Posts Tagged 'planning discourse'

TAMING POWER AND THE PUBLIC PLANNING DISCOURSE SYSTEM

Thorbjørn Mann Updated (adding section 8) 3/27/2022

I submit, for discussion, that better controls of power are desperately needed, as are public (global) decision-making tools that better — that is, more transparently — link the merit of discourse contributions with the decisions, and that the development of a better discourse platform with some provisions for evaluation of contributions can offer both: 

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The Control of Power and the Public Planning DIscourse System

1  THE URGENT NEED  FOR PUBLIC (GLOBAL?) PLANNING DISCOURSE PLATFORM ,  DECISIONS BASED ON DISCOURSE CONTRIBUTION MERIT, AND CONTROL OF POWER

Tall order: I agree, and I expect that many will find it impossible, if only because  it  looks too complex. Plausible — but is it reasonable to expect that complex problems can be ‘fixed’ with simple tricks? Some potential provisions I have found while working on improvements to planning decision-making suggest to me that better tools for both the discourse decision-making and the power control issue are  possible, and that they should be discussed, as well as that the search for other, better answers should be pursued more intensively than what I currently see.  

To support my perhaps naively optimistic hypothesis but also to invite critical comments and better ideas, I suggest to break up the discussion into ‘chunks’ that can be discussed in more depth;  the effort to present the whole ‘system’ in its overall complexity has always led to larger, even book-size articles whose very size discourage discussion if they even get read. 

So I would like to post some of the components (chunks) one by one — posting one a day or so, just keeping the overall scheme in mind that holds them all together: the diagram shows the relationships between the topics. 

At any time, participants in the discussion or interested observers who get the feeling that it  — and the topics listed  — are somehow ‘missing the problem’  or wasting time on a ‘wrong question’ should  feel free to make that objection, but  try to state the ‘real problem’ or better question for consideration. So all the topics will have this ‘wrong question?’  reminder at the end, that may lead to changes in the sequence, and will be summarized in the end, before a final question or effort (hope) to articulate some ‘conclusion’ or recommendation based on the information and questions contributed.  

A first suggested list of ‘chunks’  for discussion: (Items added in rspnse to reader suggestions (from FB discusion) shown in italic)

  • The need for a public planning discourse support system (1 abiove)
  • The need for better controls of power
  • The Goals of the System (2)
  • The platform (3)
  • Participation Incentives (4)
  • The ‘Verbatim’  record (5)

*  Procedural agreements 

*  Formalization of entries (6)

*  Displays of the process (7)

  • Power and the discourse playtform (8)

*  ‘Next Step’? 

*  Decision Modes

*  Evaluation

Formal ‘Quality’ Evaluation

Solution plausibility based on Argument Evaluation

*  Decision Criteria

*  Discourse contribution merit accounts 

*  ‘Paying for power decisions’

*  Pricing power decisions

* Transfer of merit points 

*   Other possible uses of merit accounts

  • Implementation: Experiments, Games: ‘Skunkworks”

Brief discussions of these topics  for discussion will be added — not necessarily in the same order,  in response to reader suggestions

Wrong question?  (E.g. “Is the Power issue -Discourse Platform connection appropriate?”

—-

2    THE GOALS OF THE SYSTEM 

(In response to the question by T. Markatos:  “What are the goals of the system and how do they all interrelate? Until we can answer such, we can only guess at the causalities”)

The focus of the post wasreally somewhat limited: to explore the connection between the platform and the Power issue:  Specifically; the notion that the evaluation provisions of the platform  would offer some new opportunities for ’taming’ power.  This was based on the two assumptions  

a)  that such a platform is needed — for a number of reasons (or goals) I have written about  and will try to summarize below — and 

b)  that better controls of power  is also urgent,  as current events demonstrate but of course also must be explored.  

Let me start with (a):

Humanity faces various challenges  of the ‘wicked’ kind, for which collective (even global) agreements and decisions may be needed. The current  planning and policy-making tools are still inadequate to deal with these challenges:  Some specific aspects needing improvements are, briefly:

–  Better provisions and incentives for public participation  in the planning / policy-making and decision process;

–  Besides the desire for participation itself, the ‘distributed’ nature of the information about how problems and proposed solutions affect different parts of society (i.e. information not yet documented) calls for better access and incentives for collaborately contributing such information in a timely fashion;

–  Current media and governmental means of informing the public increasingly suffer from  polarization (channles only presenting information supporting selected perspectives and interests, from repetition of claims, but lack of concise overview of the essence of available information;

–  The lack of transparency of how the contributions  support (or fail to support)  governments’ eventual decisions,  thus meeting the aim that  decisions be transparently based on the merit of the available information;

–  The lack of adequate measures of that merit’;  that is, the pervasive inadequacy of  systematic evaluation in the process, supporting understandable decision criteria that can be compared with actual decisions;

–  The inappropriateness of decision modes  (such  as voting, even in the form of referendum-like procedures, that do not  apply well to problms and crises affecting populations across traditional governance boundaries;

–  The vulnerability of even the best  ‘democratic’ government structures to the corrosive effects of money  (corruption) and  and the effects and temptations of power.

–  The potential of innovative information technology appears to have contributed more to the increase of the problems than to their resolution. 

These are some of the major concerns and expectations for a better planning and  policy-making platform; that have guided my suggestions so far; more can certainly be added; all for discussion. For example, the paper Towards a Model for Survival” (Academia .edu)  that resulted from my observations of a lengthy (2011-2015) discussion on the Systems Thinking  group on LInkedIn addresses the concerns of such a platform in view of mutual sharing  and ealuating the information of the many  small ‘alternative’ initiatives already underway to grapple with the challenges leading then UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon  to call for ‘revolutionary thinking and action for an economic model for survival’  at the 2011 Davos meeting of the World Economic Forum. The many experienced and thoughtful  participants in that Systems Thinking group did not come to an agreement on what such a model would look like. 


3  PUBLIC PLANNING DISCOURSE: THE PLATFORM 

There ought to be a common PLATFORM for a better organized public discussion of plans, issues and policies?  Inviting all affected, interested, concerned parties to participate, to contribute questions, information and opinions in a way that transparently influences the eventual decisions about the plan. 

Such a platform is needed for plans, policies, agreements  involving  societal (and global) ‘wicked’ problems  and issues  that transcend traditional governance boundaries and for which conventional decision-making practices are inappropriate or inadequate. 

Ideas for such a platform have been described in  e.g.  ‘P D S S’ papers on Academia.edu. and other posts on Facebook and this blog Abbeboulah.com.) 

The diagram shows its basic components. It must be impartial, that is, open to all parties in controversial issues, even offer meaningful incentives for participation, but have provisions for the critical assessment of contributed, and aim at developing guidelines and criteria for decision that are transparently based on such assessments.

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4    INCENTIVES FOR PARTICIPATION

The platform should have provisions for acknowledging and rewarding contributions.

This is necessary not only to encourage public participation for its own sake, but also to help getting the ‘distributed information’ about wicked problems into the process for consideration — the different perspectives of how both problems and proposed solutions affect different segments of society, and also to establish the mechanism for meaningful evaluation.

Incentive rewards must be distinguished according to the kinds of contributions (questions, answrs, solution proposals, pro and con arguments etc.

The incentives will have to be in a different ‘currency’ from money, but ‘fungible’ that is, potentially becoming practically useful in some way, within the process and outside.  

It is of course necessary to prevent the system from becoming overwhelmed by ‘information overload’ and redundant, useless or even disruptive content. This could be done by offering initial ‘empty’, mere ‘acknowledgement’ points but

1 activating the value’ of these points only for the ‘first’ entry of essentially the same content,(which will also encourage getting information ‘fast’, and

  1. modifying the value of the points in the later process of evaluation, according to their merit, not only upwards’ for positive, important and helpful contributions, but also ‘downward’ for false, disruptive, meaningless content.

