Posts Tagged 'planning discourse'

Thoughts On Agreements and Sanctions 

To ensure adherence to agreements for the public planning discourse platform

This is an exploration of a ‘platform management issue’: the question of needed participation agreements on a public planning discourse support platform. The idea of preventive sanctions automatically triggered by the very attempt of non-adherence via a merit point ‘currency’. Authority vs community control,  


Like all social internet platforms, a ‘global’ public planning discourse support platform, as well as its experimental ‘pilot’ version, will encounter management issues regarding inappropriate, or distasteful or disruptive participant actions: ‘trolling’, ’hacking’, or just filling the threads with useless, meaningless and annoying blather. Most of the available forms of control or containment of such behavior for platform ‘administrators’ or ‘moderators’ can also become the reason for criticism: perceived ‘partisan’, biased’, or oppressive abuse of their ‘power’. 

This issue is a miniature version of general governance problems in any community: of ensuring that agreements, laws, and rules aimed at guaranteeing a peaceful functioning  of that society are actually adhered to. The terms describing the manner in which this is usually done — ‘enforcement’ — indicate the sources of conflicts and problems: governance  entities endowed empowered to use coercion and force to prevent and punish violations of the rules.

This element of power is problematic within ‘community’ or governance domains, because there will always be parties feeling that rules are ‘unfair’ or arbitrary and will try to resist them: at the extreme with violent force against enforcement agents. The battle against crime inevitably leads to escalation of the enforcement and opposition tools. 

The same syndrome becomes even more critical when played out in ‘global’, international relations and conflicts. If conflicts arising from perceived unjust and unfair violations of agreed-upon treaties or assumed rules of proper interactions have to be ‘resolved’ by the threat or application of violent force, the call for some ‘global’ enforcement entity will arise — a ’world govenment’ — an entity with unquestionably superior force. We see several nations now competing for becoming this superior ruler or ‘world policeman’. The specter of such an  entity is as abhorrent to many as the prospect of the battle for dominance  even between current contenders: with the ‘enforcement’ and opposition weaponry, a war to resolve that contest is predicted to be too destructive for humanity as a whole to survive. 

History also teaches that the supreme power of such an entity will become an irresistible temptation to abuse that power — to itself violate the rules and agreements it is supposed to ensure. Power is addictive and tends to destroy the mental sanity of rulers. This means that the search for different means of guaranteeing that rules and agreements will be adhered to should be an urgent priority for humanity. 

The very nature and aim of a ‘discourse’ about conflicts and plans is antithetical to the use of coercion and force. It is the very manifestation of hope and conviction that resolution of differences of opinion and interest, as well as development of plans to deal with natural disasters, can be achieved with tools of mutual explanation, argument, negotiation: discourse. To the extent agreements on rules will be needed for peaceful and constructive planning discourse, the discussion agenda for design of its platform and process must address the issue of alternatives to ‘enforcement’ of adherence to its own agreements.

Examples of non-coercive tools for this purpose already exist, even current technologies potentially facilitating different approaches. Also, elements of the proposed platform — such as the idea of measurements of discourse contribution merit — could be adapted to becoming tools for dealing with this problem of violations of agreements. They aim less at finding penalizing ‘sanctions’ than at provisions to prevent them, triggered by the very attempt (intentional or inadvertent) to commit a violation. 

These considerations suggest some more thorough examination both of the kinds of agreements a constructive planning discourse platform would need, and an attempt to provide innovative tools for ensuring their adherence, for discussion and encouragement for developing more and better ideas. 

Needed agreements :

‘Rules’ for a constructive planning discourse.

The planning discourse platform will need tools to contain the same kinds of disruptive behavior that plagues current social  media, such as: 

 – ‘Off-topic’ contributions;

–  Insulting, disrespectful comments and  language;

–  ‘Ad hominem’ attacks as means of evading the topic;

–  Intentionally untrue or incomplete, selective information;

–  Reckless repetition of unsupported ‘rumors’ . 

