a chance to voice their concerns;
– Agreed-upon (or institutionally mandated) procedures and presentation requirements having been followed, legitimating approval, or violated, leading to rejection e.g. of competing alternatives; (‘Handed in late’ means ‘failed assignment…’)

Of course, combinations of these criteria are possible. Does the variety of possible resulting decision criteria emphasize the need for more explicitly and carefully agreements: establishing clear, agreed-upon procedural rules at the outset of the process? And for many projects, there is a need for better decision criteria. A main reason for this is that in many important projects affecting populations beyond traditional governance boundaries (e.g. countries) traditional decision determinants such as voting become inapplicable not only because votes may be based on inadequate information and understanding of the problem, but simply because the number of people having ‘voting right’ becomes indeterminate.

A few main issues or practical concerns can be seen that guide the selection of decision criteria: The principle of ‘coverage’ of ‘all aspects that should be given due consideration’ on the one hand, with the desire for simplicity, speed and clarity on the other. The first is aligned with either trust or demonstration (‘proof’ ) of fair coverage: ‘accountability’; the second with expediency. Given the complexity of ‘thorough’ coverage of ‘all’ aspects, explored in previous segments, it should be obvious that full adherence to this principle would call for a decision criterion based on the fully explained (i.e. completed evaluation worksheet results of all parties affected by the project in any way, properly aggregated into an overall statistic accepted by all.

This is clearly not only impossible to define but practically impossible to apply — and equally clearly situated at the opposite end of an ‘expediency’ (speed, simple to understand and apply) scale. These considerations also show why there is a plausible tendency to use ‘procedural compliance criteria‘ to lend the appearance of legitimacy to decisions: ‘All parties have been given the chance to speak up; now time’s up and some decision must be made (whether it meets all parties’ concerns or not.)

It seems to follow that some compromise or ‘approximation’ solution will have to be agreed upon for each case, as opposed to proceed without such agreements, relying on standard assumptions of ‘usual’ procedures, that later lead to procedural quarrels.

For example, one conceivable ‘approximation’ version might be to arrange for a thorough discussion with all affected parties being encouraged to voice and explain their concerns, but only the ‘leader’ or official responsible for actually making the decision be required to complete the detailed evaluation worksheets — and to publish it to ‘prove’ that all aspects have been entered, addressed (with criterion functions for explanation) and given acceptable weights, and that the resulting overall judgment, aggregated with acceptable aggregation functions, corresponds with the leaders’s actual decision. (One issue in this version will be how ‘side payments’ or ‘logrolling’ provisions to compensate parties that do not benefit fairly from the decision but whose votes in traditional voting procedures would be ‘bought’ to support the decision, should be represented in such ‘accounts’.

This topic may call for a separate, more detailed exploration of a ‘morphology‘ of possible decision criteria for such projects, and an examination of evaluation criteria for decision guides or modes to help participants in such projects agree on combinations suited to the specific project and circumstances.

Questions? Missing aspects? Wrong question? Ideas, suggestions?

Suggestions for ‘best answers’ given current state of understanding:
– Ensure better opportunity for all parties affected by problems or plans to contribute their ideas, concerns, and judgments: (Planning discourse platform);
– Focus on improved use of ‘quality/plausibility’ based decision guides, using ‘plausibility-weighted quality evaluation procedures explained and accepted in initial ‘procedural agreements’;
– Reducing the reliance on ‘process-based criteria.

Evalmap Decision criteria
Overview of decision criteria (indices to guide decisions)

