A garage building is proposed in the ‘MIdtown’ area of Tallahassee. For many years, this area had not been touched by the more forceful development of downtown and other areas. More recently it has has seen a much-appreciated growth — relatively small redevelopment and re-use of older, one-or two-story buildings, generating a lively pedestrian-friendly ambience, in spite of the fact that the main streets in the area are arteries carrying heavy through traffic; for which there are no plausible alternative routes.
For the newer businesses in the area, looking for more customers than the residents of nearby neighborhoods — mainly Lafayette Park neighborhood, to the east, and perhaps some residential areas west of North Monroe streets — there is a perceived need for more parking, which has led to the proposed project. This proposal envisions a five-story building on the corner of Thomasville Rd. and Fifth Ave. on a lot where there currently is only a small one-story building.
The project — announced as a city-private partnership venture, has generated considerable opposition from residents of the area — most likely due to its size, which is visually quite out of scale with other nearby buildings, and the concern about attracting more traffic to the already strained streets.
The Tallahassee Democrat’s coverage of a public meeting about the proposed project suggests that there was more opposition than support for it. This is understandable, given its size and the dubious experience with some large projects e.g. in the downtown area. There were plausible suggestions to provide any needed additional parking on Monroe streets, or on the site of the Tallahassee Police Headquarters that will soon move away from its current location on 7th Ave. However: some development must be expected on the arguably underutilized site of the proposed project; which will generate the same concerns. So a public discussion about what developments in this area should look like is very much needed — now, before any new proposals are developed, or the current one being driven forward based on the assumptions and agreements with the city. Does the public/private partnership offer opportunity to guide this or other projects towards better results? The city might reconsider it apparent tentative approval, and perhaps insist on a few important features in return for some developer concessions.
The pictures I have seen suggest that the design already includes some general rules of thumb for more pedestrian-friendly environments — for example, the provision of commercial use along the streets. Encouragement for more improvements might be better than mere opposition, to ensure that these features don’t get lost in the further development.
A few general rules of thumb for more pedestrian-friendly environments might include the following:
* The public sidewalk should have ‘layers’ or zones separating the main pedestrian zones from the traffic. This might require some setback of the building to provide a wider sidewalk to allow for trees and other items in the outer zone. A matter for ciity investment?
* The sidewalk: Rather than cute isolated ‘awnings’ over selected openings, (like we see in the picture and in other projects around town, there should be a continuous arcade or awning for part of the sidewalk, for real pedestrian protection from sun and rain.
* The floor area at the sidewalk level: The project to its credit already provides for commercial space along Thomasville and Fifth street. This is beneficial only if that space — specifically, the area next to the sidewalk — actually is of interest to pedestrians: banks, law or insurance offices, associations are not. Incentives should be considered to ensure that this space will house pedestrian destinations with high visitor frequency. Small stores, possibly movable vending kiosks or carts that can be exchanged to provide destinations appropriate fore different times of day. Public amenities: Restrooms, information waiting areas for bus stops, taxi stops that won’t stop through traffic.
* These destinations should form a continuous chain of friendly experience opportunities with easy transition between them. Even a few dozen feet of un-interesting frontage can disrupt the pedestrian flow.
* The building: Rather than five uninterrupted stories rising from the property edge, it would be better to provide the building with an ‘earthy’ base of two or at most three floors, with upper floors set back by about five feet and designed for a lighter, airier appearance. This would preserve a ‘small town’ comfortable street profile even if the building above were allowed more above (to compensate for the ‘loss’ of profitable square footage at those levels). The sketches below show this principle that perhaps should be adopted as a city regulation, without imposing any specific architectural design constraints:
Not this: but this!
Even such large projects that at first sight may seem scary and a threat to the lively, friendly ambience of Midtown can be designed to complement and improve it. But the concerns of nearby residents and businesses, and how they might be addressed, should be worked out in a continuing constructive public discourse.
The Fog Island Tavern ‘Quarrgument’ Symposium, third and (so far) final night.
– Ah, there you are, guys. I was afraid you were going to chicken out on the last part of our symposium.
– Why, Vodçek, is there any other place on the island to go to for a bit of lubricated conversation? We were just delayed watching our friend trying to run his boat into the harbor — he got a new fancy radar system, and apparently was so busy watching it going into the channel that he ran aground on the sandbank at the third pole.
– Huh? That’s a course he’s been doing for fifty years now, he could do it blindfolded in a moonless pea-soup-fog night?
– Just goes to show. Maybe the radar was made in one of those countries we slapped the new tariffs on?
– Don’t be silly. Even I know the radar doesn’t show stuff under water. He just got distractified with the new gizmo, is all.
– You’re right, Renfroe. Hope the boat is okay. Anyway, are we going to try for the last part of Abbé Boulah’s agenda?
– Haven’t got anything more interesting to do, Vodçek — your desolate Tavern still hasn’t got TV…
– I won’t even bother to ignore that remark, Bog-hubert. Okay then: The idea was to see whether and how our buddy’s proposed Planning Discourse Platform meets the expectations we drew up last night. Bog-Hubert — I believe you are the most familiar guy here, with that proposal — where should we start? You want to give us a rundown on its basic features?
– Hmm. I thought we’d go by the list we set up last night, maybe in a slightly different order. Haven’t we all have heard enough about the basic idea to fit things into the overall scheme? If there are questions, I can always fill in more detail. Keep in mind that this ‘platform’ is meant to facilitate planning or policy-making discourse about issues or problems that cut across the borders of established jurisdictions — municipalities, counties, states, nations. Even more so for global crises and challenges. Problems of the ‘wicked’ kind, where it is not clear who is affected by either the problem or by proposed solutions, where ‘voting’ decision-making practices aren’t applicable because there are no clear boundaries that define who’s eligible to vote, so decisions will have to be based on some other measure, like the merit of the information provided in the discourse. Much of which is not known already, stored in textbooks and data bases, but will mainly be established precisely by means of discourse contributions: the folks concerned talking about what should be done. So the first question probably should be how to get at all that information.
– That’s the question we put up in that list last night as “Inviting, even offer incentives to voice ALL concerns”, isn’t it?
– So what does the proposal say about that?
– Several steps.The assumption is that there will be some organization providing that platform, an online website for discussing plans and policies. Which remains to be determined, by the way. It first puts up issues, projects or problems that somebody feels should be dealt with by some collective response, on a kind of ‘bulletin board’, where people can indicate whether it should become a project discussion.
– Makes sense: first people have to become aware of what needs to be discussed and acted upon. The kind and number of responses will determine whether it will be taken up, I assume?
– Yes. For projects that receive a sufficient number of replies indicating the need for public discussion, a kind of website will be set up, that invites everybody who has a concern or pertinent information to send in messages expressing that concern. So it’s open for any input, to respond to part of the question. To offer incentives to do so, the proposal is suggesting to reward every entry with some basic ‘contribution credit points’ — provided that the content of the entry is pertinent to the project and hasn’t already been made. No repetition. But all entries will be stored for reference.
– This already brings up the problem of moderation — keeping the discourse ‘civil’: the issues of ensuring “General ‘netiquette’ ” and responding to violations. General ‘netiquette’ also applied to decision-making discourse: How is that being dealt with?
– That question is dealt with in several ways, Sophie. There is a ‘standard’ set of ‘procedural agreements’ covering the entire platform — expressed mostly as desirable ‘do’, more than ‘don’t do’ recommendations. All comments are accepted into that unconstrained ‘verbatim’ file, as written. But to be entered into the concise overview and assessment displays and worksheets, the ‘core content’ will be translated into the basic question, claim and argument format that omits qualification, repetition, characterization and anything that isn’t connected to the subject being discussed in a distinct ‘if-then’ or similar relationship.
– How is that translation into the condensed format done?
– Good question. Ideally, participants should do that themselves, but that’s something traditional education hasn’t taught us yet. So initially, in small projects, this may have to be done by trained support staff.
– Couldn’t the AI folks write algorithms for that? Dexter?
– Down the road, perhaps, Vodçek. Once they see if they can make money on it? Meanwhile, there could be templates for expressing arguments, for example, — the ‘planning argument’ forms we have identified as key to the planning discourse haven’t been acknowledged by the traditional literature of argumentation yet nor gotten into the textbooks. So those templates would serve to familiarize participants with the approach.
– No suggestions on ‘consequences’ for violating the basic rules — of decency, truthfulness, personal attacks, etc.? The ‘Response to violations’ item on our list?