Added suggestions imight nclude the habit of posting links to other sources without explaining the point the cited work is supported to support, or mere advertising items, 

To the extent the platform aims at developing decisions or recommendations, the community may decide to use some standardized formats or templates of comments  aiming at facilitating overview and aggregation of judgments into measures of overall merit of plan proposals, it may become necessary to find means of ensuring adherence to those agreements.  

Potential ‘platform management’ tools: 

Withdrawal of contribution or judgment rights.

It is a common practice on social media to attempt to prevent abuse by restricting ‘membership’, e.g.: Prospective participants selectively invited by people who are  already members, or have to ‘apply’ for admittance to a group. The  application is reviewed and decided upon by ‘administrators’ or group ‘owners’, perhaps with other members’ input or veto  power. This requires agreement about the criteria  to be used, which can become controversial. 

The approach is incompatible with the requirement of wide public participation.  Obviously, criteria used for public platforms should not be ‘discriminating’ against community members on the basis of gender, race, religion etc., but age, citizenship or residence in a governance domain are often considered. This becomes difficult precisely for the kinds of projects for which this new platform is needed: problems that affect people in different countries or regions. ‘Affectedness’  by a problem or plan can be difficult to judge, as can be the question of whether a participant is sufficiently well informed to weigh in on a complicated matter (expressed clumsily  e.g. in age limits). The common practice of defining ‘affected’ or ‘entitled groups with the tool of ‘licenses’ issue upon proof of knowledge of s discipline and its rules may have to be discussed, for specific types of projects.   

The criteria applied to accepted members relate more easily to the member’s explicit or implied agreement to comply with the current group ‘rules’. Consequences for violation of those rules can then be specified, and in the extreme, result in revoking the perpetrator’s membership and  participation rights.

Penalties in the form of ‘fines’ — in monetary or other ‘currencies’: Possible tools 

A tentative list of considerations include the following: 

A plausible form of responding to disruptive behavior would be  withdrawal or reduction of earned ‘merit’ points. Imposition of renewal or re-affirmation ‘voting rights’ evidence used for gaining the right of participation or entering decision judgments. Loss of ‘weight’ of decision-determining judgments;  Prevention of acceptance of entries that don’t match agreed-upon specifications (templates) or added evidence support.

This discussion can merely point out the necessity of reaching agreements  on these issues, and will focus only on the potential use of two of these options, as examples: the use of merit points, and the use of templates for selected entry items.

Merit points

One possibility is the use of merit points in contribuors’ accounts  as a currency for levying ‘penalties’ for any violation of the agreed-upon rules. In the eventual ‘real’  platform, this could probably be done by AI programs checking ‘verbatim’ entries and charging a ‘fee’ for any entry that needs to be ‘cleaned up’. In any ‘pilot’ version, it wold have to be done by administrators  or other participants, which would probably be too cumbersome. 


Another potential tool is that of the use of ‘templates’ in the phases of systematic analysis and evaluation of discourse contributions — such as the pro and con arguments about proposed plans. To be inserted into a spreadsheet for entry of merit judgments — plausibility and relative weight of importance,—  and calculation of overall results, they must be restated from any conversational version in the initial  ‘unstructured’ discussion into one of the provided argument templates. 

This would  become the condition for assigning merit points to those contributions. The templates will ‘automatically’ eliminate any ‘unacceptable’ additions — characterizations, ad hominem attacks etc. — from the arguments, and focus on their substantial content.  Also, the evaluation of premises (by other participants) on,  say, a +1 to -1 scale,  will result in positive merit point earned by the respecive author — but negative points for flawed, false and unsubstantiated claims.


The admittedly optimistic and arguable expectation is that these provisions can act to discourage flawed and disruptive information in the first place. The disadvantage is that these ‘corrections’ would be delayed until a ’special technique’ is used; by then, disruptive contributions could already have caused significant damage to a smooth process. 

These possibilities are offered as evidence that new ideas of means for dealing with the administrative challenges are possible, for discussion of details, and as  encouragement for developing other, more effective tools of non-coercive, nonviolent means for ensuring adherence to agreements— both at this diminutive level and at the level of important ‘global’ issues. 

Comments?  Wrong question?  