–o–

Abbe Boulah’s Brexit Solution

– Say, Bog-Hubert: What’s going on out there on the Fog Island Tavern deck?
– Good question, Vodçek. I thought I’d seen everything, but this…
– That bad, eh? Who’s that guy there with Abbe Boulah?
– It’s a tourist from the EU. Don’t know he got lost out here. must be a friend of a friend of Otis. And he got into a bragging contest with Abbe Boulah about which part of the world is crazier; more polarized, has weirder politicians.
– Must be a toss-up, if you ask me.
– Right. So now Abbe Boulah is trying to teach the EU fellow — I couldn’t really figure out if he’s a still-EU Brit or from another part over there — how to fix the Brexit mess.
– Good grief. So what’s Abbé Boulah’s solution?
– It actually looked like a brilliant idea for a while, but…
– Now you’ve got me curious. Do I have to bribe you with a shot of your own moonshine production, the Tate’s Hell Special Reserve?
– Psst. Okay, talked me into it. He stunned the poor guy with the simplicity of the idea: Let the good, compassionate Europeans help the poor Brits out of the conundrum they voted themselves into. Instead of haggling for years about the details of a hard or soft or a medium-well done exit, he said: Why don’t you simply dissolve the EU?
– Urkhphfft: What??
– Hang on, don’t choke on that Zin of yours. It’s only for a day, Abbé Boulah says: All the other countries who want to stay in the union voting the next day to re-unite the union, just with a little change of the name. So: Brexit? Done. Stroke of the pen. Paid vacation for a day, for all the EU employees. Get it? A few crazy regulations not getting written, it’s actually a benefit for everybody…
– But…
– Yes. Worried about things like the trade treaties? He said, they are all reinstated as they were, for now; and the UK can either choose to re-join the new thing, or stay out and re-negotiate the individual agreements one by one, without any deadlines, while the existing arrangements stay as they are until replaced.
– Weird. But, I must say, it has a certain Abbeboulistic appeal, eh?
– Yes — but now they are arguing about what the new name should be. They agree that it should just be a minimal exchange or change in the current name, so it wouldn’t cost too much. Such as just adding or deleting something in a single letter of the name.
– Makes sense.
– You’d think so. But now they’re up in arms about whether it should be ‘Buropean’ or ‘Iropean’ or ‘Furopean’ or ‘Luropean’ or Nuropean’– all just messing a little with the ‘E’ — or European Onion’ or ‘RUnion’ or just adding a ‘2’ (starting a series of ‘generations’ like some computer system: ‘ EU2’, 3, 4…) or a star ‘ European* Union’ or ‘*European’ or ‘European Union* — ‘EU*’ And another star in the flag. Or just put the whole current name in quotation marks… It’s getting vicious, I tell you — you may have to go out there and throw them into the channel to cool them off…

EVALUATION IN THE PLANNING DISCOURSE — THE OBJECTIVITY-SUBJECTIVITY CONTROVERSY

An effort to clarify the role of deliberative evaluation in the planning and policy-making process

Thorbjørn Mann

OBJECTIVE VERSUS SUBJECTIVE JUDGMENT :
MEASUREMENT VERSUS OPINION

There is a persistent controversy about objective versus subjective evaluation judgments: often expressed as the ‘principle’ of forming decisions based on ‘objective facts’ rather than (‘mere’) subjective opinions. It is also framed in terms of absolute (universal, timeless) values as opposed to relativistic subjective preferences. The desire or quest for absolute, timeless, and universal judgments upon which we ought to base our actions and decisions about plans is an understandable, legitimate and admirable human motivation: Our plans — plans that affect several people, communities — should be ‘good’ in a sense that transcends the temporary and often misguided ‘subjective’ opinions of imperfect individuals. But the opposite view — that individuals are entitled to hold such subjective values (as part of the quest to ‘make a difference’ in their lives) is also held to be even a constitutionally validated human right (the individual right of ‘pursuit of happiness’). The difficulty of how to tell the difference between the two principles and reconcile them in specific situations makes it a controversial issue.

The noble quest of seeking solid ‘facts’ upon which to base decisions leads to the identification of selected ‘objective’ features of plans or objects with their ‘goodness’. Is this a mistake, a fallacy? The selection of those features, from among the many physical features by which objects and plans can be described, is done by individuals. However wise, well-informed, well-intentioned and revered those authorities, does this makes even the selection of features (for which factual certainty can be established), their ‘subjective’ opinions?

Is the jump of deriving factual criteria from the opinions of ‘everybody’, even from the comparison of features of objects from different times as proof of their universal timeless validity, to be considered a mistake or wishful thinking? ‘Everybody’ in practice just means a subset of people, at specific times, in specific context conditions, in surveys mostly separated from situations of actual plans and emergencies and the need for making decisions in the face of many divergent individual judgments.