Expressions of ‘endorsement’ of other posts or positions will be accommodated in the later ‘evaluation’ stage.


5    THE ‘VERBATIM’  RECORD

The platform will have  provisions for accepting entries in various ‘media’:  letters, phone calls, text messages, recordings of interviews, emails, citation from other documented sources.  They must be recorded in the form they were submitted (even though this may not be in a format suitable for systematic evaluation yet, and appear irritating to some).  They must be accessible for reference  («what did the author really say?»)  Each entry must be tagged with the author’s ID — a question to be discussed is whether and to what extent authors’ actual names should be publicly visible. 

For evaluation of contribution merit, this may not be needed or appropriate (a comment should be taken on the merit of its content?) But it will be necessary if assignment and valuation of merit points to their authors is to be provided. The collection of entries should be structured according to topics and issues, in chronological order. Authors will therefore have to indicate the issue an entry is aimed at. 

 A common habit is the posting of links to other sites or documents; should there be a rule to state explicitly what claims are to be taken as being introduced or supported by a link or reference? The question of how general ‘arguments from authority’ be treated will become critical in any later more systematic evaluation; if that task requires consideration of specific parts or premises — when and how should that be inntroduced into the process? 

Comments?


6  FORMALIZATION OF ENTRIES 

Meaningful overview display of the state of discussion as well as  systematic evaluation will require organized presentation of entries in some commonly understandable, coherent format (For example, ‘pro’ or  ‘con’  arguments out proposed plans might be represented in a format or ‘template’ such as 

“Plan A ought to be adopted 

because

Plan A will result in outcome B

and 

Outcome B ought to be pursued (desirable)”

Such templates will have to be developed and agreed upon for the different types of planning discourse contributions:  Questions, answers, problems, solution proposals, evaluation criteria and judgments, etc.  Participants may be encouraged to submit or ’translate’ their  verbatim comments into an appropriate template, or the support system will have to do this, perhaps call for the author’s consent («Is this what you mean?»)  Many verbatim comments will be ‘enthymemes’ — e.g. arguments in which some premises are left unstated as ‘taken for granted’ — but for overview and systematic evaluation, they must be stated explicitly.

The templates may look unsatisfactory and too crude to trained logicians — forms like the ‘planning argument’ proposed above have not been acknowledged and studied by formal logic since it is not a ‘deductively valid’ form.  Arguably, for lay public participation, the templates should be as close to conversational language as possible, at the expense of disciplinary rigor. (Of course, this is an issue requiring discussion. 

Comments?


[ 7 ]  DISPLAYING THE STATE OF DISCOURSE

A planning discourse aiming at providing adequate information for making collective decisions will need a system of displaying the proposed plans or questions to be discussed, as well as the state and content of the discourse. This will include a public ‘Bulletin board’ that shows what plans, issues are being proposed (‘candidates’) and those accepted for discussion, and their state of process until decision and closure.  

The important principle is that all different positions about controversial issues must be properly represented, to avoid the polarization of political discourse currently caused by news media channels only presenting material supporting one partisan perspective. 

For initial purposes such as to determine whether a proposed issue candidate should be accepted for full organized discourse, the common current format of social media may be sufficient. That format will soon become too unwieldy for participants to gain and keep an adequate overview of the state of discussion. Topic and issue ‘maps’ (diagrams showing the concepts and topcis that have been raised, and their relationships )— may be needed, to be updated as the discourse evolves. The relationship connections in issue maps are simply those of ‘issue or question x  has been raised in response to question y’. Diagrams of systems models’ and system behavior over time would focus on relationships such as cause-effect or ‘flows’ between ’stocks’. Ideally, the support system would provide such understanding and orientation aids, drawing as needed on the service of consultants or ‘special technique’ processes for gathering specific information, predicting the expected benefits and cost performance of proposals, etc. the participants may call for.  

Comments? 

 [ 8 ] POWER AND THE DISCOURSE PLATFORM

The general question whether new tools for dealing with the problems of power should not need much explanation. In almost all current societies and government forms as well as in view of the issue of a ‘world government’, the presence of power-related corruption in various forms, and the abuses of government leaders who have gained even just close to ‘total’ authoritarian power are well known and much deplored. And the provisions of ‘democratic’ constitutions that have arguably proven successful within the governance systems are showing increasingly disturbing vulnerability to the intrusions and influence of money and partisan information — from wealthy oligarchs, religious institutions, and huge national and multi-national corporations that control public information media and election financing. 

However, the problem of power in general  is too vast for this discussion, and a more general discussion is urgent in its own right. The key thesis of this limited discussion can be stated as follows:  “Some problems of power (and abuse of power) can be at least partially remedies or mitigated by certain provisions in a better organized public planning and policy-making discourse support platform.”  It is necessary to stress the ‘partial’ qualification; though it can be argued that it requires at least  some understanding of the overall problem to assess whether and how discourse  platform provisions can make a difference.

How might a better public planning discourse make a difference in taming power? There are several  ways in which specific interrelated provisions could help:

* Empowerment of the public, through provisions that incentivize contributions to the discourse

* Evaluation features that help constructing measures of merit of proposed plans, based on discourse contributions; and thus guide decisions; 

* The establishment of contributors’ ‘discourse merit accounts‘ from the evaluated contributions (a by-product of the plan evaluation process);

* The use of these accounts by public officials to “Pay for decisions” and their implementation — merit points they have ‘earned’ as well as points  citizen supporters may have contributed to the officials’ accounts — for decisions too important to be paid for by a single person’s account. This different ‘currency’ may replace or at least lessen the role of money in public decisions. Citizens can also withdraw their merit point contributions if they lose confidence in the performance of officials;

* In this way, citizens become  empowered  but also ‘co-accountable‘ for the decisions they authorize officials to make, and the officials will eventually ‘use up’ the points that constitute their power, instead of amassing evermore power and wealth gained form illicit power abuse.

These ideas will of course have to be discussed in more detail, as well as, hopefully, any better alternative suggestions they provoke? 

Wrong question?

a) ]What makes this issue a dilemma is the fact that some events, crises, problems require ‘fast’ decisions that can’t wait for lengthy public discourse; that is, these decisions must be made by people given the  responsibility and the power to decide. The power must be adequate to confront the scope of the problems, and to ensure that its provisions are then followed / adhered to. This usually involves some form of ‘enforcement’: logically by a power  greater (more forceful) than any potential violator. Does this mean that the power must also be greater that any entity trying to ‘tame’ or ‘control’ that power? 

b)  The real problem with power (in the public domain) is corruption;  so any efforts to deal with power must start with the role of potential sorption in the governance system; which may ultimately be seen as the problem of the role of money  in the governance and policy-making process.

Comments?

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The Conundrum of ‘Conduction’

Some comments on the 2019 article on A Dialectical View on Conduction: Reasons, Warrants, and Normal Suasory Inclinations  by Shiyang Yu and Frank Zenker in  Informal Logic, Vol. 39, No. 1 (2019), pp. 32–69. 

The following comments were triggered by the article but may not be pertinent to the stated aim of the article’s aim and “Focal question: Should one treat conduction as argument-as-product?” as opposed to a dialectical view on natural language argumentation. But since the arguments I have studied in the design, planning, and policy-making discourse have at times been labeled a type of ‘conductive’ arguments, and I am interested in the ways such arguments lead to reasoned decisions, some questions arise for the implications of its views on a more systematic and transparent evaluation process within that discourse.  This is, in my opinion, an urgent concern for humanity’s treatment of problems and crises that transcend traditional decision-making boundaries and practices. So I welcome any effort to devote more attention to these kinds of arguments, and hoped to find useful insights in this article. 