Unstructured versus Structured Discussion?

On the question of formalization and structure in the Planning Discourse


The proposals for a ‘global’ Public Planning Discourse Support Platform contain suggestions for using standardized ’templates’ for parts of the discourse: a more ‘structured’ or formalized form of discussion than the familiar ‘unstructured’, unconstrained format  we see in the usual forms of public debate.This raises several issues calling for discussion: First, the reasons leading to such suggestions should be clarified. Secondly, likely objections must be considered, such as the possibility that such templates might discourage participation in the discourse or might distort it in some way. The third question is of course:  if such templates are to be used, what should they look like? what format should be considered? And finally: How should they be introduced, included and used in the process? 

Reasons for formalization

The reasons for suggesting such structuring or ‘editing’ of the free expressions of discussion contributions are based on concerns about displaying the core of contribution content in a concise, condensed form for overview and evaluation: overview, elimination of repetitive and redundant items, (focusing on the issue to be decided upon), clarity in separating primary arguments from lenghty  and circuitous elaboration of ’supporting’ evidence and spurious anecdotal material, unnecessary and ‘unacceptable’ rhetorical rendering and bombast etc. 

Special concerns related to systematic evaluation are: explicit ‘filling in’ assumptions and argument premises that are left out as ’taken for granted’ in rhetorical passages, but that must be stated for comprehensive evaluation of the merit of arguments:  the assessment of contributions being a main aspect of the project aim of reaching decisions better and transparently based on the merit of the discourse contribution content, as opposed to traditions forms of decision-making that can disregard that content, such as voting.  


The objections to such formalization must be taken seriously: wide public participation needed for critical policy-making is needed, and provisions constraining  the form of discussion entries (other than obvious rules such as using the common language of the community having the discussion) can be perceived as obstacles (intentional or unintentional) to participation.

Other objections relate to the choice of forms or templates. There is disagreement even in the academic disciplines about how to state’ and diagram’ arguments — there are parties insisting on rendering arguments containing deontic premises in the deductive ‘modus ponens’ form rather than in the format of the ‘planning arguments’ ackowledged as ‘informal’ and non-deductive. 

Choice of template form

The suggestions to use some standardized templates of discussion entires started with the examination of the typical arguments of the ‘pro and con’ kind, about proposed design or planning discussions. The recognition of typical conversational pattern of arguments about a proposed plan or solution «Plan A» and its expected benefits or consequences ,led to the choice of the ’standard planning argument’ template  

    «Plan A ought to be adopted ‘(Conclusion’)


    Pan A will result in outcome B, (given conditions C) ‘Factual-instrumental                        

    and Premise’)

   Outcome B ought to be pursued (Deontic premise)


   Conditions C will be given (Factual Premise)

Or:   A  << ((A > B | C) & B  & C

(The signs <<, >,  & , | stand for ‘because’, ‘result in’, ‘and’, ‘given’, respectively.)

The pattern will have  a number of variations, depending which of the statements happen to be negated: for example: 

A  << ((A > ~B | C) &~B  & C

~A << ( ~(A > B | C) & B  & C

~A  << ((A > ~B | C) & B  & C

~A  << ((A > B | C) &~ B  & C

~A  << ((A > B | C) & B  & ~C     etc.

(Just making these statements explicit helps identifying the reason for a person’s acceptance or rejection of the argument —it could be because the person does not believe A wil produce B, or whether they consider B to be desirable, or whether they are not sure whether the conditions for the plan to work will actually be given.  — the simple  yes or no vote does not make this clear).

 This pattern, with the ‘conclusion’ stated first, in distinction from the standard  sequence in the logic textbooks also signals its lack of claim of ‘deductive’ conclusiveness and logical rigor, that some lay people might find uncomfortably compelling, attempting to override any doubts they may have about its premises. 

Of course, pro and con arguments are only one form of typical contributions in the planning discourse. They are ‘answers’ to a number of typical questions. In this case: «Should plan A be adopted?»   Other questions are thsoe providing answers that will be premises in the arguments:  «Should effect (goal, requiremnt, aim) B be pursued?» Will A produce effect / conseuence B?»  or «What are the conditions for Plan A to work? And «Are those conditions C present n this situation?» 