Regarding ‘timelessness’: the objective fact that the forms and styles of the same category of buildings, (for example, churches and temples, which are expressly intended to convey timeless, universal significance), are changing significantly over time, should be a warning against such attempts of declaring the identity of certain physical properties with the notions of goodness, beauty, awe, wholeness etc. that people feel when perceiving them.

What are the options for participants in a situation like the following?
Two people, A and B, are in a conversation about a plan something they have to decide upon.
They encounter a key claim in the discussion, involving whether an aspect of the plan, that will significantly guide their decision about what to do. The claim is about whether the proposed plan can be said to have certain features that constitute a quality (goodness, or beauty). They find that they both agree that the plan indeed will have those features. But they vehemently disagree about whether that also means that it will have the desired ‘goodness’ quality. An (impartial) observer may point out that in common understanding, the agreement about the plan having those observable features is called an ‘objective’ fact, and that their assessments about the plan’s goodness are ‘subjective‘ opinions. Person A insists that the objective fact of having those objective features implies, as a matter of equally objective fact, also having the desired quality; while B insist that the features do not yet offer the desired experience of perceiving goodness or beauty at all. What are the options they have for dealing with this obstacle?

a) A attempts to persuade B that the features in question that constitute quality are part of a valid theory, and that this should compel B to accept the plan regardless of the latter’s feeling about the matter. The effort might involve subtle or not-so-subtle application or invocation of authority, power, experience, or in the extreme, of labeling B a member of undesirable categories: (‘calling B names’): an ignorant follower of disreputable ‘isms’, insensitive, tasteless beings unable to perceive true quality, even conscious or subconscious shameful pursuits not letting him (B) admit the truth. Of course, in response, B can do this, too…

b) B can attempt to find other features that A will accept (as part of A’s theory, or an alternate theory) that will generate the feeling of experiencing quality, but let A continue to call this a matter of objective fact, and B calling it subjective opinion. This may also involve B’s invoking compelling factors that have nothing to do with the plan’s validity or quality, but e.g. with a person’s ‘right’ to their judgment, or past injustices committed by A’s group against B’s tribe, etc.

c) They can decide to drop the issue of objective versus subjective judgments as determinants of the decision, and try to modify the plan to contain features that will contain both the features A requires to satisfy the theory, and B’s subjective feelings. This usually requires making compromises, one or both parties backing off from the complete satisfaction of their wishes.

d) They could call in a ‘referee’ or authority, to make a decision they will accept for the sake of getting something — anything,– done, without either A or B having to actually change their mind.

e) They can of course abandon the plan altogether, because of their inability to reach common ground.

There does not seem to be an easy answer to this problem that would fit all situations. Seen from the point of view of planning argumentation, where there is an attempt to clearly distinguish between claims (premises of arguments) and their plausibility assessment: is the claim of objectivity of certain judgment an attempt to get everybody to assign high plausibility values to those claims because of their ‘objectivity’?

Stating such claims as planning arguments make it easier to see that theories claiming desirable quality-like features to be implied by must-have objective properties show the different potential sources of disagreements. In an argument like the following, A (from the above example) claims: The plan should have property (feature) f, because f will impart quality q to the plan, given conditions c, which are assumed to be present . The ‘complete’ argument separating the unspoken premises is:

D: The Plan should include feature f                (‘Conclusion’)
because
1)   FI (f –> q) (if f, then q)                             (Factual – instrumental premise)
and
2)   D(q)                                                           (Deontic premise)
and
3)   F(c)                                                            (Factual premise)