Seen from this perspective, I am not particularly concerned about the labels give to these arguments, or whether the understanding of ‘conductive’ arguments should be narrowed (as the article seems to imply) to arguments that contain both ‘pro’ as well as ‘con’ premises or considerations: It had been my understanding that the key criterion was the presence of deontic premises to support the equally deontic ‘conclusion’.  If I am mistaken in this,  my comments and questions  may not apply to the discussion in the article.  

In my efforts to develop better evaluation approaches for arguments to ‘ought’ issues  – which arguably humanity argues about as much if not more than the ‘factual’ arguments analyzed by the traditional logic sources I was aware of  [1]– I found the treatment by these sources of such arguments to be of little help.  In their aims for establishing compelling ‘validity’ if not ‘actually ‘truth’, some disciplines – e.g. ‘deontic logic’ seemed to actually sidestep the problem, basing the analysis on concepts like ‘permitted’, ‘mandatory’ (as e.g. by law) or ‘forbidden’, thereby turning the argument inference rule into patterns closer to the deductively valid rules such as the modus ponens, — but neglecting the subsequent issue of all such premises whether they ought to be permitted, mandatory or forbidden.  Does the article make substantial progress towards a better treatment of these concerns? 

Or is it possible that the effort to stay within the traditional ‘proper’ discipline approach caused the analysis to neglect to pursue key features of planning arguments that they just mention almost as side comments:  

–  That the presence of the deontic claims ‘ought’  or ‘should’ (as in the sample argument discussed) and its argument pattern makes the argument inconclusive by the standards of formal logic (the fancy term used is ‘defeasible’);   

–  That the ‘dialectical’ discourse may aim at reaching ‘normal suasive’ attitudes but that these attitudes cannot be taken for granted, in fact, the ‘arguments’ express disagreements which may be fundamental and based on irreconcilable principles;  

—  That planning decisions rest on often large sets of both pros and cons, not on single arguments, that arguments intended by discourse participants as ‘pro’ reasons for adopting the plan proposal, may turn into equally plausible ‘con’ arguments by other parties, if they disagree (negate) one or more of the proposed premises;  

–  That participants may, in the same sentence, offer both a ‘pro’ as well as a ‘con’ reason for the ‘conclusion’ (as in the ‘monster argument’ discussed [2]) 

My approach to these issues was the following: 

*  Acknowledging that planning decisions should be based on the due consideration of the many ‘pros and cons’ people affected in any way by the problems a plan aims to remedy, as well as the plan alternatives (there is always the alternative of ‘doing nothing’) the discourse should be set up to encourage and even ‘reward’ as wide participation as possible, calling for both ‘pro’ and ‘con’ arguments. 

* Accepting the fact that may comments from the public will be ‘messy’, incomplete (enthymemes), even containing the disturbing ‘counter-considerations’ in one sentence that makes horrified argumentation scientists scream ’monster argument!’, organizing a more systematic, transparent evaluation process will require some formatting many comments into common argument ‘templates’ that clearly shows argument structure and missing (implied) premises. (However, original contributions must be kept for reference in a ‘verbatim’ file.)

* That re-formatting should be as close to conversational language as possible, so that authors can recognize their own intended concerns and agree to the format. 

* I chose to turn the argument patterns around to state the ‘conclusion’—the plan proposal – first, with the approval or rejection claim first, linked to the following support premises with the  link ‘because’ (or ‘since’ or a similar word): resulting in the pattern:

“Plan proposal A ought to be adopted (‘Conclusion’, a deontic D- claim

because 

Plan A will imply or result in effect B (Factual-instrumental FI premise ) 

And 

Effect B ought to be pursued” (Deontic D- premise) 

Summarized as  D(A) since {(FI(A)B) & D(B)}.

A more elaborate version would include a premise stating the conditions  C  under which it is assumed that the factual-instrumental  premise would apply:

D(A)  since / because  { ((FI A  B)  & D(B) | C)  & F(C)} 

Or 

A ought  to be adopted 

Because

A will result in B given conditions C

And 

B ought to be pursued 

And 

Conditions C are (or will be) given. 

I was led to this because sometimes the third premise is present in actual arguments, often just in terms such as “Given the circumstances”  or ‘In the present state of affairs…) ,  but an argument could be made that this is really an argument supporting or questioning one of the other premises: ‘We can’t implement A because the needed resources just aren’t available to achieve B”.  

* The arguments do not have to (I suggest should not) be labeled as ‘pro’ or ‘con’ (other than perhaps as ‘intended’ by the author) because, as will be seen below, whether an argument is perceived as a pro or con by an individual, depends on the individual’s assignment of plausibility judgments to the premises.

* While the discussion may pursue the questions of supporting evidence or argument for any ot the premises, the assessment of  the set of all arguments will begin by individual participants assigning 

  a) plausibility judgments pl to all premises of the arguments (that can be seen as probability judgments  for FI and F premises), on a scale of e.g. -1 to +1, and

  b) weights of relative importance w, of the deontic premises in each argument, with the weight w(i) for deontic claim in argument i:  0 ≤ w(i) ≤ 1.0 and ∑w(i) =  1.0  of all deontic claims in the entire set of pro and con arguments. 

* For each individual participant:

   – The plausibility Argpl(i) of an argument i will be some function of  the plausibility judgments the participant has assigned to the premises of that argument;  e.g. 

Argpl(i) = ∏{Prempl(j) of all its premises, or Argpl(i) = MIN(Prempl(j ):   the argument is as plausible as its least plausible premise. 

  – The weight Argw(i)  of argument i  is a function of its plausibility and the weight w(i) of its deontic premise, e.g.  Argw(i) = Argpl(i) * w(i).

  – The plausibility of the proposed plan  (for an individual) is then a function of all argument weights:  e.g. Planpl = ∑(Argw(i) for all n arguments I considered.

* For the task of generating an acceptable ‘group” plausibility statistic to determine the group’s decision, each group or constituency will have to agree upon some such statistic, e.g. the average Planpl and a decision threshold for acceptance of a plan. There are several possibilities. For example,  it could be agreed that the group’s average Planpl should be at least positive (on the -1/+1 plausibility scale), or that it should be the highest one of several alternative ‘plans’ including the alternative of ‘doing nothing’, or a consideration of  the range of  plausibility values for individuals or subgroups (taking care of the ‘worst-off’ parties affected by the problem to be remedies and by proposed plan(s).  This important and controversial issue is beyond the scope of the issue at hand here – the treatment of pro and con arguments in the planning discourse.  

Whether these or similar provisions for collective design, planning, policy-making discourse can or should be applied to all ethical, moral, political discourse, is another much needed discussion. For now, just one significant implication of this view — that any measure of plausibility merit of social plans must be based on the distribution of individual judgments of affected or concerned people, not some general or universal  ‘truth’ or validity — should be noted: For any application of AI tools to collective decisions about controversial plans, is there any plausible basis for an AI system to make even recommendations for such decisions, unless the data base for its algorithms includes the individual  plausibility and weighting judgments of all human participants in the discourse? That is, much as machine assistance will be needed for the discourse of large or global planning projects or decisions, the AI tools or systems must be integrated into the human discourse and compute its results with the human judgment data as they evolve during the discourse. They cannot substitute for the discourse.  

Such implications may be lurking in the background for the theoretical discussions of arguments, whether deductive, inductive, or conductive. They must urgently be pulled out from the background into a human ‘planning–type’ discussion of its own. 