There are similar families of standard questions and answer claims related to the ‘problem’ statement and the understanding of its causes,necessary conditions and contributing factors. 

The procedural treatment of ‘structured’ versus unstructured discourse.

This is not the place to provide a comprehensive catalogue of all such discourse contribution patterns. Even the question whether  to use such tools in a specific project, of for a specific issue within a project, must remain the decision of the participants in that project discussion. So the role of structured versus unstructured discourse  in the overall process remains to be further explored:  for now, some first suggestions can be sketched.  

As a general principle, the initial entries and exchanges in a planning discussion must be ‘unstructured’. While many problem-solving and planning approaches recommend some specific sequences to be followed: For example:  Starting with a ‘clear problem statement’, gathering information and ‘data’, developing goals and priorities, developing solutions, evaluating those, and ending up with a decision. 

In reality, such discussions are triggered  by any of those ‘steps’. That first ‘entry’ item will rarely be a fully worked out solution, (though the current ‘political practice’ is often that some governance agency will produce such a plan before it is put up for discussion  in a parliamentary body). If the possibility or expectation is that the discussion might change such a plan, its introduction wll be in an unstructured format, and the first discussion therefore will have to be unstructured. It is possible that even such an unstructured discussion will give the participants sufficient confidence to make a decision, and that possibility must be provided for.  This can be done by means of a ‘motion’ for a «NEXT STEP?» to be decided on, for example by a ‘vote’ with a sufficiently close to consensus outcome. Agreed upon as part of  general  procedural agreements).

The concern here, however, is about important decisions that should be based on the merit of the contributions to a more thorough and systematic discourse, and how this can be orchestrated and made transparent. The recommendation for a project to do this is the following pattern of increasingly specific treatment of ‘issues’ (or topics).

The initial unstructured discussion will be the basis for participants to raise specific ‘candidates’ for more in-depth treatment. These will be posted on a bulletin board for participants to express judgments as to whether they should be put on the ‘Agenda’ for such detailed treatment. The assumption here being that large projects will be asynchronous, ‘online’. They can therefore be worked on ‘in parallel’ but on separate ‘threads’ for each topic. 

The discussion of each topic will again begin with an ‘unstructured’ discussion, resulting in the identification of more specific issues, that can be discussed ‘in parrallel’. For each topic, when participants feel that they can make a decision, (e.g. after some discussion) by making a ‘NEXT STEP’ motion: 

– to proceed to a decision;

– to drop the issue without decision; 

– to request or pursue more information;

– to ’table the discussion until another issue has been settled;

– to engage one of the ’special techniques’ (available in a ‘tool kit’).

   The results of the special technique — e.g. evaluation process that can’t be done on the  ordinary discussion format — will be reported back for a ‘Next Step’ decision in light of its results. 

In theory, this process can be repeated for smaller and smaller details, each small recommendation added to the Plan proposal until the entire community feels ready to make an overall decision. 

Tentative Recommendation

The recommendation given these ‘best current considerations’,  pending more comments, is to adopt the ‘fractal’ and ‘parallel processing’ pattern of alternating unstructured and structured discourse that will alleviate concerns about participation but facilitate more formal process as needed in each particular project, as decided by the community of participants. In the meantime, continue work on the structure patterns and potential ‘templates’ of other segments of the planning process. 


Wrong question? 


A discussion of the concept of a Public Planning and Policy-making Discourse Support Platform 

The preceding post ‘Counterframing’?  is part of an effort to explore the idea of a public planning discourse support platform — a platform aiming at recommendations and decisions based on the merit of contributions to the discourse, This post introduces the concept for disussion. Further posts will take up specific emerging issues for more detailed examination..

There are many well-intentioned efforts to find better ways of tackling the many local and global crises, conflicts, and emergencies facing humanity. These efforts are fueled by a growing common sense that current governmental and planning entities and their practices are proving ill-prepared and inadequate to find and implement constructive solutions — solutions that do not themselves generate new conflicts and problems. These efforts can be found on many different platforms and in many different media, explicitly or implicitly taking the form of proposals for what could or should be done. However, there is little evidence that the needed agreements for collective action will be reached soon enough to become accepted and effective.