Adherent A, of a theory stating postulates like “quality q is generated by feature f, and that this is a matter of objective fact” — may be pointing to the first and third premises that arguably involve ‘factual’ matters. Participant B may disagree with the argument if B thinks (subjectively) that one or several of the premises are not plausible. B may even agree with all three premises — with an understanding that f is just one of several or many ways of creating plans with quality q. Thus, B will still disagree with the ‘conclusion’ because there are reasons — consequences — to refrain from f, and look for different means to achieve q in the plan. This is a different interpretation of the factual-instrumental premises: A seems to hold that premise 1 actually should be understood as “if and only if f, then q”. (The discussion of planning arguments thus should be amended to make this difference clear.) Does the theory involve a logical fallacy by jumping from the plausible observation that both premises 1 and 3 involve ‘objective’ matters, to the inference “iff f then q”? Such a theory gets itself into some trouble because of the implication of that claim: “if not-f then not q”? A proponent of Alexander’s theory (1) seems to have fallen to this fallacy by claiming that because the shape of an egg does not meet some criteria for something having beauty according to this theory, the egg shape cannot be considered to be beautiful. Which did not sit well even with other adherents to the basic underlying theory.

The more general question is: Must this issue be addressed in the ‘procedural agreements’ at the outset of a public planning project? And if so: how? What role does it play in the various evaluation activities throughout the planning process?

One somewhat facile answer might be: If the planning process includes adequate public participation — that is, all members of the public, or at least all affected parties, are taking part in it, including the decisions whether to adopt the plan for implementation — all participants would make their own judgments, and the question would just become the task of agreeing on the appropriate aggregation function (see the section on aggregation) for deriving an overall ‘group’ decision from all individual judgments. If this sounds too controversial, the current practice of majority voting (which is one such aggregation function, albeit a problematic one) should be kept in mind: it is accepted without much question as ‘the way it’s done’. Of course, it just conveniently sidesteps the controversy.

Looking at the issue more closely, things will become more complicated. For one, there are evaluation activities involved in all phases of the planning process, from raising the issue or problem, searching for and interpreting pertinent information, writing the specifications or ‘program’ for the designers to develop ‘solution’ proposals, to making a final decision. Even in the most ambitious participative planning processes, there will be very different parties making key decisions in these phases. So the question becomes: how will the decisions of ‘programming’ and designing (solution development) impact the outcome, if the decision-makers in these early phases are adherents of a theory that admits only certain ‘objective’ features as valid components of solution proposals, and ignores and rejects concerns stated as ‘subjective opinions’ by affected parties? So that the ‘solutions’ the ‘whole community’ is allowed to participate in accepting or rejecting are just not reflecting those ‘subjective’ concerns?

For the time being, one preliminary conclusion drawn here from these observations may be the following: Different expressions and judgments about whether decisions are based on timeless, universal and absolute value considerations or ‘subjective opinions‘ must be expected and accommodated in public planning, besides ‘objective’ factual information. Is it one of the tasks of designing platforms and procedures to do that, to find ways of reaching agreement about practical reconciliation of these opinions? Is one first important step towards that goal the design and development of better ways to communicate about our subjective judgments and about how they relate to physical, ‘objectively measurable’ features? This question is both a justification for the need for deliberative evaluation in collective planning and policy-making, and one of its key challenges.

These are of course only some first draft thoughts about the controversy that has generated much literature, but has not yet been brought to a practical resolution that can more convincingly guide the design of a participatory online public planning discourse platform. More discussion seems to be urgently needed.

Note 1):  Bin Jiang in a FB discussion about Christopher Alexander’s theory as expressed in his books: e.g. ‘A Pattern Language’ and ‘The Nature of Order’

–o–

EVALUATION IN THE PLANNING DISCOURSE — AGGREGATION

An effort  to clarify the role of evaluation in the planning process.

Thorbjørn Mann

THE AGGREGATION PROBLEM:

Getting Overall Judgments from Partial Judgments

The concept of ‘deliberation’ was explained, in part, as the process of ‘making overall judgments a function of partial judgments’. We may have gone through the process of trying to explain our overall judgment about something to others, or made the effort of ‘giving due consideration’ to all aspects of the situation, we arrived at a set of partial judgments. Now the question becomes: just how do we‘assemble’ (‘aggregate’) these partial judgments into the overall judgment that can guide us in making the decision, for example, to adopt or reject the proposed plan.