– One kind of response for that would be through the provisions for contribution credits. Remember the incentive points given to all entries — basic acknowledgements for contributions, at first. Set up to build a kind of ‘civic merit’ account for people, that could be valuable for other things, say like qualification for office or jobs. Those points might be adjusted up or down by the community, depending on their plausibility, they way they are backed up by reliable evidence, an so on. If there is a formal evaluation of contribution items, e.g. arguments, the resulting evaluation scores will be used to do that adjustment up or down in a systematic manner. Otherwise, the community could just enter adjustment judgments.
– You think that might be effective as a preventive strategy, to keep trolls and fake truth posters from entering garbage?
– Well, it’s an idea that should be tried out sometime, at least — better than all the likes and emojis that are kind of useless for any other purpose than saving others from explaining their objection…
– Talking about the AI possibilities: an algorithm might automatically subtract penalty points from a participant’s credit point account for objectionable vocabulary or personal attacks in a post…
– Okay: it looks like that issue is part of the proposal, with room for different expansion ideas, including ‘Evolution of self-governance for responses to violation’ for keeping the discourse constructive. What about the issue of balancing the parliamentary principle of free speech and getting all concerns, but linking them more effectively with the decisions? The goal of getting Decisions based on merit of all contributions?
– This is the part that’s addressed in the ‘special techniques’ appendix of the PDSS paper, offering several techniques both older and new, innovative, for the goal of developing some performance measure based on the merit of discourse contributions, that can guide decisions. It contains the whole set of provisions for evaluation that we decided last night to put on the list for more research and development. But the entire proposal is aimed at making such techniques part of the process.They all aim at ‘Ensuring ‘due consideration’ of all concerns’ — nudging participants to address all aspects, all pros and cons in their assessment and judgments. Encouraging Emphasis on evidence, support for claims that receive opposing judgments from different parties. And displaying arguments with all ‘premises’ explicitly identified for assessment — including the ones that are often left unstated as ‘taken for granted’ but also need scrutiny and evaluation.
– How so, Bog-Hubert?
– Not sure what you are asking, Dexter — details of the evaluation? Or the ‘unstated premises’?
– Well, actually both. But thinking about it now, I think I understand the one about the premises taken for granted. It’s about the ones we often sluff off saying things like ‘all else being equal’, if at all?
– Yes, our planning arguments — the pattern, “Yes, we ought to do A [conclusion, proposal] because A will result in B, given conditions C [the factual-instrumental premise] and we ought to pursue B [deontic or ought-premise] and conditions C are present (or will be when we do A) [factual premise]” are almost never completely stated like that — we use any two of those, ‘taking the third ‘for granted’ as needing no further discussion, and people mostly understand the argument. But to assess the plausibility of the whole argument, all three premises need to be evaluated. Was that the other part of your question?
– Yes. And your explanation cleared that up as well, thanks. It’s a bit unusual, though?
– Just at first sight; it’s really the conceptual framework for organizing the discussion based on everyday talk — identifying topics, issues, answers and arguments with their component parts — and for displaying the overall picture of the evolving discourse in maps and model diagrams. The Displays of essential ‘core’ content. And explicitly Separating claims and evaluation. But then, that basis serves to prepare the material for more systematic evaluation: the assessment of argument premise plausibility, the weighing of goals and objectives, together forming a measure of argument weight, and all the argument weights forming a measure of proposal plausibility.
– I get it, all the plausibility scores and weights of the pros and cons tilting the overall proposal plausibility scale towards approval or rejection?
– Wait. Yes, I get that, too, Renfroe. But Bog-Hubert: Just making sure I understand: Are you saying that the decision should be determined by such a plausibility measure?
– No, Vodçek. The proposal warns explicitly against that kind of shortcut. ‘Guiding decisions’ is seen more as using the plausibility assessments by different parties as indications for how a proposal might be improved to lessen the concerns of some participants and improve their evaluation scores. ‘Back to the Drawing Board’ — but now with more specific hints about what aspects need revision, better ideas, more creativity, perhaps even compromises. And even if the final decision is done by vote — according to traditional practices or constitutional rules — to make it less likely that decisions to approve a plan go in the face of very negative assessment results, — or vice versa. Preventing decisions that would ignore significant concerns of the voting minority.
– You keep talking about measures based on plausibility — of proposals, and argument premises. Is that the same as what we might call the quality or goodness of a plan? We didn’t talk about that yesterday, so it isn’t on the list — but isn’t that important?
– Good question, Sophie. Of course, some of the comments and arguments — pros, cons, benefits, costs, may aim at what you are after with the term ‘quality’ or ‘goodness’. But it is also possible to use an evaluation technique that focuses more explicitly on ‘goodness’ — and to combine that with the ‘plausibility’ assessment, if the discussion hasn’t covered that sufficiently well. Again, room and opportunity for creative evolution.
– Yes: I remember, we talked about this too: part of this vision of participatory community planning is the insight that the process must allow participants to not only engage in the creative cooperation towards the solutions, the outcomes, the visions of the activity, but to also shape the process of getting there — as ‘their’ creation, as part of the overall solution?
– Right. The process and platform must remain open to adaptation, refinement, innovation.
– Getting back to our list for a moment, Bog-Hubert: we talked about the procedural agreements that will be needed, and how that could be a problem. How does the proposal deal with that?
– It has several levels of provisions. There are some overall ‘standard’ netiquette-like agreements, that you are assumed to agree to by engaging in a discourse. Like most such rules we are used to, even if few people actually read them before signing. That allows the organization to do the basic moderating, and even to kick you out if you break them in a serious way. Nothing radically new there. Then when a new project is set up, the question will be raised whether the circumstances for that project will call for more specific agreements; those may have to be briefly discussed, and added to the general ‘rules’. Third, when the participants in a project discussion decide to use one of the ‘special techniques’, the vocabulary and assumptions for that technique may have to be explained and agreed upon. Finally, the procedure of the discourse has a Next Step? ‘phase’. That’s where the group decides whether it is ready for a decision, or needs more discussion, or the input from a special technique team etc. And there, participants can suggest to make changes in the initial agreements, if the discussion brings up conditions that make this necessary.
– Okay. Its a bit complex, but flexible — lets people get started by accepting some basic agreements, but change them if really necessary. Puts a few safety nets into that bottomless pit nightmare we conjured up last night.
– So the more people get involved in this kind of approach, the less of a problem it will be, don’t you think? The less need for cumbersome discussions about the rules that distract and hold up the real project discussion?
– Yes, I think so. The alternative would be the last point in that list: Training for proper discourse participation. These procedures and agreements should ideally be part of everybody’s education.
– So what do you do until that is achieved? If ever? Can we wait to use such tools until everybody knows the rules?
– Of course not, Vodçek. There will be a need for training courses, manuals, familiarization exercises to get people ready for effective participation. So the development of those things will have to be priority preparation tasks for the implementation of the concept.
– I remember some papers about that, where the suggestion was to develop online games, for kids and others who want to familiarize themselves with the idea to ‘play’ — online, on their computers, tablets, cellphones. With these tools becoming more and more common all over the world even among poor people, the process of getting folks familiar with the tool would be much faster than waiting for all the world’s school systems to add this to their curricula, training teachers and developing textbooks to be approved by the school boards and government education departments, eh?
– Sounds good, Dexter — the development of such games would actually be the stepping stones, the prototype and test versions of the eventual programming package for the platform. Might be a job for you to program that?
– Hey folks. This interesting speculation is straying far beyond our initial agenda. If we want to continue this, would it be prudent to spend some time on setting up an extended agenda, before we get lost in all the details of actual implementation and variations of the outcome?
– Definitely, Vodçek. But I think it would be useful to take a moment to consider what, if anything, we have learned from this little experiment. We jumped ahead at least once to skip some details of our initial agenda: can we say that we achieved what we set out to do?
– Well, looking at the initial question — dialogue versus argumentation — I think our decision that it was an inadequate question, a ‘wrong problem’, was appropriate. The distinction between ‘argument’, argumentative discourse and ‘quarrguments’ took the wind out of the sail of the opposition to argumentation, didn’t it? While we found that even in discourse that is not aiming at decisions, questions that generate arguments will occur, there is also nothing in the vision of the planning and policy-making discourse that excludes or discourages the ingredients that were used to justify ‘dialogue’ from also be part of a constructive planning discourse. Did that meet the intent of the first night’s agenda?
– There will always be people who will disagree and insist of different interpretations of terms and concepts, theories. But it may be enough — was enough last night — to clear the way out of the endless disagreement about the meaning of words, to proceed with the next agenda item, to set up some specific goals or expectations for a meaningful planning discourse. What can we say about that one?