Notes:

[1]  At the time of my first efforts in this  (the early 1970’s) I was not aware of Wellman’s introduction of the term ‘conductive’ for these arguments but was disappointed in the modal logic and deontic logic sources. There was some discussion whether they should be considered forms of ‘abduction’ (in Peirce’s sense). But the common understanding of abduction also did not seem to match the kinds of arguments I saw in the planning discourse. Abductive reasoning can play a role in the development of solution proposals, however, but not in the weighing of those different solutions. 

[2]  The statement simply combines two considerations, one ‘pro’, one ‘con’, which simply means that it offers two separate arguments to two different ‘conclusions’ or action proposals, as rudimentary enthymemes, with the ‘though’ wording also indicating that one of those reasons, however admittedly plausible, should be assigned less ‘weight’ than the other. I do not see any rationale for the desperate suggestion in one of the branches of the treatment decision tree, to consider the ‘counter-consideration’ as an implied part of the ‘conclusion’. Some necessary assumptions would also be necessary, for example that the only time period available for the two actions is the same (so that e.g. mowing the lawn might be done before going to the movie, or, why not …tomorrow? 

The implication is that for a systematic evaluation, the two arguments for the two different proposals must be stated separately, with all the missing premises made explicit, and that participants then add their individual evaluation judgments to all the premises. 

Similarly, the popular ‘informal logic’ recourse to the Toulmin argument pattern with its backing  and warrant components did not seem appropriate for planning arguments: the pattern seemed to somewhat arbitrarily select its components from premises of ‘successor issues’ arising from efforts to support or question the basic premises of the ‘planning argument’ as I perceived them. 

CAN APPROACH ‘X’  BE USED TO SOLVE WICKED PROBLEMS?  PART 3

THE PARLIAMENTARY PROCESS

Thorbjørn Mann 2021

The claim we want to examine, as stated by proposed approaches (methods, techniques, perspectives): “This approach can be used to tackle WP’s” seems to accept the understanding of WP’s — the original Rittel/Webber one or a slightly different one of later interpreters, as well as a common understanding of ‘tackle‘ as not only ‘trying’ but actually achieving the development of a ‘solution’ to problems described as WP’s: ‘solving’ such problems. It was already pointed out in the first post of this series that of course any group is entitled to ‘tackle‘ (understood as ‘trying to solve’) any problem with any approach it deems appropriate. The question then is whether the claim actually can be seen as a believable promise that a problem with the WP properties will be solved usingthe approach or method. (The possibility that the very concepts of ‘problem’, WP, ‘solving’ these, etc. might themselves need critical scrutiny was be taken up in a the second post of the series).

So what are the criteria that might be used to determine the merit or validity of a claim of the above nature? Put crudely: what would make a client confident to hire a company using an approach X claiming that the approach will solve the client’s WP?  Would a first step be to look for answers to the question of how the proponents of the approach would respond to each of the mutually accepted and understood WP properties? Two questions: 

a) If the respective property is seen as a significant obstacle to the achievement of a solution‘ to WP’s, what will enable X to overcome / respond to that obstacle?

     and 

b) What if the WP property is serious, what are its implications for application of approach X? E.g.: If the property requires an adaptation of the approach or the general understanding of ‘solution’: what would those adaptations look like? 

What other critical question might be asked? The attempt to examine a few competing approach ‘brands’ might help improve this first set of questions. 

The examination of the answers — their generality or specificity, the strength of supporting evidence  or argument, and fit to the problem at hand —  might help to assess the merit of the claim, even if it may not be sufficient to establish a sound basis for preferring one approach X from a competing method Y. This is, in essence, an invitation to entities aiming to work on the world’s WP’s, to contribute their response.

Not being a representative or promoter of a particular ‘brand of this kind, but feeling obliged to offer an example of what answers to these questions might look like, I will sketch a few sample answers from a less controversial ‘approach’: the predominant political parliamentary process. The answers are not intended as a comprehensive set of possible responses, but to clarify what such responses might look like, and start the discussion:

Some potential responses of the ‘parliamentary process’ (‘PP’) as a problem-solving ‘approach’, to the WP properties: 

  • No definitive problem formulation

The PP accepts ‘problems’ on its ‘agenda’ as the justification for proposed ‘solutions’ in the form of proposed ‘bills’ that aim to remedy them. That is, problems statements dealt with as stated by the legitimate participants in the process (elected representatives of defined constituencies). Such statements may be questioned and debated in the subsequent discussion prior to a decision. That is, the issues of what problem formulations will be entered for discussion and consideration is entirely the task of the participants (though they may be responding to statements in the media and public domain).

  • Every wicked problem is essential unique:

Each ‘bill’ for legislative action is accepted without regard to its uniqueness or similarity to other cases, though it may have to be stated in formal terms defined by procedural rules, terminology, and conventions. 

  • Any ‘solutions’ for WP’s are not ‘correct’ (true) or ‘wrong’ (false) but, in the opinions of affected parties, ‘good’ or ‘bad’. 

The terms ‘true or false’, ‘good, bad’ etc. may be used in the discussion of proposed measures, but the outcome of the process is (sidestepping this issue?) is simply ‘accepted’ or ‘rejected’. 

  • Every WP can be explained in many different ways, but can also be seen as part of, or as a symptom of another problem or set of problems.

The debate offers the opportunity for presenting such considerations. The issue may best be included in provisions or justification statements for introducing bills for decision: these should include evidence of having explored different explanations or underlying problems of which the stated reason of the bill could be a mere symptom. 

While the issue of ‘tests’ (or their substitutions by systemic prediction or simulation models) may be and perhaps ought to be more forcefully entered into in the debate of a proposal, the viability of proposed legal actions is left to the judgment of each participant. (In theory, unless constrained by factors such as ‘party discipline’).

  • There are no immediate nor ultimate tests for the goodness or appropriateness of proposed ‘solutions’.
  • There are no well-described and finite sets of admissible operations that can be brought to bear on WP’s.

If this means that the process should deliberately be kept open to new ideas and ‘operations’, it of course applies to the phase of development of solutions before they are presented to the decision-making body for approval or rejection, which then does rely on agreed-upon procedural rules. The debate itself remains open to offering new ideas, or they may be assigned to special groups for more systematic analysis.

  • There is no enumerable set of potential ‘solutions’ to a WP: the ‘solution’ space is infinite and multi-dimensional.

In PP practice, solution proposals are simply presented to parliamentary bodies for approval. The debate may make claims of having explored the entire solution space, but the support for such claims and their counter-arguments must be judged by the participants. Claims of there being ‘no alternative’ to proposed solutions are always flawed and should be avoided: there is always at least one alternative: that of ‘doing nothing’. 

  • WP’s have no inherent ‘stopping rule for efforts to deal with them.

This being true for all possible approaches, the question becomes one of adopting meaningful and practical ‘problem-external’ stopping rules. Common examples in parliamentary bodies are the rule of ‘no more comments / objections’ serving as triggers for proceeding to the decision-making (e.g. voting) phase, or agreed-upon simple time limitations. Provisions like the ‘filibuster’, pretending to ensure that there will be enough time to present ‘all’ concerns for ‘due consideration’, should be amended with rules preventing mere repetitions of arguments already heard.

  • Every WP is essentially unique. 

This feature should be seen as a warning against relying exclusively on precedent cases for the justification of proposed solutions: again, it is a suggestion for the debate to explicitly examine the unique aspects of the problem the solution claims to address.

  • Every effort to deal with a WP is a ‘one-shot operation’ 

Like other WP properties, in the PP,  this should be seen as ‘stock’ reminder for the debate to address.

  • The WP-planner hasno right to be wrong’ (as in ‘trial and error’) but is liable for the outcomes of any actions taken. 