The discussion has already gone past the level of familiar practices such as merely counting the number of supporting and opposing ‘votes’ and even some well-intentioned approaches that begin to look at the number of explanations (arguments or support statements) in the ‘breadth‘ (number of different aspects brought up by each supporting or opposing party, and ‘depth‘ — the number of levels of further support for the premises and assumptions of the individual arguments.

The reason why these approaches are not satisfying is that neither of them even begin to consider the validity, truth and probability (or more generally: plausibility), weight or relevance of any of the aspects discussed, or whether the judgments about any such aspects or justifications even have been ‘duly considered’ and understood.

Obviously, it is the content merit, validity, the ‘weight’ of arguments etc. we try to bring to bear on the decision. Do we have better, more ‘systematic’ ways to do this than Ben Franklin’s suggestion? (He recommended to write up the pros and cons in two different columns on a sheet of paper, then look at pairs of pros and cons that carry approximately equal weight and cancel each other out, and cross those pairs out, until there are the remaining arguments left that do not have any opposing reasons in the opposite column: those are the ones that should tilt the decision towards approval or rejection.)

What we have, on the one hand, is the impressively quantitative ‘Benefit/Cost’ approach, that works by assigning monetary value to all the b e n e f i t s of a proposed plan (the ‘pro’ arguments), and compare those with the monetary value of the ‘c o s t’ of implementing it. It has run into considerable criticism, mainly for the reasons that the ‘moral’ reluctance of having to assign monetary value to people’s health, happiness, lives; the fact that the approach usually has to be done by ‘experts’, not by citizens or affected groups, and from the overall point of view of some overall ‘common good’ perspective that is the usually ‘biased’ perspective of the government currently in power, that may not be shared by all segments of society, because it tends to hide the issue of the distribution of benefits and costs: inequality.

On the other hand, we have the approaches that separate the ‘description’ of the evaluated plan or object to be evaluated from the perceived ‘goodness’ (‘quality’) judgments about the plan and its expected outcome, from the‘validity’ (plausibility, probability) of the statements (arguments) conveying the claims about those outcomes. And, so far, the assumption that ‘everybody‘ including all ‘affected’ parties can make such judgments and ‘test’ their merit in a participatory discourse. What is still missing are the possible ways in which they can be ‘aggregated’ into overall judgments and guiding measures of merit for the decision– first, for individuals, and then for any groups that will have to come to a commonly supported decision. This is the topic to be discussed under the heading of ‘aggregation’ and ‘aggregation functions’ — the rules for getting ‘overall’ judgments from partial judgments and ‘criterion function’ results.

It turns out that there are different possible rules about this, assumptions that must be agreed upon in each evaluation situation, because they result in different decisions: The following are some considerations about assumptions or expectations for ‘aggregation functions (suggested in H. Rittel’s UC Berkeley lectures on evaluation, and listed in H. Dehlingers article  “Deontische Fragen: Urteilsbildung und Bewertungssysteme”  in “DIe methodische Bewertung: Ein Instrument des Architekten”  Festschrift zum 65. Geburtstag von Prof. Arne Musso, TU Berlin, 1993):

Possible expectation considerations for aggregation functions:

1 Do we wish to arrive at a single overall judgment (of quality / goodness or plausibility etc.) — one that can help us distinguish between e.g. plan alternatives of greater or lesser goodness?

2 Should the judgments be expressed on a commonly agreed-upon judgment scale whose end points and interim values ‘mean’ the same for all participants in the exercise? For example, should we agree that the end points of a ‘goodness’ judgment scale should mean ‘couldn’t possibly be better’ and ‘couldn’t possibly be worse’, respectively; and that there should be a ‘midpoint ‘ meaning’ neither good nor bad; indifferent; or ‘don’t know, can’t make a judgment’? (Most judgments scales in practice are expressed on a ‘zero to some ‘one-directed’ scale such as zero to some number.)

3 Should the judgment scale be the same at all levels of the aspect tree, to maintain consistency of the meaning of scores at all levels? So any equations for the aggregation functions should be designed to produce the respective overall judgment at the next higher level to be a score on the same scale.