– Impatient wench, Sophie. Yes, I think we made some good inroads on that one too — but do you agree that there are many more considerations we might have identified, with more time and thought? Even some very important ones?
– Well, can you think about a major issue we have missed, Professor?
– Oh, there are several conundrums that are part of a wider discourse, beyond the initial dialogue – argument issue, that we should keep in mind. There is, for example, the fundamentally different perspective of approaches like Alexander’s Pattern Language. The Discourse perspective can be described as one of generating solution proposals from the examination of information we gather about a problem or ‘situation’, and then examine proposals for their merit, all via discourse, discussion, exchange of information, evaluation. But the Pattern Language suggests, in essence, that solutions should be ‘generated’ from patterns that in themselves embody truth and validity, the ‘quality without a name” — so that the outcome will also have that quality and does not need any more evaluation. How would a discourse deal with proposals and proponents based on such different fundamental principles?
– On the list with it! Now that you mention such issues that go beyond our little agenda: Is the distinction between plans and policies that should be developed in such discourse, and actions in response to emergencies, that can’t wait for the outcome of a lengthy public discourse a significant problem? The traditional arrangement for this is the appointment or election (or acceptance of pretenders) of leaders, empowered to make such decisions on behalf of the community. We know this generates the problem of how to control power, control being needed because power is addictive and fraught with temptations to abuse: How does this question relate to the design of the discourse and its provisions?
– Good points; yes, there may be more such issues that should be discussed and given ‘due consideration’. The existence of such issues itself makes the case for the development of a better platform for in-depth discourse, doesn’t it?
– Which brings us to the third agenda item: How well does the PDSS proposal meet the expectations and requirements we were able to list — and the ones we just added? What do you think, Sophie?
– Oh, I’d say that I was somewhat surprised at how many of those aspects were a least acknowledged and addressed in the provisions of the proposal. How well they will actually work, I can’t possibly tell. It will take experiments and the experience and outcome of actual application to judge that, don’t you agree? I’m not an expert on these things, but I haven’t heard about anything else I’d recognize as ‘better ideas’ yet. We should probably investigate that, but keep working on this concept. I think that work on the development of implementation plans, on the missing programming, on the development of teaching materials or games to familiarize people with this approach is urgently needed. Needed resources, funding? Who will run such platforms? Looks like there’s work to do?
– Your are right, But not tonight, Sophie. Last call.
– Ominous phrase, Vodçek, at the end of such a discussion.
– Ominous abominous. It could drive a fellow to drink? Sophie? Still just apple juice?
– Thanks. We need a clear head for tomorrow. Work to do…
– Last call!
== o ==
– So friends, did we settle the weather for today? No hurricanes on the horizon? Are we ready to tackle the second part of Abbé Boulah’s agenda? Do you have any questions or suggestions about it?
2 Needed provisions / agreements for
a) ‘Social’ Communication, Conversation?
b) Decision-oriented ‘Planning’ Platform?
– Let me try to restate my understanding of this in my own terms, Vodçek, correct me if I’m wrong: The distinction between the two separate questions is now based on the different kinds of talk intentions we found last night: simple friendly conversations without any particular aim or focus on the one hand, and discussions aiming at a goal, a solution to a problem, a decision, on the other? And the question is about how to prevent either one to degrade into a ‘quarrgument’?
– Close enough, for the first kind.
– Only for the first kind? Why?
– Well, for the second kind, shouldn’t we also worry about how well that aim or focus can be achieved — of reaching a decision? A meaningful, reasonable one, a good plan?
– You are jumping right into the thick of it, Sophie. Would it be useful to first see how far the agreements for the conversation of the dialogue kind can get us?
– You are talking about what they call ‘general netiquette’, essentially, aren’t you? The rules for polite conversation in decent company, now extended to online discussions on a social forum?
– That would be a good place to start, yes. And suspect it’s more difficult than it looks at first sight — given all the quarrgument-like exchanges we see on the internet, in spite of the well-intentioned policy statements and rules of all those platforms?
– Is there a simple comprehensive summary of those rules?
– Well, the main rules for common polite conversation would be to abstain from crude, obscene language, from ALL- CAPS entries which is understood as the equivalent of yelling and shouting in face-to-face conversation, to stick to the general topic, and above all, not engaging in personal attacks on other participants — the various forms of ad-hominem fallacies; no name-calling, ‘strawmanning’, and so on. Many forum leaders try to forestall problems by listing a number of rules or advice for ‘positive’, constructive, friendly, ‘comfortable’ language and content, for participants to promise to strive for. Hoping that the focus on the positive will keep people too busy to engage in the negative?
– Hmm. I wonder if calling exclusive positive thinking wishful thinking would be a negative term? Those aims are fine and generally accepted, even if not always adhered to. So many moderators feel compelled to simply ‘ban’ — which means just not accept for posting — entries that violate those.
– Yes: Already you can write simple algorithms to do the same thing: scan all entries, given an accepted list of unacceptable words and phrases that automatically blocks the offending entry that contains one of those words. But the issue gets sticky when it comes to the question of offending the beliefs or standards of certain groups in society. Heresy — involving disparaging comment about religious beliefs — has been extended to many other domains, gender, race, politics and philosophy. And the boundaries and the ‘coded’ disguises of objectionable positions can become so fuzzy that many platforms have instead adopted the practice of asking participants to complain about offending posts, and then deciding what to do about them, the complaint becoming the criterion for banning.
– Looks like a slippery slope towards the abyss of political correctness censorship. But also: can the same offending content be blocked in some groups but accepted in others? And isn’t the problem then, that they will be posted and the damage, e.g. of a personal attack, is done; the genie can’t be put back in the bottle. There ought to be a better way.
– Yes, Sophie. It has led group ‘leaders’ or originators to involve several moderators to ‘intervene’ or ‘resolve’ such incidents by asking the offending participant to change the wording of potentially offending comments, either before they are made public, or after somebody complained. The jury is still out about how that will work out in the long run — there will always be complaints by some offenders, of undue ‘censorship’, illegal constraints on ‘free speech’ and so on.
– Yeah, and there will always be ‘administrators’, moderators, who get their jollies out of doing some undue censorshipping, exerting their power by ‘keeping the discourse clean’…
– Are we straying from the topic a tad here, folks? I agree the power issue is one we might want to look at, but is it part of the agenda we agreed on?
– Spoken like a good social media moderator, Vodçek: to compound the offense with an ad-censorum while we’re at it.
– Yeah, I may have to cut some of you off… How about looking at the relationship between the ‘do’s’ of such discourse, not only the ‘don’t rules?
– Is there a difference between responses to ‘don’ts and responses to failure to do ‘do’s?
– To do or not to do, dobedobedo…
– Hey Vodçek: think you could get me another glass before you cut me off this dobedialogue?
– It seems that the mere suggestion of straying off the topic has, how are they saying these days, gone viral? So there should be a rule against such suggestions?
– Right, Professor. They are themselves straying off the topic. The only recourse is to not even ignoring them, as the Bavarians say.
– Holy Ignoraminous the Third, of Yerehwon in Lower Lugubria, pray for us!
– Okay, enough of this. Where were we? Sophie, do you remember?
– I’m not sure we were anywhere worth remembering, Vodçek. It seems that there were no really hard and fast rules or guidelines even for keeping conversation-style civilized, if there happen to be less civilized participants involved, who weren’t brought up to properly participate in civilized conversations. Other than with the help of moderators. Who must be granted some power to intervene, at the expense of slightly bending the rule of free speech.
– A balancing act, yes. I’m glad you mention he upbringing part — is it the responsibility of education to instill proper polite conversation behavior habits? That would lessen the problem a bit, wouldn’t it? Supported by silent glacial schoolmarm stares by the community in case of inadvertent violation? Poignantly ignoring the offending remark and returning to the topic? Laughing the poor impolite boor out of the room would already be too much of acknowledgement?
– Remember, we are talking about online conversations here. Those old remedies won’t work there — is there a need for icy-stare ‘nomoticons’ (no-emotion, no rising to the bait, but silently conveying the message?) — to replace those? Making the offenders’ i-screens freeze? Put the designers to work!
– Let’s see, Vodçek: Are you saying that the traditional standards for civilized conversations still apply to online friendly conversations without specific aims, but the tools for ensuring their adherence on online forums need to be improved or invented? Or can equivalent tools be developed for online discourse that would serve the same purpose?