The issue of accountability for actions taken or not taken by parliamentary bodies is a perennial one. Traditional provisions of holding representatives or officials by the threat of denying re-election, or (for more egregious issues: removal from office) arguably are in need of improvement. Especially in view of other rules such as term limits: If representatives can only one serve a single term, or two terms, there is no accountability remedy for flawed actions during the ‘last’ term. There is no logical reason against the parliamentary system making such improvements. 

     * The ‘distributed information’ feature of WP’s:

This admittedly serious issue is one that should — and arguably can — be addressed in the provisions for preparation of action proposals (bills) to parliamentary bodies.

* Nonlinearity, ‘loops’ and counter-intuitive patterns in the behavior of the system affected by a proposed action:

Like some other assessment aspects (such as quantitative measures of performance of proposed solutions), this issue may not be sufficiently well dealt with in traditional parliamentary debate: Rhetorical debate arguments tend to focus on simple cause-effect relationships, and — for quantitative issues — highly aggregated but therefore abstract indices such as ‘growth’, ‘Gross National Product’ or ‘Deficit spending’. Systemic analysis and representation of complex systems aspects should be made required components of the preparatory justification documentation of proposed bills, together with provisions for sending proposals ‘back to the drawing board’ to include new and insufficiently detailed concerns brought up during the debates, or in outside public comments accompanying the debate.

   * The ‘doorknob’ syndrome: 

This aspect is related to the ‘WP as a symptom of other problems’ feature. It should properly be dealt with in the preparation phase of bills, with a summary of its treatment in the justification documentation. 

   * Making decisions on behalf’ of others, such as actually affected parties: 

In the PP, this question is addressed by the assumptions 

a)   that by constituencies electing their leaders and representatives, thereby entitle them to make decisions on their behalf, and 

b)  that conflicts of interpretations in the constituency as well as conflicts in the decision-making body are adequately settled by majority rule voting. 

It must be admitted that these provisions do not meet the aim of ‘acceptable’ or ‘desirable’ design for all parts of the constituency. In fact, the majority rule (in all its variations to ensure more fairness) allows all concerns of the voting minority to be summarily dismissed. The remedies for this are seen in the ‘re-election’ provisions — calling for efforts to develop better ‘accountability’ tools (as discussed above).

   * The ‘making a difference’ syndrome:

Contributing to the uniqueness of WP’s, this aspect can be seen as not adequately served by the rules of the PP. It must of course be balanced against the necessity for agreed-upon procedures that can be fairly and equitably applied to all similar public projects. Such common rules include the principle of separating the ‘projects’ of generating and reaching agreement on general project rules from the specific planning projects to which those rules apply. Specific ‘unique’ aspects of individual projects may require exceptions or modifications of the general rules. (To prevent conflicts that could derail constructive planning projects, the general rules must and can contain provisions for such possibilities). Individual participants’ desire to ‘make a difference’ will mainly be constrained by such rules in the main decision-making phases of the PP, but arguably can find opportunities for creative application in the preparatory and support activities.

Summary observations:

This tentative discussion suggests that while the Parliamentary Process as practiced may fall short of adequate provisions to avoid pitfalls related to some WP properties, but that needed improvements are quite possible. A common denominator is that such improvement provisions will be situated in preparatory activities such as developing the specifics of plans and other support functions, before the final plans are presented for approval in the main decision-making phase. This may remain a problem, because any such supplementary functions may or may not be called upon, at the discretion of the ‘official’ members of the main decision-making assembly. 

Another potential problem of the parliamentary process — common to many other ‘approaches’ — is that the final decision-making tools such as majority voting have the potential of marginalizing or entirely ignoring many of the contributions and insights achieved in supporting and preparatory activities, and even overriding key concerns of minorities, in the main decision body. This feature of common planning and policy-making is not addressed in the WP ‘properties’: Should this issue be included in that set, or be seen as a separate but ubiquitous wicked problem that affects many or all other WP’s? 

The Parliamentary Process, in its many forms, currently is a main governance planning tool, up to the highest international institutions. Can it be expected to be easily and smoothly replaced by a ‘better’ system any time soon? The main competitive ‘approach’ currently being authoritarian rule, which arguably offers few assurances for meeting the PP promises of ‘listening to all concerns and give them all due consideration’ in making decisions, much less guarantees for attending to WP pitfalls. (But it may deserve a chance to present its case, not just to violently take over?) 

Barring convincing demonstration that a better approach will emerge, is the best hope we have that meaningful improvement provisions such as those related to the concerns expressed in the WP (and others!) can be integrated into the PP structure? A wide, structured, and thorough discussion of other competing ideas is urgently needed, and it should include the response of each approach to the Wicked Problem features. 

— o —

Can ‘Approach X’ be used to tackle Wicked Problems?

An invitation  to examine claims of design and planning approaches 

to effectively ‘solve’ wicked problems.

Thorbjørn Mann 2021

(This post is the first part of several attempts to explore the question, in comments or further posts)

The question whether certain design and planning approaches can be used to ‘solve’ or ‘tackle’ wicked problems [1] is an issue raised anew with each new ‘approach’ being brought out on the market. Such claims have been made for widely popular ‘thinking’ ways — ‘systems thinking, ‘design thinking’, ‘holistic thinking’, ‘sociocracy’ and Pattern Language [2], for example: 

The question may have to be restated somewhat. Of course every such approach ‘can’ be used to try to address wicked problems. If we only have one tool, that will be the one we will, indeed must use. But the real question is about the validity or plausibility of claims that an approach will reliably be effective and successful (indeed: the only or better one than others on the market). It is the one we must ask: the more so, the more serious and global and ‘wicked’ the emerging problems facing humanity are seen to be. 

Wicked problems (‘WP’ in the following) are expressed as statements of discrepancy between perceived real conditions and perceived opinions / desires about what those conditions ought to be. The wickedness resides in what Rittel and Webber called their properties — which cannot be stated often enough, (because many comments tend to omit or re-state them in ways that change their meaning): 

  • There is no definitive problem formulation that systems thinking or other approaches, Pattern Language etc. could ‘resolve’ by appropriately react to. Traditional problem-solving methods insist on starting by ‘clearly stating’ the problem; this is the first serious issue the WP view is raising: there are many ways a WP can be stated and explained.
  • Every wicked problem is essential unique: though there are always similarities with other, known problems, there are always new features that can make traditional ‘tried and true’ solutions inapplicable.
  • Any ‘solutions’ – proposed reactions – to WP’s are not ‘correct’ (true) or ‘wrong’ (false) but, in the opinions of affected parties, ‘good’ or ‘bad’, – and different parties tend to have different and opposing opinions as to which is good and which is bad. 
  • There are no immediate nor ultimate tests for the goodness or appropriateness of proposed ‘solutions’;
  • There are no well-described and finite sets of admissible operations (‘recipes, ‘approaches’, procedures, techniques, tools, and we may add: ‘thinking’ kinds, that can be brought to bear on WP’s.
  • There is no enumerable set of potential ‘solutions’ to a WP: in other words, the ‘solution’ space is infinite and multi-dimensional.
  • WP’s have no inherent ‘stopping rule‘ for efforts to deal with them — that is, a stopping rule inherent in the problem statement, that can tell the problem-solver to end the effort: we can always try to do a little better.
  • Every WP can be explained in many different ways, but can also be seen as a part or symptom of another problem or set of problems (the sets Ackoff [3] called ‘messes’).
  • Every WP is essentially unique. This implies that there are no ‘experts’ that can claim expertise from previous work on WP’s.
  • Every effort to deal with a WP is a ‘one-shot operation’ – each attempt to solve it counts significantly; ‘trial and error’ approaches are inappropriate, and any ‘another try’ is now a different problem – and will have consequences that can be seen by different affected parties as new problems.
  • The WP-planner has no ‘right to be wrong’ (as in ‘trial and error’) but is liable for the outcomes of any actions taken. 