4 Should the aggregation function ensure that if a partial score is improved, the resulting overall score should also be higher or the same, but not lower (‘worse’) than the unimproved score? By the same rule, the overall score should not be better than the previous score, if one of the partial judgments becomes lower than before.
This expectation means that in a criterion function, the line showing the judgments cores should be steadily declining and decreasing, but not have sudden spikes or valleys.

5 Should the overall score be the highest one (say, +3 = ’couldn’t be better’, on a +3/-3 scale) only if all partial scores are +3?

6 Should the overall score be a result of ‘due consideration’ of all the partial scores?

7a Should the overall score be ‘couldn’t be worse’ (e.g. -3 on the +3/-3 scale) if all partial scores are -3?
Or
7b Should the overall score become -3 if one of the partial scores becomes -3 and thus unacceptable?

Different functions — equations of ‘summing up partial judgments — will be needed for this. There will be situations or tasks in which aggregation functions meeting expectation 7b may be needed. There is no one aggregation function meeting all these expectations. Thus, the choice of aggregation functions must be discussed and agreed upon in the process.

Examples:

‘Formal’ Evaluation process for Plan ‘Quality’

Individual Assessment

The aggregation functions that can be considered for individual ‘quality’ evaluation (deliberating goodness judgments, aspect trees, and criteria i what may be called ‘formal evaluation procedures’) include the following:

Type I:    ‘Weigthed average’ function:    Q = ∑ (qi * wi)
                                                                       
where Q is the overall deliberated ‘quality’ or ‘goodness’ score; qi is the partial score of aspect or sub-aspect i, n is the number of aspects at that level; wi is the weight of relative importance of aspect i, on a scale of 0 ≤ wi ≤ 1 and such that ∑wi = 1. This is needed to ensure that Q will be on the same scale (and the associated meaning of the resulting judgment score the same) as q.

This function does not meet expectation 7b; it allows ‘poor scores’ on some aspects to be compensated for by good scores on other aspects.

Type II a:  (“the chain as strong as its weakest link” function):      Q = Min (qi)

Type IIb:        Q = ∏ ((qi + u) ^wi ) – u
                       
Here, Q is the overall score, qi the partial score i of n aspects, and u is the extreme value of the judgment score (e.g. 3 in the above examples). This function, (multiplying all the components of (qi + u) with the exponent of their weights wi, and then subtracting u from the result to get the overall score back to the +3/-3 scale) acts much like the type I function as long as all the scores are in the positive range, but pulls the overall score the closer to -u , the lower one of the scores comes to – u, the ‘unacceptable’ performance or quality. (Example: if the structural stability of a building does not stand up against expected loads, it does not matter how otherwise functionally adequate or aesthetically pleasing it is: its evaluation should express that it should not be built.)

Group assessments:

Individual scores from these functions can be applied to get statistical ‘Group’ indicators GQ : for example:

GQ = 1/m ∑ Qj
This is the average or mean of all individual Qj scores for all m participants j.

GQ = Qj
This takes the judgment of one group member as the group score.

GQ = Min (Qj)
The group score is equal to the score of the member with the lowest score in the group; both these functions effectively make one participant the ‘dictator’ of the group…

Different functions should be explored that, for example, would consider the distribution of the improvement of scores for a plan, compared with the existing or expected situation the plan is expected to remedy. For example, the form of aggregation function type IIb could also be used for group judgment aggregation.

The use of any of these aggregated, (‘deliberated’ ) judgment scores as a ‘direct’ guiding measure of performance determining the decision c a n n o t be recommended: they should be considered decision guides, not determinants. For one, the expectation of ‘due consideration of all aspects‘ would require complete knowledge of all consequences of a plan and causes of the problem it aims to fix — an expectation that must be considered unrealistic in many situations but especially in ‘wicked’ problems or ‘messes’. There, decision-makers must be willing to assume responsibility for the possibility of being wrong — a condition impossible to deliberate, by definition, when caused by ignorance of what we might be wrong about.