– I’d say that we could leave that to some evolutionary process for the ‘friendly conversations’, as you called them. The types of forums, participants, issues and even purposes that can be discussed are too different to imagine a one-size-fits all set of rules to be used for all of them. ‘Self-governance’ responding to problems as they occur may be the best strategy for that first question.
– I agree, Professor — even though the question of what to delegate to education to prepare people for such interactions might require some common core definition of those basic standards? As long as there are no serious decisions at stake — or inquiries with significant implications for our lives, — let’s leave it to evolution and self-governance. But when we are faced with planning or policy-making decisions that impact the well-being of our human communities, will we not need better methods for the discourse leading to those decisions? Even for traditional ‘live’ events such as town meetings or debates in parliamentary decision-making bodies — but decidedly more so for online discourse?
– So it seems that there is some overlap between the two kinds of processes or discourse types when they are done online — but the question of online standards becomes critical for decision-making settings? Which means that we are now moving to question (b) of our second phase agenda. Okay?
– I agree, Vodçek. Especially because it is becoming increasingly obvious that even the traditional practices for what we may call governance decision-making are still falling short of some basic expectations. So even for those, better tools are urgently needed.
– That’s a serious complaint, Bog-Hubert. Some might say even bordering on the unconstitutional, eh? Can you be more specific about those expectations and shortcomings?
– I guess we can make a list of such problems, and use them to look for ways to meet the corresponding expectations. Let me start with the connection between the discourse and the decision. The great parliamentary principle and tradition of ‘let’s leave our weapons outside and sit down to talk before making a decision’ — don’t laugh, Renfroe, I am serious, I know you like to call all that talk and filibustering pretentious BS or worse — it was a great civilized improvement on prior practice of going straight to violence and war, to ‘resolve’ differences of opinion.
– Hmm. So what’s wrong with it, if it’s so great?
– Oh, Sophie: Look at the improvement side first, to see where things go wrong: ‘Let’s talk’ means that we are willing — agree — to listen to all sides’ points of views, concerns, intentions, learn abbot their ideas of a good plan and decision, and try to tell each other about what we see as the pros and cons of the proposals made. Ideally, that could and sometimes even does result in improvement, redesign of the originally proposed plans. And that is the basic beneficial principle: the decision about the plan or action should be the result of due consideration of all those pros and cons, all the ideas and concerns that have been brought up during the talks.
– I see what you are getting at, Bog-Hubert. Abbé Boulah did talk about that as well. And about the problem: all too often, in the end, the decisions are made by methods that can ignore or override many if not all those ideas and concerns.
– What in three twisters names are you talking about?
– Voting, Renfroe. Majority voting, or the single vote decision by some leader or chairman or president. And voting that allows people who haven’t even listened to any of the talk and don’t really know what the issues are about.
– You want to do away with free elections and majority vote, you’re cruising for trouble, I’d say.
– We’re not talking about doing away with that: the problem is about making a better link, a better connection between the concerns, the content and merit of the contributions to the discussion and the decision. All of the contributions. A more transparent and, if you like, accountable connection.
– Okay. So that’s a first or primary criterion that you think should be provided in online planning discourse?
– Right. One such consideration — didn’t we already mention some? But yes, a key one. And of course that makes sense only if all pertinent considerations, all the expected benefits as well as all the costs, the potential ‘unexpected side-and-after-effects’ have actually been brought up to be given due consideration, wouldn’t you say?
– I see. So the platform or forum must allow all such considerations to be voiced — and even invite, encourage people to bring them up.
– In practice, doesn’t that run into what some call ‘voter apathy’, people don’t care enough about the issues to participate?
– Yes — or they are convinced (possibly based on actual experience?) that their concerns won’t make a difference in the decision, won’t be given due consideration? So should there be provisions for overcoming those obstacles? Some form of incentives?
– You’re talking about something like paying folks to vote? Old hat. And not a good one. No better than the dirty efforts to keep some people from voting, wether by ‘cleaning up the voter registration rolls’ or gerrymandering, or making the trip to the voting stations so difficult that some folks can’t make it…
– Right, Sophie. I think we aren’t talking about the vote, though, but about incentives for contributing good information, whether pro or con, that should inform decisions. Incentives in a currency other than money, of course.
– Won’t the discourse be overwhelmed with all the comments, if you succeed in making such provisions? Can you expect everybody to express their concerns in succinct arguments — pro or con — that are the essence of the talk? How can anybody digest all that material?
– Indeed, good points. You’ll have to expect, and allow, all kinds of expressions, rhetoric, bombast, and even what in ‘polite’ friendly conversations would be objectionable forms of contributions. That’s why there should be provisions to sort things out in displays that give everybody some concise overview of the concerns — no repetitions, for one, and the core content, the key claims of the ideas and arguments stripped of rhetorical bombast and characterization.
– What do you mean, characterization?
– Well, if you bring in a ‘con’ argument against some plan provision, calling it ‘stupid’ or ‘shortsighted’ or ‘brilliant’ or some form of ‘ism’ is already a form of evaluation — an assessment of the claim, that really should be done by every participant at a separate stage. For example, say I’m asked to give ‘due consideration’ to a comment that sounds like this: “That stupid, ill-advised proposed legislation to reduce the use of fossil fuels to stop the hoax of global warming should be opposed because it won’t work”, I may have an opinion about whether the legislation will work to reduce fossil fuel use, another about whether it will help to reduce the effects of global warming. Or whether the global warming predictions are a hoax, in which case any legislation would be moot or have other beneficial or detrimental effects. Or whether calling the legislation stupid and ill-advised is inappropriate whether I believe it will be effective or not.
– So any judgment — e. g. ‘not true’ or ‘good point’ about the comment as a whole does not really help me or others to understand my real opinion of the various claims or premises the comment makes. To be properly evaluated, they should be stated as separate, basic assertions: “The legislation should be opposed”; “The legislation will not reduce the use of fossil fuels”; “Reducing the use of fossil fuels will not reduce global warming”; “There is no global warming”; and /or “Something should be done to slow or stop global warming”, etc. And shouldn’t there be a rule that people who make such claims should be prepared to offer explanations, evidence, support for them: required to respond the the question ‘Because…’? For which ‘explanations’ like “because the opponent of the claim is a moron” or an ‘…ist’ of some kind, are not acceptable — not related to the claim.
– I see: Everybody can have different assessments about each of these or about the entire statement; and resulting ‘conclusions’ about the wisdom of the proposed legislation will differ accordingly.
– Right. So besides appropriate provisions to display the essential claims — for overview, and for some in-depth, systematic evaluation, — there should also be incentives to provide support, evidence, for the claims, at least upon request from people who are not yet ready to accept the claim as stated?
– That could be trouble. The thing about evidence is a bottomless pit, isn’t it? Ultimately, aren’t all our judgments based on beliefs we think are so ‘self-evident’ that there’s no need, nor even possibility, of further evidence? And the folks who are convinced to ‘have’ the truth, because it’s self-evident, or revealed from up high, will resent the request for evidence more than the fact that there are miserable doubters who just don’t see it.
– So in practice, how should that be dealt with?
– Good question, no easy answer, because any answer would rest on ultimate premises that another party doesn’t share. The best I can think of is another basic agreement — one that relates to the aim of each party in such argumentation, which is to nudge the other party to adopt other’s conclusions. The agreement is this: If you propose an ultimate ‘self-evident’ premise that your argument, your reasoning is resting upon, but you can’t offer any more reasons that can nudge me to accept it, you can’t expect me to change my position to yours, and more that I can expect my ultimate premises to change your mind if I can’t give you more reasons to accept them. So when those arguments of both sides lead to contradictory or incompatible conclusions (or plans), it’s time to look for a different, better plan, or some compromise.
– Interesting. Think people will actually go for that? Like Georges Brassens whose friendship with a bishop rested on the agreement “Il me laisses dire merde, je lui laisse dire amen”? (He lets me say shit, I let him say Amen) But this can become a lengthy and cumbersome affair, Bog-Hubert. Especially when you are going to add whatever evaluation techniques needed to determine the ‘merit’ of all the contributions.
– Talking about that merit, and the special techniques, Bog-Hubert: wouldn’t that involve a whole slew of additional agreements and rules and calculations?
– Why, Vodçek?
– Well, Sophie: Wouldn’t the participants have to agree on what their judgments — about the truth or plausibility, and the importance, significance, of each claim — letters like A,B, C, D, F or numbers zero to ten, or minus 3 to plus 3, or smiley-faces etc. ‘mean’ and how they will be assembled into some overall measure of support for or against the proposed decision? Like we now agree, with some reservation, that 51% of a vote will mean approval of a decision? We’ve been talking about those issues before here, haven’t we?