Some additional aspects or implications of one or more of the above features can be added to this list:

     * The ‘unique’ aspects, especially regarding the ways a problem or the attempts at solving a WP affect different individuals or groups in the overall affected community, is that the information about these effects is distributed, not yet reliably collected in documentation or existing data bases, or in the memory and skill set of ‘experts’. The effort to confront a WP may involve the development and application of entirely new tools of information collection, analysis, and testing.

   * The connections and relationships between the components of ‘systems models’ of wicked problems and their context, can be multiple and contain various ‘loops‘ that add nonlinearity and sometimes counter-intuitive patterns to the behavior of the system over time: effects that many descriptions summarize as ‘complexity’ and excuse that wicked problems ‘can’t be solved’ (which doesn’t prevent some promoters of new approaches to claim that their approach can be used to solve WP’s…) 

   * The reality of problems of the wicked kind is that they are prime examples of the syndrome that even earlier systems efforts to describe systemic planning method recognized as the ‘doorknob syndrome‘ [4]: the problem of designing a better doorknob is inextricably embedded in 

a) ‘upward’ design issues: of the design of the door to which the doorknob will be attached, which may be accepted as ‘given’ — but perhaps included in the design considerations: (should it be a single-leaf or double-leaf or a sliding door, which depends on the wall into which the door will be set?) as well as the design of the spaces on either side, and so on until it ends up mulling the design of the society creating and inhabiting the building and the economic conditions of its production; and 

b) ‘downwards’ design issues and their context: the choice of material for the doorknob and its surfaces, which involves the production modes for each material choice, the available materials and their composition, supply chain etc. down to the atomic level of its components. 

The problem as it first is brought to attention can escalate in both directions, and the ‘context’ to be accepted as given at each level is not a matter of the logic of the problem itself. It is a choice on the part of the ‘planner(s) and as such involves another layer of uniqueness. 

Some ‘social’ aspects of public planning that, I feel, have not been sufficiently well acknowledged so far are the following: 

   * The discussions about WP talk about ‘the planner’ or entity (consulting firm) attempting to develop a plan for addressing the problem on behalf of the client community, or for a ‘governance’ decision-maker client who has the legitimacy and/or power to actually set in motion the plan the planner just recommends. The WP features seem to imply that the community as a whole should be both: planner and decision-maker, which may become part of the doorknob syndrome; but in any case raises the question of the appropriate (design of the) process and decision-making modes and criteria. This inevitably makes any WP a political problem, in addition to its own complexity;

  * To the extent the people respond to the demand for participation by devoting time and effort to public planning, this makes the planning process itself an inextricable part of the whole problem, — and of their own lives. People may have visions and desires of ‘making a difference’ in their participation in public affairs, making the entire project, planning process and outcome distinctly ‘theirs’. Consciously or unconsciously, they may work to not just accept any part of the work — attributes of the resulting plan as well as the process, but to do things distinctly ‘differently’ from traditional ways. Doing it ‘their way’, — objections of invested experts in the domain notwithstanding, who insist on having things done ‘professionally’ and ‘properly’, ‘according to standards and (collectively assumed norms and expectations. This desire to ‘make a difference may be intolerable to some who, like Aristotle, demanded to exclude any ‘subjective opinions’ from the resolution of public issues. But others, a key part of the very purpose of society is to empower and facilitate access of all its members to their own ‘pursuit of happiness‘. The need to ‘balance’ these two opposing forces makes the entire process of any significant planning process a wickedly unpredictable one — almost by definition.

Against this onslaught of wickedness stand the calls from victims of problems that ‘something ought to be done’. And what possible judgment can there be against any effort and approach to bring whatever tools and procedures and principles to bear on the problems we face? In principle, any theory, approach, method, perspective for working on problems, wicked or not, must be welcomed for discussion.

But given the variety of so many different ‘approaches’ and the impossibility of having them all work on the challenges we face, the question of ‘what makes an approach or method more or less likely to succeed in the battle against wicked problems?’ is equally legitimate and urgent. 

What are the strategies we might pursue in looking for answers to this question? The question can be stated more specifically: How can we assess the likelihood that a proposed approach will prevail against the different Wicked Problem Properties? 

Apart from the strange and isolated suggestion [5] that because they can’t really be solved, WP’s aren’t really problems — so we shouldn’t waste our efforts trying to solve them, — except maybe some tame aspects that admittedly are part of all WP’s? A few distinct strategies can be seen in the efforts of some proposed approaches to convince us that they indeed can ‘tackle wicked problems’. 

One possible strategy consists in reducing the impression of wickedness of the WP properties. The examination of this strategy would call for looking at each such proposal’s answer to each of the problem properties. 

Another strategy consists in pointing out how projects addressing WP’s have produced outcomes (‘solutions’) that have received enthusiastic approval by not only the ‘clients’ of projects but more importantly by the teams and participants working on them, as the main success criterion.

A third tack consists in ‘adapting’ the approach claiming to be useful tools for dealing with WP’s. For example, redirecting the focus of approach away from claiming that constructing solutions from ‘valid’ components will lend validity to any of potentially multiple solution generated so that only one such solution needs to be generated and does not need additional validation or evaluation) towards sets of general procedural recommendations that should be given ‘due consideration’. 

Two variants of this strategy, at opposite ends of a scale of quality ambition, are the ‘axiomatic’ approach (following e.g. the example of geometry) starting from ‘self-evident’ true first statements that don’t need further explanation or evidence to generate true theorems by combining the first axioms with equally valid logic arguments; and the example of government regulations e.g for buildings. The former must be followed to generate ‘valid’, beautiful buildings according to mostly qualitative aspects. Then, the validity of outcomes is ensured by following the process. The latter must be met to ensure minimal acceptable standards of e,g. safety and other objectively measurable criteria to get a permit. It involves minimal ‘evaluation’ efforts — checking whether the rules have actually been met. Qualitative concerns assessed by subjective judgments are more difficult to address with this approach.

These difficulties lead to efforts to construct ‘axiomatic’ theories for qualitative concerns — e.g. is Alexander’s effort to declare qualities such as ‘value’, ‘beauty’ and ‘life’ of built environments to be ‘matters of objective fact’ is an example of this strategy? Because the ‘axioms’ are not as universally accepted as ‘self-evident’ such efforts are considered controversial. 

Are there other possible avenues for building support for the position that a planning approach will be able to convincingly ‘tackle’ wicked problems? This post is an invitation to explore that question for discussion. Pending development of such strategies, it may be useful to examine the specific considerations needed for acceptance for some the above strategies in some detail. This will be the subject of follow-up posts: the first one of which will be the issue of how a given approach might respond to each of the WP properties to establish its validity.

— o —

[1] Rittel, H. and M.Webber: “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning” [Panel on Policy Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 4, (1969) 155-169].

[2] e.g. Douglas Schuler, Aldo de Moor and Greg Bryant: “New Community Research and Action Networks : Addressing Wicked Problems Using Patterns and Pattern Languages.” 

[3] Ackoff, Russel: Resurrecting the Future of Operational Research | SpringerLink link.springer.com › article › jors.1979.41

[4] ‘Doorknobbing’ — a term and story I remember from my student days, warning against ‘over-thinking’ any given design problem, I do not remember its original author 

[5] Nelson, Harold: From a FB or WP SciO SystemsThinking discussions, I partially noted: “Wicked problems are indeterminate and thus are not real problems in any normative sense. Rittel chose politics as the strategy for dealing with them. They also reveal the difference between describing and explaining real-world systems (actually framing and naming them) and creating systems that are considered to be desirable by someone.”  