Many suggestions for change are relying on governance organizations and their corresponding decision-making patterns that have been adequate in smaller communities and government structures; and there are good reasons for many local  issues to be resolved by ‘local’ governance entities. However, this ignores the fact that many of the challenges affecting  many communities across governance boundaries, and humanity as a whole, will require ‘cross-governance’ (‘nations’) and eventually ‘global’ decisions. The ‘local’ decision-making tools, even the ‘democratic’ practices such as majority voting, no more than the alternative growing trend towards authoritarian governance, offer adequate assurance that decisions will be based on ‘due consideration’ much less professed ‘careful weighing’ of pros and cons’ by decision-makers will produce effective and equitable solutions. Yet there is no evidence of a commonly accepted process of discussion and coherent evaluation of proposals, that can lead to viable agreements and collective action. 

A key reason for this is the current lack of a well-organized and universally accepted platform for communication among these initiatives and governance entities. While many such efforts ‘advertise’ their work and approach on social media, they do not communicate well for the purpose of achieving common agreements about what should be done: there is no common platform for well-organized discussion, thorough evaluation, adaptation to concerns by other perspectives, and eventually reaching recommendations and decisions that can be adopted by affected constituencies without creating new problems and conflicts. 

While current official and social media platforms are not yet well enough suited to support such a cooperative discourse, they do how that the technology for such a platform, open to wide participation and discussion is now possible.Yet there is little evidence of efforts to forge  a reasonable process of discussion and coherent evaluation of proposals, that can lead to viable and accepted agreements and actions.

This post aims at  starting a discussion of what a platform for a better public planning  and policy-making discourse might look like. It is an urgent invitation to participants from many different disciplines who will have to contribute their expertise and insight, to join the effort. 

The task itself is an example of projects that need such a platform — a platform that currently does not exist. So this ‘pilot’ discussion will have to start on a ‘tentative adaptation of something like this platform, thatvis not designed for this task. The needed adaptation agreements — that will themselves become the subject of discussion and modification — simply aim at a somewhat more structured format that may facilitate concise overview, evaluation and eventual  recommendations  and decisions based on the merit of the assembled content. 

Further posts will explore  details on a possible ‘Approach’, any needed ‘Procedural  Agreements’ and other essential features of the platform. 

UPDATE: Consider joining the discussion of this idea in the Facebook Group: PLAN P?  A PUBLIC PLANNING DISCOURSE PLATFORM


Throbjørn Mann

The Framing Problem in the Planning Discourse  

In an ongoing process of designing the outline if a (potentially) global Public Planning Discourse Support Platform, a recurring issue is delaying the very attempt to open up a ‘pilot’ version on social media to discuss the concept and its development: the question of ‘framing’ the discourse.

The concept of ‘framing’ refers to the fact that there are always several different ‘ways of talking’  (also called ‘perspectives’ or ‘paradigms’)  about a problem or emergency or vision that some feel should become a community planning project. Further, is was seen that the first such ‘way of talking’  introduced into the discussion — even the way the project is ‘raised’ for discussion, often tends to dominate the ensuing discourse. And to the extent the concern for the project is ‘controversial’ or involves a conflict of interests, it thereby can become part of a ‘power’ tool in the search for solutions: it will favor a particular, — partisan — set of potential solutions. And this may result in solutions that are inequtable, unjust, oppressive to other parts of the affected constituencies.  

The implication for the design of a ‘democratic’ planning platform therefore becomes a  requirement to keep the platform design itself as ‘perspective-neutral’ as possible, lest it be perceived as a power tool of the part of the community that will benefit from solutions gained from the particular perspective, and therefore not trusted by other segments  of the community. 

Though the pursuit of perspecitve neutrality must be taken seriously, It is probably impossible to design a totally ‘perspectve-neutral’ platform.  But even if this could be done: would not then the very first effort by any party to start a discussion about a planning problem or project be the ‘framing’ entry the principle says we should avoid? 