– Oh. I see. So we’ll need some discussion about all those agreements even before we start the discussion? How do we ever get started? ‘Cause we’d need some agreements about how to get started, and those will have to be discussed…
– Yes: That’s what constitutions and by-laws are for. if you wait to agree on those rules until you run into disagreements in mid-process, you’re asking for trouble. That applies especially to the tasks of evaluation or assessment we haven’t talked about yet: developing some measure of that ‘merit’ of discourse contributions we wanted to connect to the decision.
– I remember, we had a long discussion about the tools for that some time ago. Once you decide that voting isn’t doing a very good job of either due consideration or accountability for why the vote seemed to ignore all the assembled evidence, you are opening a Pandora’s box about evaluation approaches. I’m afraid that we won’t get through all of that tonight, much less arrive at a generally acceptable recommendation for that problem. I know our buddy up at the university had some ideas about that, — there are some of those in the appendix of the paper — but whether they will be easily and generally accepted for such discourse is another question.
– So what do you suggest we do about that now, Vodçek? Because it sounds like that would be a very necessary component of any meaningful discourse platform?
– How about putting the task of development of better approaches, doing some experiments on how they work, developing easy-to-understand manuals or worksheets and supporting calculation programs on the agenda as work to do, maybe devote another weekend to that, later. And perhaps see what ideas our buddy’s proposed Planning Discourse Support Platform has to deal with that?
– I agree, Bog-Hubert. It’s getting late; we don’t have to solve all the world’s problems in one night. So let’s summarize the expectations of decision-oriented online discourse that we have touched upon tonight, and look at what that PDSS has to say about them tomorrow night. Here’s a list of the main issues or expectations we have come across so far:
* Standard ‘netiquette’
* Education for proper discourse participation?
* Response to violations?
* “Inviting, even providing incentives to voice ALL concerns”
* Evolution of self-governance for responses to violation
* Parliamentary principle — but
* Decision based on merit of all contributions
Link between discourse contribution merit and decisions:
* Inviting, even incentives to voice ALL concerns
* Ensuring ‘due consideration’ of all concerns
* Displays of essential ‘core’ content
* Separating claims and evaluation
* Identifying all ‘premises’ for assessment
* Emphasis on evidence, support for claims
* Up front procedural agreements
* Needed: R&D on evaluation of discourse contributions
There are probably more, and they may have to be put into a slightly different order, but it may be enough for a start and to give them some thought while you’re trying to catch some flounder from the pier tomorrow morning. Don’t get lost in the fog on your way home…
=== o ===
The Fog Island ‘Quarrgument symposium’ — First night.
– Okay, ready for some serious dialogical systems thinking? Here’s the main agenda again, we agree to start with the first item there:
The main issues:
1 Disentangling the ‘Dialogue versus Argumentation’ Quarrgument
Meaning of terms?
The case for/against dialogue versus argumentation?
2 Needed agreements / provisions for
a) ‘Social’ Communication?
b) Decision-oriented ‘Planning Discourse’?
3 Provisions for (2b) agreements in the
‘Planning Discourse Support System’ (PDSS) proposals?
– What’s this, Vodçek — ‘serious’? didn’t you say it was just a kind of silly dust-up?
– The other side of silly can be serious, Bog-Hubert.
– Oooh. Into deep guruological pronouncements tonight? Okay, what exactly happened to bring this on?
– Well, I’m not sure. I think it started with our buddy posting some things about this planning discourse support system he’s been working on, that’s based on ol’ Rittel’s ‘Argumentative Model of Planning’. Or perhaps it was just somebody proposing a ‘discussion’ about some issue? Well, this fellow was getting all worked up about the pernicious ideas of ‘discussion’ and ‘argument’, and started berating everybody for even thinking about such concepts, saying that we should all use ‘dialogue’ instead.
– Somebody take him up on that?
– Some folks were getting, let’s say, a little concerned. Or just entertained, having fun? But didn’t voice much serious inquiry about it — maybe they didn’t want to come across as too — argumentative? Wanting to keep the dialogue ‘moving forward’?
– So did it move anywhere interesting?
– I don’t think so. Looked more like going around in circles. It looked like there were very different meanings attached to those terms, especially to the concept of ‘argument’, that apparently got tempers up on both sides, so that no meaningful resolution of the issue was in sight. This is why Abbé Boulah put clarification of those terms that were thrown about in that dustup, up as the first agenda task of this symposium:
Clarifying the meaning of terms:
– Hmm. And doing it in a more ‘structured’ way — what did he mean by that, again?
– Good question, Sophie. I guess, to start with, examining the questions, one by one in some detail, to see if they were really talking about the same issues, the same problem? Using the results from one stage as the stepping-stone for the next one? Working towards some overall view and understanding of how all those questions and aspects are connected and form a coherent ‘whole system’?
– Sounds too involved already. Let’s just get started with the questions: the meaning of the words.
– Why don’t we just look up the definition of those words on some fat book dictionary? You have one here?
– That might be useful Renfroe, If Vodçek keeps one to check on the French words in his cookbook —
– Hey! You better watch it all the time!
– Sorry, Vodçek, couldn’t resist. But the fat book probably doesn’t cover all the ways those terms are used and understood by people in everyday tavern talk. Just take that word ‘argument’. The dictionary might tell you that an argument is a set or sequence of statements — called premises — that are connected together to support or even ‘prove’ another statement, the ‘conclusion’. But that’s not really what people mean when they say “Brother Joe had an argument with cousin Buddy”?
– I see. The situations where people have very different opinions about some thing, and are yelling at each other trying to end up ‘being right’, and the other fellow ‘wrong’. A quarrel?
– Right. And they may use real arguments of the dictionary kind, but also forms of speech the dictionary would call ‘fallacies’, such as the old ‘ad hominem’ pattern, which essentially consists of convincing everybody that the other guy’s opinion is wrong because he is just a scoundrel or a miserable sinner, or has been smoking pot and drinking beer in high school. Raising their voices and fists in doing so, and somebody ending up with a black eye or loose tooth.
– Which means the guy with the black eye was wrong, eh Renfroe?
– I don’t know about you guys, I kinda like a good brawl every once in a while … no matter who’s right or wrong..
– Good grief. I remember now, Abbé Boulah invented a word for that kind of thing: the ‘quarrgument‘?
– Yes, Sophie. It nicely acknowledges the common associations while making the distinction. We’ll see if it sticks… So what about ‘dialogue’?
– That’s where things got muddy. I understand that internet friend insisted that a dialogue is ‘amenable’, aimed at ‘win-win’ outcomes rather than ‘win-lose’ one, cooperative rather than antagonistic (I don’t think he used that term but that was the intent), aimed at creative and constructive inquiry, but does not consist of arguments. Even a kind of ‘systems thinking’. And therefore preferable? Even politically correct?
– Audacious claims. But aren’t those things, those reasons, actually arguments?
– Right, Sophie: statements like “dialogue is preferable because it doesn’t contain arguments” are arguments — of the dictionary kind, not necessarily of the quarrgument kind, that he seemed to have in mind.
– So he wasn’t doing ‘dialogue’ when he said that, making those arguments, was he?
– I don’t know — that wasn’t clear; he might complain that he was diabolically, I mean dialogically tricked into argument mode against his amenable dialog intention?
– I always thought ‘amenable’ had something to do with guiding cattle with some kind of special shouts. What do I know. But why did you say things got muddy — so far, the distinctions we made here between arguments and quarrguments would have cleared things up a bit, wouldn’t they?
– Well, it doesn’t look like it got that far. Now, if you looked at the other terms, your dictionaries — different editions — would come up with definitions or meanings and uses of those other terms — discussion, debate, discourse, conversation, even argumentation — that are more or less overlapping with that of dialogue. Sometimes even defining or explaining one in terms of the others. I don’t know of a commonly accepted view that any of them exclude or don’t need arguments (of the dictionary kind), and common acceptance of the danger of any of the forms deteriorating into the quarrgument version more than others. The only common feature is that they, especially ‘dialogue’ assumes people talking to each other. Which is a good start, no?
– Well; we’ll see if it con be used for online discussions. But first: How would you tell when it deteriorates?
– It usually starts with the use of fallacies and comments that fall into the general ‘ad hominem’ category, attacking the other person rather than the reasons offered. Linking the plausibility, probability, believability of the claim in question with alleged intents, benign or evil, or general character features and shortcomings of other participants in the process.