— o — 

The Fog Island Tavern ‘Quarrgument’ Symposium, third and final night.

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?

– Yes.

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 ==

‘CONNECTING THE DOTS’ OF SOME GOVERNANCE PROBLEMS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some connections and responses:

Problems and remedies network

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

“Voter apathy”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Control of power”

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

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


 

Some problems with the systematic assessment of planning arguments.

(Ref. e.g. the article ‘The Structure and Evaluation of Planning Arguments’ (Informal Logic, Dec. 2010, also slightly revised, in Academia.edu).

In an effort to explore phenomena, identifying shortcomings and errors, that can be seen as arguments against the too ready acceptance of the argumentative model of planning, I ran into a well-intentioned article full of claims and arguments that did not fit the simple clean basic model of the planning argument, and would cause some problems in their analysis and plausibility assessment. Briefly, there are three aspects of concern.

The first is the liberal use of verbs denoting the relationship between concepts that — in the basic planning argument — would be seen as plan features that cause outcomes or consequences. Reminder: the argumentative view shares the focus on cause-effect relationships with much of the systems modeling perspective: the ‘loops’ of systems networks are generated by changes in components / variables causing positive or negative changes in other variables. So the relationship constituting the ‘factual-instrumental’ premise of planning arguments is mostly seen as a cause-effect relationship.

Now the survey of arguments in the article mentioned above (not identified to protect the author until proven guilty, and because the practice is actually quite common) hardly ever actually uses the terms ’cause’ and ‘effect’ or their equivalent in arguments that clearly advocate certain policies and actions. Instead, one finds terms such as ‘reflects’, ‘advance’ (an adaptive response); ‘reinforce’, ‘seeks to.. ‘, ‘codifies’, ‘is wired to..’. ‘erodes’, ‘come to terms with…’. ‘speaks to…’, ‘retreats into…’,’crystallizes…’, ‘promotes’. ‘cross-fertilizes…, ’embraces’, ‘ ‘cuts across’, ‘rooted in…’, ‘deeply embedded ‘, ‘leverages’,
‘co-create’ and ‘co-design’, ‘highlight ‘, ‘re-ignite’. (Once the extent of such claims was realized in that article that was trying to make a case for ‘disrupting’ the old system and its propaganda, it became clear that the article itself was heavily engaged in the art of propaganda… slightly saddening the reader who was initially tending towards sympathetic endorsement of that case…)

This wealth of relationship descriptions is apt to throw the blind faith promoter of the simple planning argument pattern into serious self-recrimination: What is the point of thorough analysis of these kinds of argument, if they never appear in their pristine form in actual discourse? (The basic ‘standard planning argument’ pattern is the following: “Proposed plan X ought to be adopted because X will produce consequence Y given conditions C), and consequence Y ought to be pursued, (and conditions C are or will be given.)” True, it was always pointed out that there were other kinds of relationships than ‘will produce’; or ’causes’, at work in that basic pattern: ‘part-whole’, for example, or ‘association’, ‘acting as catalyst’, ‘being identical’ or synonymous with’, for example. But those were never seen as serious obstacles to their evaluation by the proposed process of argument assessment, as the above examples appear to be. How can they be evaluated with the same blunt tool as the arguments with plain cause-effect premises?

Secondly, the problems they cause for assessment are exacerbated by the fact that often, these verbs are qualified with expressions like ‘probably’; ‘likely to’, ‘may be seen as’ and other means of retreating from complete certainty regarding the underlying claims. The effect of these qualification moves is that the entire claim ‘probably x’ or ‘x is likely to advance y’ can now be evaluated as a fully plausible claim, and given a pl-value of +1 (‘completely plausible, virtually certain’) by a listener — since the premise obviously, honestly, does not claim complete certainty. This obscures the actual underlying suggestion that ‘x (actually) will advance y’ is far from completely plausible, and thus will lend more plausibility and weight to the argument of which it is a premise.

A third problem is that, upon closer inspection, many of the relationship claims are not just honest, innocent expressions of factual or functional relationships between real entities or forces. They are often themselves ‘laden’ with deontic content — subjective expressions of ‘good’ or ‘bad’: ‘x threatens y’, or ‘relativizes’, or ‘manipulates’ are valuing relationship descriptions: judgments about ‘ought-aspects that the proposed method reserved for the clearly deontic premises of planning arguments: the purported outcomes or consequences of plans.

What are the implications of these considerations for the proposal of systematic argument assessment in the planning discourse? (Other than the necessary acknowledgement that this very comment is itself a piece of propaganda…)

Apart from the option of giving up on the entire enterprise and leaving the subjective judgments by discourse participants unexamined, one response would be to devise ways of ‘separating’ the qualifying terms from the basic claims in the evaluation work sheets given to participants. They would be asked to assess the probability or plausibility of the basic premise claim, perhaps using the qualifying statements as a ‘guide’ to their plausibility judgment (like any other supporting evidence). This seems possible with some additional refinement and simplification of the proposed process.

It is less clear how the value-contamination of relationship descriptors could be dealt with. Changing the representation of arguments to the condensed form of the basic ‘standard planning argument’ pattern is already a controversial suggestion requiring considerable ‘intelligent’ assessment of arguments’ ‘core’ from their ‘verbatim’ version, both to get it ‘right’ and to avoid turning it into a partisan interpretation. The ‘intelligent computation’ needed to add the suggested separation of value from relationship terms to the already severely manipulated argument representation will require some more research — but doing that may be asking too much?

And it is not clear how these considerations can help participants deal with insidious argument patterns such as the recent beauty alleging media coverup of terrorist incidents in Sweden, and then using the objection that there was no evidence of such an incident, as a ‘clinching’ argument for the coverup: ‘see how clever they are covering it up?’

On the role of design and education of designers.

(From a letter to a friend who has been working, writing and publishing on the problems of ‘design’.) Thorbjoern Mann, May 2015

I have been busy trying to communicate with the systems folks on LinkedIn about the role of argumentation in systems modeling — there seems to be an obstinate blind spot (or hole?) in their oh so holistic minds about that. I have yet to see a systems diagram in which the various issues (contentious questions, for example regarding assumptions of the model variables and parameters, about which people might disagree) are not somehow assumed to be ‘settled’. No more discussion. Curious, it is making me feel a little like someone trying to fill those open minds (they insist) with the precious grains of my speculations only to see them run out of the bottoms of those minds (there are holes top and bottom, and the bottom ones are larger?) like ocean sand.

So every once in a while I resort to wise books like the Designology volume you graciously sent me, for reassurance that the design perspective is one to be valued, respected, and further explored. I especially am fascinated by the heroic efforts in that book — and elsewhere — to identify and locate the proper role of design in the academic landscape of disciplines and departments. And the more I think about it, I sense how much of a monster this thing must look like from the point of view of, say, a ministry of education confronted with demands for proper designation of funds and personnel and labels (department names) let alone assignment of leadership roles to this ‘design’ phenomenon.

For it seems to be a little like that curious object some people have used to test prospective designers’ visual imagination: the thing that has a square profile if seen from one side, a triangle from another, and a circle from a third direction. Design indeed looks like a handful of different disciplines, depending on the angle from which it is seen. The literature is replete with complaints about the difficulty of agreeing on a common definition of design.

For example: Let’s say we start, arbitrarily, from some proposed explanation that design has something to do with problem solving. Looking at a problem as a discrepancy between a state of affairs as it IS (or will be, if nothing is done), and as it OUGHT to be, raising the need or desire to find out HOW it may be transformed from the former to the latter. A closer attention to the IS part may get us to look not only at the facts of the current situation and their adequate determination and description, but also at the causes that made things get this way, trying to understand the forces and laws at work in that process. This may have to do with physical aspects of reality, suggesting an approach like the scientific method of natural sciences to validate and understand it: Does this not look like Science? But not only science in the sense of the ‘hard’ natural sciences, because physical conditions and artifacts involved in problems have effects on people, their minds (psychological, physiological) and relations: Social science. The designer must have some adequate understanding of both ‘kinds’ of science in order to deal with the challenge of doing something meaningful about it.