Aggregation functions for developing overall ‘Plan plausibility’ judgment
from the evaluation of ‘pro’ and ‘con’ arguments.

Plausibility judgments

It is necessary to reach agreements about the use of terms for the merit of judgments about plans as derived from argument evaluation, because the evaluation task for planning arguments is somewhat different from the assessment usually applied to arguments. Traditionally, the purpose of argument analysis and evaluation is seen as that of verifying whether a claim — the ‘conclusion’ of an argument — is true or false, and this is seen as depending on the truth of the premises of the argument and the ‘validity’ of the form or pattern or ‘inference rule’ of the argument. These criteria do not apply to planning arguments, that can generally be represented as follows: (Stating the ‘conclusion’ — the claim about a proposed plan A first:)

Plan A ought to be implemented
because
Plan A will result in outcome B, (given or assuming conditions C);
and
Outcome B ought to be aimed for / pursued;
and
Conditions C are given (or will be when the plan is implemented)

Like many arguments studied by traditional logic and rhetoric, not all argument premises are stated explicitly in discussions; some being assumed as ‘taken for granted’ by the audience: ‘Enthymemes’. But to evaluate these arguments, all premises must be stated and considered explicitly.

This argument pattern — and its variations due to different constellations of assertion or negation of different premises — does not conform to the validity conditions for ‘valid’ arguments in the formal logic sense: it is, at best inconclusive. Its premises cannot be established as ‘true or false‘ — the proposed plan is discussed precisely because it as well as the outcomes B aren’t there (‘true’) yet. This also means that some of the premises — the factual-instrumental claim ‘If A is implemented, then B will happen, given C) and the claim ‘C will be present’ are estimates or predictions qualified as probabilities. And ‘B ought to be pursued’ as well as the conclusions ‘A ought to be implemented) are neither adequately called ‘probable’ nor true or false: the term ‘plausible’ seems more fitting at least for some participants, but not necessarily for all. Indeed: ‘plausible’ judgments may be applied to all the claims, with the different interpretations easily understood to each kind. This is is a matter of degrees, not a binary yes/no quality. And unlike the assessment of factual and even probability claims in common logic argumentation studies, the ‘conclusion’ (decision to implement) is not determined by a single ‘clinching’ argument: it rests on several or many ‘pros and cons’ that must be weighed against each other. That is the evaluation task for planning argumentation, that will lead to different ‘aggregation’ tools.

The logical structure of planning argumentation can be stated in simplified for as follows:

– An individual’s overall plausibility judgment of plausibility PLANPL is a function of the ‘weight’ Argw of the various pro and con arguments raised about the proposal.
– The argument weight is a function of the argument’s plausibility Argpl and the weight of relative importance w of its deontic (ought-) premise.
– The Argument plausibility Argpl is a function of the plausibility of its premises.

Examples of aggregation functions for this process might be the following:
                                                   
1. a Argument plausibility:        Argpli = ∏ {Premplj} for all n premises j.

Or  

1.b   Argpli = Min{ Premplj}

2.    Argument weight:               Argwi = Argpli * wi with 0 ≤ wi and ∑ wi = 1
for the ought-premises of all m arguments

3. Proposal plausibility PLANPL = ∑ Argwi
                                               

Aggregation functions for Group judgment statistics: (Similar to the Quality group aggregations)

Mean Group average plausibility   GPLANPL = 1/k ∑ PLANPLp for all k participants p.                                                  

There are of course other statistical measures of the set of individual plausibility judgments that can be examined and discussed. Like the ‘Quality’ Aggregated measures, these ‘Group’ plausibility statistics should not be used as decision determinants but as guides, for instance as indicators of need for further discussion and explanation of judgment differences, or for revision of plan details to alleviate concerns leading to large judgment differences.
Evalmap11 Aggregation

Comments? Additions?

–o–

EVALUATION IN THE PLANNING DISCOURSE — JUDGMENT SCALES

An effort to clarify the role of deliberative evaluation in the planning and policy-making process.

Thorbjoern Mann

JUDGMENT SCALES

Differences of judgments are expressed  on  s c a l e s  — ‘yardsticks’ on which to locate different judgment ‘visually’.  There are many different kinds of judgment scales.