– Huh. Not even the aspect of preference for ‘positive’ features as opposed to ‘negative’ properties or effects of the disputed subject, Professor?
– No, nothing that says something like “If the talk is about positive aspects, it’s a dialogue, if not, it’s a discussion”? Even though some ‘dialogue’ partisans tend to make it sound like that.
– But aren’t there differences of, well, let’s say ‘moods’ or ‘flavors’ of the talk, depending on the intentions of the participants?
– What do you mean, Sophie?
– Well, take the famous ‘debates’ of candidates for public office, at election time. There, the purpose of the debaters is obviously to make themselves look good in the eyes of the audience, while making the other candidates look bad, or less good? Tripping up opponents into making statements that can easily be disproved, making them look like fools? So by virtue of the adversarial intentions involved, ‘debate’ can be seen as being closer to the ‘quarrgument’ end of the scale, than, say, some friendly tavern conversation to pass the time? Or just getting to know about the other, swapping stories and gossip?
– Good point, Sophie — but there isn’t always a clear line between the intentions and effects. In scientific discussions — say, about whether the correlation between effect X and Y is showing that X causes Y, or the other way around, or that both are caused by another force Z, — the concern is about the plausibility of the different hypotheses, not about the scientists proposing them.
– Sure — but if one of those hypotheses turns out to be ‘refuted’ by the evidence brought into the discussion, doesn’t that make the researcher who had proposed that one look less respectable as a scientist, than the one whose hypothesis keeps getting ‘corroborated’ by more evidence? Especially if he had wasted a lot of research effort and grant money on the refuted theory?
– In theory, it shouldn’t. The refutation of a hypothesis is a kind of contribution to knowledge, isn’t it? Now we know hypothesis Y –> X was not the answer? And shouldn’t that be valued, appreciated? But yes, it’s difficult to keep personalities and their egos or struggle for tenure or research grants out of the overall discussion. The difference is that science does have some useful guidelines for sorting that out. At least in the natural sciences that look at how things work, natural laws and such.
– As opposed to?
– As opposed to any processes involving human behavior and their interest in the outcomes. You might say that tenure or not is such an outcome, but whether an asteroid will strike earth, and where, is not that tightly linked to human affairs: if it does strike, whether the fellow gets tenure won’t matter too much, will it?
– So you don’t believe that prayer, for example, can help avert such outcomes?
– Well, you can pray that your scientists have done their calculations properly when they tell you what’s what, and maybe knowing how hard you prayed may just make him check the numbers one more time, — but try to get that across to the asteroid…
– All this talk on steroids aside — what about the kind of undialogue about human plans and policy-making — that our buddy is working on?
– Why do you say ‘undialogue’, Bog-Hubert?
– Obviously, because in that kind of talk, considering and ‘weighing’ all the pros and cons’ is a key concern, isn’t it? And those pros and cons are arguments, aren’t they? So therefore, according to the internet friend, it’s obviously not dialogue.
– By Abbé Boulah’s drooping mustache, you are right! But doesn’t that mean, if we all decide to engage in dialogue, that we couldn’t ever talk about plans and policies?
– Or, Vodçek, that we should only focus on the ‘pros’, and strive, cooperatively, try to improve, make the best plans possible?
– Sounds very sophistically correct — but isn’t that going against the tenets of planning projects, not even to speak of systems thinking?
– I agree: to the extent planning is in part finding solutions to problems — situations that are disagreeable or hurtful to some folks — understanding those disagreeable aspects is necessary, almost by definition. But why against systems thinking, Professor?
– Well, isn’t part of the catechism of ‘systems thinking’ the advice to always try to anticipate ‘unexpected’ consequences of system interventions? Especially of the unexpectedly unpleasant, undesirable kind? So I’d say the admirable claim that dialogue should only focus on the positive (and avoid the negative, the ‘cons’, the potentially undesirable side-and after-effects) is a bit at odds with this principle?
– Hmm. ‘At odds’ — spoken the way you did, with that British accent, sounds like a dialogical understatement. It begins to look like the issue ‘dialogue versus argument’ was a wrong question. Not a good basis for making those distinctions between dialogue and discussion and argumentation.
– So what’s the right, or better, question, Bog-Hubert?
– Well, let’s see: if all those ‘positive’ aspects as well as the arguments are all included in the general category of ‘discourse’, so trying to derive useful behavior or approach from the artificial distinction of the words is actually distracting from the needed focus on what’s being said? How about this one: The real issue is about the things that can make all those forms of talk deteriorate into ‘quarrguments’?
– Sounds good. I’m getting more confused about those different terms the more we try to sort them out — but yes, the question of how to keep all such talk constructive, productive, and not making the problems worse, is a more useful one to study.
– That actually looks like the second item on Abbé Boulah’s suggested agenda: for tomorrow’s talk — whatever you want to call it? The needed agreements for productive conversations — for friendly ‘amenable’ conversation, as well as for planning, decision-oriented discourse? So we’re done for today?
– I’ll drink to that.
– I hadn’t expected anything less, Renfroe. Though we didn’t really succeed in solving the question about the meaning of those different terms.
– Deciding it’s a non-issue, a wrong question, is a vastly more useful outcome, I’d say … if we have identified the better question.
– Right, Sophie. I’ll drink to that, too… Here’s to tomorrow!
=== o ===
Almost ‘full house’ in the Fog Island Tavern. Most of the regulars are there, leisurely discussing the lately exasperating performance of the local football teams. They don’t appear to be seriously fanatic fans, having attended a variety of different schools, so the exchanges are still civil, no barroom fights expected. Actually, the discussion seems to be flagging somewhat, interest waning, nobody appears to have placed any substantial bets on the games… people getting tired?
So Vodçek, the Tavern owner and sole operator, takes the moment of a temporary lull in the talk to convey a message from one of the missing regulars — the one they call Abbé Boulah — to his customers at the bar:
– Hey folks, let me tell you about this note I got from Abbé Boulah. He is suggesting a kind of ‘symposium’ here, for the long weekend coming on, to disentangle some kind of quarrgument his buddy up in town was getting involved in on the internet. One of those endless discussions that got some folks all worked up but are going nowhere…
– He wants us to straighten out silly mud-slinging-fests on the so-called ‘social networks’ discussions — or whatever you are calling them? Quarrgument? Never heard that one before.
– Yes, Sophie, it’s the term he came up with — to distinguish argumentative discussions from those that end up in unfriendly quarrels, that folks are calling ‘arguments’ but that actually have nothing to to with real arguments. But that’s already getting into the subject he wants you guys to try to work out.
– But why us?
– I think it’s because it may have some bearing on a subject we’ve been talking about here: the idea of the Planning and Policy-making Discourse Support Platform. And he believes that you can do it in a more civil, structured and constructive fashion than what’s going on in those social media.
– Hmm. A man of some kind of faith, eh? So what’s the issue, the controversy?
– It is about some fellow on one of the networks. He keeps interrupting everybody who dares to use the words ‘discussion’, or ‘argument’ or ‘argumentative discourse’ — insisting that everybody should use the term ‘dialogue’ instead.
– Does he have any good reasons or explanations for that?
– You mean does he have any arguments for his claim? Well, that’s the issue, isn’t it? Now, our buddy thinks that this may have some implications on the way the planning discourse ought to be orchestrated. The issue some of us have been speculating about here. It doesn’t look like a very momentous decision, in fact I think it’s kind of silly, it might be a nice little topic to talk about in this weather that won’t let you go out for bigger fish to catch and fry… So how about it?
– Well, what does he suggest to do, exactly?
– It’s very much up to you guys, Professor — but the did set up a kind of agenda for getting started. He suggests three main topics, maybe for three different evenings, to keep enough time free for chitchat about the weather and football and local gossip.
– Doesn’t that go against the rule for such discussions he was going on about here — the ‘parallel processing’ rule?
– Yes, I know, Renfroe, good question. I asked him about that. He explained that this rule does apply to all creative design / planning and problem-solving projects, and therefore also to large-scale online planning discourse. So people can enter their two cents worth to the questions they are concerned about, whenever they want, as soon as they have the information. On platforms that have overview displays, showing everything significant that’s going on on all issues. The whole system, don’t you know. But you see, here we don’t have those displays for showing all the issues and comments about them simultaneously.
– Ah, I understand. Here, only person should talk at a time, to keep things halfway organized, so we should deal with questions one at a time as well. And we only have until last call. For issues that emerge as more important from our efforts, I guess we can always agree to come back to look at previous issues later?