Looking at the other end, though, the OUGHT aspect, a first impression that it also has a social sciences flavor — user needs, for example — soon gives way to a sense that there may be more esoteric aspects at work: vision, dreams, desires, imagination, aesthetics: aspects for which either science label clearly is not appropriate. In fact, the label OUGHT evokes connections to quite different disciplines: those that explore the good, morality, ethics, norms. So should design actually be situated in the philosophy department?

This is not a very common idea. Rather, it is the imagination aspect, or more specifically, the need to use visual images to communicate about the proposed results of this activity, that has led many to see the essence of design in the tools we have to help our own and the audience’s understanding and ability to ‘see’ proposed solutions: Drawing, model-building, perspective, rendering, with their closeness to painting and sculpture: Obviously: it’s (a kind of) an Art? Even given more recent tools of computer programs for virtual visual walk-through presentations. This is a historically a more widely embraced notion.

However, there are more, less ‘artistic’ tools designers need to persuasively present solution ideas to clients and the public. Proofs of validity, affordability, safety: diagrams, calculations. More like the tools engineers are using?

Wait: persuasion? Yes, designers will have to spend some effort trying to convince others of the advantages of the solution — mainly the ones who are expected to pay for its implementation. This is partly the stuff of ‘storytelling’ many design teachers admonish their students to cultivate — what will it be like to live in this great proposed solution? But also, when things are heating up, of argumentation: exploring, discussing the pros and cons of the proposals.

Arguments? Doesn’t that have to do with logic, rhetoric? But the disciplines in charge of argumentation haven’t paid much attention to the kinds of arguments we are using all the time in the design and planning discourse, so they do not have much room for the concerns of design in their curricula — but it’s argumentation, all right. Even the structure of these ‘planning arguments’ clearly indicate the multifaceted nature of the concerns involved:

“We ought to adopt proposal X
because
1) implementing X will result in consequence Y provided conditions C are given;
and
2) we ought to pursue consequence Y,
and
3) conditions C are indeed present?”

This ubiquitous argument pattern (of course there are many variations due to different assertion / negation of terms, and different relations between X and Y) contains at least two or three different kinds of premises: the factual-instrumental premise 1, the deontic premise 2, and the factual premise claim 3. If questioned, each of these will have to be supported with very different kinds of reasons: the kind of evidence we could loosely call scientific method for premises 1 and 3, but based on conceptual agreements about the meaning of the things we are talking about. Reasons which employ arguments found in the familiar catalogues of reliable logical and statistical inference, observation, data-gathering, measurement. A closer scrutiny of the catch-all premise 3 might reveal that the conditions C include all the variables, values, and relationship parameters of a systems model. The ‘Systems Thinking’ community (referring to a variety of different emerging ‘brands’ of systems studies) would this argue that holistic understanding and modeling of the systems into which designers are intervening is a necessity, and this is the concern of premises 1 and especially 3.

But for premise 2, the supporting arguments will be of the same kind of ‘planning argument’ type. From the point of view of formal logic, these arguments are not ‘valid’ in the sense of deductive syllogisms whose conclusions must be accepted as true if all the premises are true. They are merely ‘inconclusive’ at best, no matter how recklessly we use and accept this kind of reasoning in everyday planning discourse. That very recklessness being a strong argument in favor of designers studying such reasoning more carefully than is currently the case… What to call this perspective?

Coming back to the impression that design is more like engineering. There is good evidence for this: the question of HOW to transform the unpleasant IS condition to the desirable OUGHT requires the application of scientific knowledge — science, again — to the task of putting together tools, processes, resources to generate solutions and to evaluate them, test them to see if they will meet the requirements and withstand damaging forces. And in the production of modern architecture, there are many different kinds of engineers involved — engineering had to divide itself into many different sub-disciplines, each drawing on their own branch of science. The available and needed knowledge has become too rich and complex for any single professional to master them all. This means that effecive coordination of all these activities in the design process requires at least an adequate understanding of the different engineering branches and their vocabulary, concerns, criteria, to make sense of it all. Ideally. So perhaps it was appropriate for many architecture schools to be located in Institutes of Technology rather that in art schools such as the Beaux Arts?

The successful practitioners of this kind of art, though, (the ones who consistently win commissions for significant work) find themselves facing a quite different challenge: that of running a business. And some of the well-known sources of jokes about architects refer to their frequent troubles of this kind. For example: meeting deadlines: time management, and even more seriously, staying within the budget. A case for including more management, business and economics material in the education of designers?

What, besides an understanding of engineering, business, and economics, — we might as well throw in the various disciplines exploring the aspect of sustainability and ecological impact of their buildings — does this mean for the poor architects? The ones who got through architecture school even in spite of the required structures courses that gave their artistic minds so much trouble? It becomes a very different activity: to guide and orchestrate — the word is very apt for the assembly of different disciplines and professions — the activities of all these people in the design process. Not only there, but of course also in the subsequent implementation process, with different professionals. The architect there has to become a project manager — if he hasn’t given up that role to yet another, different profession. But a good design has to take the implementation process into account as an important determining factor: if it can’t be built, if it takes too long, if there are too many possibilities of accidents or failures along the way, his prospects for successful creation of solutions are slim.

Creating, designing, then, involves all these considerations and skills. And while this little sketch considered only the architect of buildings (the word ‘architect’ has been taken over by many other ‘designing’ roles such as software developers and even turned into a verb; old Vitruvius must be rotating in his grave) it should be easy to see how this multiple perspective feature applies to many other areas of modern life. Yes: for the academic department designer, ‘design’ is a monster, and the proper role and placement of design education is a very wicked problem.

It raises a number of important questions for how research (the science of design) and education for all the professions that will have to deal with design ought to be organized, funded and guided. The current confused attitude and treatment — best characterized as the infamous ‘benevolent negligence’ quip by Senator Moynihan about race relations — perhaps has the advantage that many different people in many different realms are forced to creatively deal with it. But it can’t, by any measure, be called a convincing, efficient design. This very point, in my opinion, is calling for increased attention and discussion. Perhaps a conference? A research project (if research is the proper word, after all these questions…)? A ‘design’ competition? A large online public planning discourse?

 

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


A Fog Island Tavern discussion

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

AM-PDSS Feelings

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

Updated Planning Discourse Positions

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

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

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

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

•      The Software problem: Specifications for discourse support software;

•      Questions of appropriate process;

•        The role and design of discourse mapping;

•       The aspect of distributed information;

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

•       The role of experts;

•      Negative associations with the term ‘argument’;

•      The problem of ‘framing’ the discourse;

•      Inappropriate focus on insignificant issues;

•       The role of media;

•      Appropriate Discussion representation;

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

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

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

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

•      Linking discussion merit / argument merit with eventual decisions;

•      The issue of maps ‘taking sides’;

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

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

•      The question of argument reconstruction.

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

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

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

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

•    The question of representation of qualifiers in evaluation forms.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Sorry, diagram will be added later)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11      Provisions for mapping:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13      Provisions for evaluation.

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

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

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

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

a.  Judgment criterion: Plausibility.

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

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

b.   Weights of relative importance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Topic map

Map of topics discussed

b.  An issue map for one of the topics:

Mapping issues

Argument mapping issues

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

The overall hierarchy of plan plausibility judgments

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

Hierarchy map of argument evaluation judgments, with successor issues

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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