Which kind of scale should be chosen and agreed upon in a specific evaluation situation depends on the purpose of the task: whether a decision for action (e.g. acceptance or rejection) about a single plan is called for, or a selection among a number of competing proposals or options; or a general expression of  appraisal (e.g. goodness for some purpose, perhaps to guide design in a ‘program’ sense or to improve a proposed plan).  For some purposes ,  like the ‘acceptance/ rejection’ decision, the scale needed will  be ‘binary’ , — have only two ‘values’ or at most three:  ‘Yes, No, Undecided’.  For other purposes, such as comparison between alternative proposals, scales with more such ‘values’  are needed.

Traditionally (as in science), four types of scales are distinguished: 

‘N o m i n a l’,  ‘O r d i n a l’ ,   ‘D i f f e r e n c e’  (or  ‘I n t e r v a l’)  and ‘R a t i o‘  scales.

The Nominal scale (not really an ‘ordered’ scale since its values can be in any order) contains just ‘names’ of different kinds of objects or options must be distinguished. Architectural examples are ‘single-family detached home’, ‘duplex’, ‘row house’, ‘multistory  apartment’ etc. 

Ordinal scales , as the name suggests, put its items in a distinct order — for example ‘first place, second place, third place’ etc. in sports — but without any information about how much faster the winner of the race was than the runner-up. Just rank order.   

Difference or Interval scales offer more detailed ‘quantitative’ information. They specify      u n i t s — but these are arbitrary entities on a scale with an arbitrary location of ‘zero’. The temperature scales are examples: the Fahrenheit scale sets the‘zero’ degrees point (the temperature on the coldest day Mr. Fahrenheit had ever experienced and could not imagine being any lower) at what in the Celsius scale becomes  ~minus 17.8‘degrees. Celsius ‘zero’ is the temperature of water freezing. Fahrenheit’s 100 degrees is the approximate temperature of human blood, a mere 37.8 degrees Celsius, where 100 degrees is the temperature of water boiling, which in Fahrenheit becomes 212 degrees.

The Ratio scale has a ‘natural’  zero point (e.g. human height) but also arbitrary units — it can be measured in feet and inches or centimeters, etc.. 

The more ‘o b j e c t i v e’ , ‘factual’  and ‘scientific’  judgments we wish to express, the more we will tend to use difference scales a least and at best ratio scales that allow precise         m e a s u r e m e n t  rather than  s u b j e c t i v e  opinions, guesses and  estimates.

For judgment purposes, this means that scales for expressing ‘goodness’ and similar judgments, the scales will be at the difference scale level at best. Agreements are needed about whether judgment scales are to be ‘one-directional’  e.g.  from 0 upwards, or ‘bi-directional’, that is, showing both positive and negative ‘d i s c r e t e’  or ‘c o n t i n u o u s’  values. They can be ‘unbounded’  (going to infinity) or ‘bounded‘  with a distinct  upper ‘couldn’t be better‘ or lower (‘couldn’t be worse’) number. 

All these choices, and the m e a n i n g of the points on a chosen scale,  must be agreed upon for any particular  task, to avoid misunderstanding and conflicts.

Evalmap Judgment types,scales

The map above shows distinctions of judgment scales that perhaps gives a wrong impression that these are  mutually exclusive. In reality, they are combined even when judgments are ‘atomic’ (that is, one judgment applied to one object, and especially when two or more judgments are expressed in ‘compound‘ judgments where several evaluation judgments are applied to the object. This variety of possible judgment types and scales are better shown in a ‘Zwicky Box’ type  or ‘morphological analysis’ diagram, as in the following diagram where the type categories are shown as ‘parameters’ and the members of the categories are parameter values, and each particular scale is described by the profile linking several values:

Scan 1.jpeg

The profiles show two typical ‘measurement’ scales  and two common judgment scales: A: the temperature scale and  B  the movement speed in miles per hour; C,  the common academic grading scale, and D, the bidirectional ‘goodness’ judgment scale according to Musso and Rittel.

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