– Right, Sophie. So here’s what he proposes, for starters — I’ll put it up on the menu chalkboard for now, I’m out of the soup du jour anyway. Maybe one of you can bring some larger poster-boards tomorrow and a few markers?
The main issues:
1 Disentangling the ‘Dialogue versus Argumentation’ Quarrgument
Meaning of terms?
The case for/against dialogue versus argumentation?
2 Needed agreements / provisions for
a) ‘Social’ Communication?
b) Decision-oriented ‘Planning Discourse’?
3 Provisions for (2b) agreements in the ‘Planning Discourse Support System’ (PDSS) proposals?
So maybe we can start with the first topic there, tomorrow night?
– Gives us some time to think about it, okay. Let me see if I understand it right: The basic question is whether the form of ‘dialogue’ should be adopted for all such talk (to use a very general term that I assume includes all the potential versions: conversation, discussion, discourse, negotiation, debate…) — but that arguments, argumentation, should be avoided?
– Thanks, Bog-Hubert! Yes, I guess, basically, that’s it. For starters. Any specific issues you want me to put up on the proposed agenda, you guys decide what you want to get into in detail — for tomorrow night, leave me a note. For tonight: Last call!
== o ==
There is much discussion about flaws of ‘democratic’ governance systems, supposedly leading to increasingly threatening crises. Calls for ‘fixing’ these challenges tend to focus on single problems, urging single ‘solutions’. Even recommendations for application of ‘systems thinking’ tools seem to be fixated on the phase of ‘problem understanding’ of the process; while promotions of AI (artificial / augmented intelligence) sound like solutions are likely to be found by improved collection and analysis of data, of information in existing ‘knowledge bases’. Little effort seems devoted to actually ‘connecting the dots’ – linking the different aspects and problems, making key improvements that serve multiple purposes. The following attempt is an example of such an effort to develop comprehensive ‘connecting the dots’ remedies – one that itself arguably would help realize the ambitious dream of democracy, proposed for discussion. A selection (not a comprehensive account) of some often invoked problems, briefly:
“Voter apathy” The problem of diminishing participation in current citizen participation in political discourse and decisions / elections, leading to unequal representation of all citizens’ interests;
“Getting all needed information”
The problem of eliciting and assembling all pertinent ‘documented’ information (‘data’) but also critical ‘distributed’ information especially for ‘wicked problems’, – but:
“Avoiding information overload”
The phenomenon of ‘too much information’, much of which may be repetitive, overly rhetorical, judgmental, misleading (untruthful) or irrelevant;
“Obstacles to citizens’ ability to voice concerns”
The constraints to citizens’ awareness of problems, plans, overview of discourse, ability to voice concerns;
“Understanding the problem”
Social problems are increasingly complex, interconnected, ill-structured, explained in different, often contradicting ways, without ‘true’ (‘correct) or ‘false’ answers, and thus hard to understand, leading to solution proposals which may result in unexpected consequences that can even make the situation worse;
“Developing better solutions”
The problem of effectively utilizing all available tools to the development of better (innovative) solutions;
The problem of conducting meaningful (less ‘partisan’ and vitriolic, more cooperative, constructive) discussion of proposed plans and their pros and cons;
“Better evaluation of proposed plans”
The task of meaningful evaluation of proposed plans;
“Developing decisions based on the merit of discourse contributions”
Current decision methods do not guarantee ‘due consideration’ of all citizens’ concerns but tend to ignore and override as much as the contributions and concerns of half of the population (voting minority);
“The lack of meaningful measures of merit of discourse contributions”
Lack of convincing measures of the merit of discourse contributions: ideas, information, strength of evidence, weight of arguments and judgments;
“Appointing qualified people to positions of power”
Finding qualified people for positions of power to make decisions that cannot be determined by lengthy public discourse — especially those charged with ensuring
“Adherence to decisions / laws / agreements”
The problem of ‘sanctions’ ensuring adherence to decisions reached or issued by governance agencies: ‘enforcement’ – (requiring government ‘force’ greater than potential violators leading to ‘force’ escalation;
“Control of power”
To prevent people in positions of power from falling victim to temptations of abusing their power, better controls of power must be developed.
Some connections and responses:
Details of possible remedies / responses to problems, using information technology, aiming at having specific provisions (‘contribution credits’) work together with new methodological tools (argument and quality evaluation) to serve multiple purposes:
Participation and contribution incentives: for example, offering ‘credit points’ for contributions to the planning discourse, saved in participants’ ‘contribution credit account’ as mere ‘contribution’ or participation markers, (to be evaluated for merit later.)
“Getting all needed information”
A public projects ‘bulletin board’ announcing proposed projects / plans, inviting interested and affected parties to contribute comments, information, not only from knowledge bases of ‘documented’ information (supported by technology) but also ‘distributed, not yet documented information from parties affected by the problem and proposed plans.
“Avoiding information overload”
Points given only for ‘first’ entries of the same content and relevance to the topic
(This also contributes to speedy contributions and assembling information)
“Obstacles to citizens’ ability to voice concerns”
The public planning discourse platform accepts entries in all media, with entries displayed on public easily accessible and regularly (ideally real-time) updated media, non-partisan
“Understanding the problem”
The platform encourages representation of the project’s problem, intent and ‘explanation’ from different perspectives. Systems models contribute visual representation of relationships between the various aspects, causes and consequences, agents, intents and variables, supported by translation not only between different languages but also from discipline ‘jargon’ to natural conversational language.
“Developing better solutions”
Techniques of creative problem analysis and solution development, (carried out by ‘special techniques’ teams reporting results to the pain platform) as well as information about precedents and scientific and technology knowledge support the development of solutions for discussion
While all entries are stored for reference in the ‘Verbatim’ repository, the discussion process will be structured according to topics and issues, with contributions condensed to ‘essential content’, separating information claims from judgmental characterization (evaluation to be added separately, below) and rhetoric, for overview display (‘IBIS’ format, issue maps) and facilitating systematic assessment.
“Better evaluation of proposed plans”
Systematic evaluation procedures facilitate assessment of plan plausibility (argument evaluation) and quality (formal evaluation to mutually explain participants’ basis of judgment) or combined plausibility-weighted quality assessment.
“Meaningful measures of merit”
The evaluation procedures produce ‘judgment based’ measures of plan proposal merit that guide individual and collective decision judgments. The assessment results also are used to add merit judgments (veracity, significance, plausibility, quality of proposal) to individuals’ first ‘contribution credit’ points, added to their ‘public credit accounts’.
“Decision based on merit”
For large public (at the extreme, global) planning projects, new decision modes and criteria are developed to replace traditional tools (e.g. majority voting)
“Qualified people to positions of power”
Not all public governance decisions need to or can wait for the result of lengthy discourse, thus, people will have to be appointed (elected) to positions of power to make such decisions. The ‘public contribution credits’ of candidates are used as additional qualification indicators for such positions.
“Control of power”
Better controls of power can be developed using the results of procedures proposed above: Having decision makers ‘pay’ for the privilege of making power decisions using their contribution credits as the currency for ‘investments’ in their decision: Good decision will ‘earn’ future credits based on public assessment of outcomes; poor decisions will reduce the credit accounts of officials, forcing their resignation if depleted. ‘Supporters’ of officials can transfer credits from their own accounts to the official’s account to support the official’s ability to make important decisions requiring credits exceeding their own account. They can also withdraw such contributions if the official’s performance has disappointed the supporter.
This provision may help reduce the detrimental influence of money in governance, and corresponding corruption.
“Adherence to decisions / laws / agreements”
One of the duties of public governance is ‘enforcement’ of laws and decisions. The very word indicates the narrow view of tools for this: force, coercion. Since government force must necessarily exceed that of any would-be violator to be effective, this contributes both to the temptation of corruption, — to abuse their power because there is no greater power to prevent it, and to the escalation of enforcement means (weaponry) by enforces and violators alike. For the problem of global conflicts, treaties, and agreements, this becomes a danger of use of weapons of mass destruction if not defused. The possibility of using provisions of ‘credit accounts’ to develop ‘sanctions’ that do not have to be ‘enforced’ but triggered automatically by the very attempt of violation, might help this important task.
The discussion about whether and to what extent Artificial Intelligence technology can meaningfully support the planning process with contributions similar or equivalent to human thinking is largely dominated by controversies about what constitutes thinking. An exploration of the reasoning patterns in the various phases of human planning discourse could produce examples for that discussion, leaving the determination of that definition label ‘thinking’ open for the time being.
One specific example (only one of several different and equally significant aspects of planning):
People propose plans for action, e.g. to solve problems, and then engage in discussion of the ‘pros and cons’ of those plans: arguments. A typical planning argument can be represented as follows:
“Plan A should be adopted for implementation, because
i) Plan A will produce consequences B, given certain conditions C, and
ii) Consequences B ought to be pursued (are desirable); and
iii) Conditions C are present (or will be, at implementation).
Question 1: could such an argument be produced by automated technological means?
This question is usually followed up by question 2: Would or could the ‘machine’ doing this be able (or should it be allowed) to also make decisions to accept or reject the plan?
Can meaningful answer to these questions be found? (Currently or definitively?)
Beginning with question 1: Formulating such an argument in their minds, humans draw on their memory — or on explanations and information provided during the discourse itself — for items of knowledge that could become premises of arguments:
‘Factual-instrumental’ knowledge of the form “FI (A –> X)”, for example (“A will cause X’, given conditions C;
‘Deontic’ Knowledge: of the form “D(X)” or “X ought to be’ (is desirable)”, and
Factual Knowledge of the form “F ( C)” or “Conditions C are given”.
‘Argumentation-pattern knowledge’: Recognition that any of the three knowledge items above can be inserted into an argument pattern of the form
D(A) <– ((A–> X)|C)) & D(X) & F( C)).
(There are of course many variations of such argument patterns, depending on assertion or negation of the premises, and different kinds of relations between A and X.)
It does not seem to be very difficult to develop a Knowledge Base (collection) of such knowledge items and a search-and-match program that would assemble ‘arguments’ of this pattern.
Any difficulties arguably would be more related to the task of recognizing and suitably extracting such items (‘translating’ it into the form recognizable to the program) from the human recorded and documented sources of knowledge, than to the mechanics of the search-and-match process itself. Interpretation of meaning: is an item expressed in different words equivalent to other terms that are appropriate to the other potential premises in an argument?
Another slight quibble relates to the question whether and to what extent the consequence qualifies as one that ‘ought to be’ (or not) — but this can be dealt with by reformulating the argument as follows:
“If (FI(A –> X|C) & D(X) & F( C)) then D(A)”.
(It should be accompanied by the warning that this formulation that ‘looks’ like a valid logic argument pattern is in fact not really applicable to arguments containing deontic premises, and that a plan’s plausibility does not rest on one single argument but on the weight of all its pros and cons.)
But assuming that these difficulties can be adequately dealt with, the answer to question 1) seems obvious: yes, the machine would be able to construct such arguments. Whether that already qualifies as ‘thinking’ or ‘reasoning’ can be left open; the significant realization is equally obvious: that such contributions could be potentially helpful contributions to the discourse. For example, by contributing arguments human participants had not thought of, they could be helping to meet the aim of ensuring — as much as possible — that the plan will not have ‘unexpected’ undesirable side-and-after-effects. (One important part of H. Rittel’s very definition of design and planning.)
The same cannot as easily be said about question 2.
The answer to that question hinges on whether the human ‘thinking’ activities needed to make a decision to accept or reject the proposed plan can be matched by ‘the machine’. The reason is, of course, that not only the plausibility of each argument will have to be ‘evaluated’, judged, (by assessing the plausibility of each premise) but also that the arguments must be weighed against one another. (A method for doing that has been described e.g in ‘The Fog Island Argument” and several papers.)
So a ‘search and match’ process as the first part of such a judgment process would have to look for those judgments in the data base, and the difficulty here has to do with where such judgments would come from.
The prevailing answers for factual-instrumental premises as well as for fact-premises — premises i) and iii) — are drawing on ‘documented’ and commonly accepted truth, probability, or validity. Differences of opinion about claims drawn from ‘scientific’ and technical work, if any, are decided by a version of ‘majority voting’ — ‘prevailing knowledge’, accepted by the community of scientists or domain experts, ‘settled’ controversies, derived from sufficiently ‘big data’ (“95% of climate scientists…”) can serve as the basis of such judgments. It is often overlooked that the premises of planning arguments, however securely based on ‘past’ measurements, observations etc, are inherently predictions. So any certainty about their past truth must at least be qualified with a somewhat lesser degree of confidence that they will be equally reliably true in future: will the conditions under which the A –> X relationships are assumed to hold, be equally likely to hold in the future? Including the conditions that may be — intentionally or inadvertently — changed as a result of future human activities pursuing different aims than those of the plan?
The question becomes even more controversial for the deontic (ought-) premises of the planning arguments. Where do the judgments come from by which their plausibility and importance can be determined? Humans can be asked to express their opinions — and prevalent social conventions consider the freedom to not only express such judgments but to have them given ‘due consideration’ in public decision-making (however roundabout and murky the actual mechanisms for realizing this may be) as a human right.
Equally commonly accepted is the principle that machines do not ‘have’ such rights. Thus, any judgment about deontic premises that might be used by a program for evaluating planning arguments would have to be based on information about human judgments that can be found in the data base the program is using. There are areas where this is possible and even plausible. Not only is it prudent to assign a decidedly negative plausibility to deontic claims whose realization contradicts natural laws established by science (and considered still valid…like ‘any being heavier than air can’t fly…’). But there also are human agreements — regulations and laws, and predominant moral codes — that summarily prohibit or mandate certain plans or parts of plans; supported by subsequent arguments to the effect that we all ought not break the law, regardless of our own opinions. This will effectively ‘settle’ some arguments.
And there are various approaches in design and planning that seem to aim at finding — or establishing — enough such mandates or prohibitions that, taken together, would make it possible to ‘mechanically’ determine at least whether a plan is ‘admissible’ or not — e.g. for buildings, whether its developer should get a building permit.
This pattern is supported in theory by modal logic branches that seek to resolve deontic claims on the basis of ‘true/false’ judgments (that must have been made somewhere by some authority) of ‘obligatory’, ‘prohibited’, ‘permissible’ etc. It can be seen to be extended by at last two different ‘movements’ that must be seen as sidestepping the judgment question.
One is the call for society as a whole to adopt (collectively agree upon) moral, ethical codes whose function is equivalent to ‘laws’ — from which the deontic judgment about plans could be derived by mechanically applying the appropriate reasoning steps — invoking ‘Common Good’ mandates supposedly accepted unanimously by everybody. The question whether and how this relates to the principle of granting the ‘right’ of freely holding and happily pursuing one’s own deontic opinions is usually not examined in this context.
Another example is the ‘movement’ of Alexander’s ‘Pattern Language’. Contrary to claims that it is a radically ‘new’ theory, it stands in a long and venerable tradition of many trades and disciplines to establish codes and collections of ‘best practice’ rules of ‘patterns’ — learned by apprentices in years of observing the masters, or compiled in large volumes of proper patterns. The basic idea is that of postulating ‘elements’ (patterns) of the realm of plans, and relationships between these, by means of which plans can be generated. The ‘validity’ or ‘quality’ of the generated plan is then guaranteed by the claim that each of the patterns (rules) are ‘valid’ (‘true’, or having that elusive ‘quality without a name’). This is supported by showing examples of environments judged (by intuition, i.e. needing no further justification) to be exhibiting ‘quality’, by applications of the patterns. The remaining ‘solution space’ left open by e.g. the different combinations of patterns, then serves as the basis for claims that the theory offers ‘participation’ by prospective users. However, it hardly needs pointing out that individual ‘different’ judgments — e.g. based on the appropriateness of a given pattern or relationship — are effectively eliminated by such approaches. (This assessment should not be seen as a wholesale criticism of the approach, whose unquestionable merit is to introduce quality considerations into the discourse about built environment that ‘common practice’ has neglected.)
The relevance of discussing these approaches for the two questions above now becomes clear: If a ‘machine’ (which could of course just be a human, untiringly pedantic bureaucrat assiduously checking plans for adherence to rules or patterns) were able to draw upon a sufficiently comprehensive data base of factual-instrumental knowledge and ‘patterns or rules’, it could conceivably be able to generate solutions. And if the deontic judgments have been inherently attached to those rules, it could claim that no further evaluation (i.e. inconvenient intrusion of differing individual judgments would be necessary.
The development of ‘AI’ tools of automated support for planning discourse — will have to make a choice. It could follow this vision of ‘common good’ and valid truth of solution elements, universally accepted by all members of society. Or it could accept the challenge of a view that it either should refrain from intruding on the task of making judgments, or going to the trouble of obtaining those judgments from human participants in the process, before using them in the task of deriving decisions. Depending on which course is followed, I suspect the agenda and tasks of current and further research and development and programming will be very different. This is, in my opinion, a controversial issue of prime significance.