So it looks like framing will be inevitable. The progress of designing an outline for even a pilot version of a planning platform has become stuck in this dilemma, to the point of not even being able to reach agreement on the basic articulation of purpose, focus, and aim of the project, for fear of committing the sin of framing.  

Now, would it not be more useful to look for platform provisions that would neutralize the effects of such first framing incidents, rather than to insist on avoiding them? Are there ways of acknowledging this, and including provisions in the platform design, for defusing any potentially controversial or destructive effects?

A first option would be to simply always point out the framing essence of discourse contributions — with ubiquitous reminders like Rittel’s suggestion to end each entry in an ‘IBIS’ (Issue Based Information System’) with a «Wrong question?» or «Wrong Problem?» line. It may have to be more specific, like «Wrong Way of Talking?» 

Another, more detailed possibility, following C. West Churchman’s recommendation of ‘testing’ a systems narrative with a ‘counterplanning’ effort, would be to adopt a rule of requiring that any entry of a substantial effort or proposal in the discourse must be accompanied by an equally plausible but substantially different ‘counterframing’ comment to be accepted as a topic for more in-depth and systematic discussion? 

The ‘democratic’ principles of planning and policy-making, that ‘decisions should be based on ‘due consideration of all concerns of all segments of a community; on ‘careful weighing of all pros and cons’ would seem to require that all ‘perspectives’ held by all parties in a community should be expressed, articulated and discussed. What provisions for the planing discourse wold be needed to ensure this? 

Is it a system? 

A question posted (on the LI  systems thinking network) asked whether anybody had seen a documented Causal Loop Diagram of ‘virtuous loops’ systems in systems. Did it imply that there arent any? I suggested that the provision of merit point rewards for participation in public planning discourse,and the subsequent use of those points to make public officials ‘pay’ for power decisions that have not been publicly discussed, contained at least one such virtuous loop. Because I hadn’t also provided a CLD in the standard format, this was roundly rejected. It is not clear to me  whether this was because of the lack of a CLD, or whether the entire discourse process envisioned (but not described in complete detail) does not qualify as a system, in the author’s opinion. Other comments seemed to support this interpretation. For me, this raised some questions about the concept of ‘system’, its definition link or restriction to Causal loop phenomena, and their usefulness for the design of such projects as the discourse support platform.

The proposed ‘Public Planning Discourse Support Playtform’  I sometimes called a ‘system’ can be seen and described in several different ways.

To see what physical framework items  for a discourse are involved , it may be useful to first look at a discourse taking place in a real physical space with human participants communicating vocally about a problem or idea calling for a plan to implement it. 

The human participants, assembled in response to a call for discussion of a problem or idea or plan. proposed a plan whose realization wil require approval and resources by the community: This may be spoken or shouted out or displayed as a (deontic) question: 

“Should (‘ought’)  Plan A be adopted for implementation?”  

If the proponent is not an official (leader, designated or usurped ‘dictator’, simply announcing their intent to compel the community to adopt the plan, their aim is to obtain a (set of) acceptance message(s)— a ‘decision’ from the community signaling that “Yes, Plan A ought to be adopted.”  One or more reasons may suggest that this should first be discussed; that ‘pros and cons’ should be considered. The set of activities, and rules guiding their sequence to result in a final decision is a process. According to some understanding of ‘system’ — a set of ‘items’ with relationships between them — is it also a system?  

There are several definitions of ‘system’ in the systems domain, such as the ‘stock and flow’ concept, or the view that a system is a set of (preferably measurable) variables related by cause-effect relationships;  described by ‘causal loop diagrams’ — implying a condition I have read that such a thing must have ‘loops’ in order to quality as a system;  or more elaborate views such as that ‘“system paths are characterized with nodes that represent unique centers of inter unitary relationships conveying enabling communication for both internal systems and the whole system of systems”. 

There are aspects of the platform project that can meet several such definitions, by focuisng on different aspects. For example, the physical ‘containers’ and displays needed to proccess the flow of messages, and their connections, that may be primitive to the point of dismissal in town hall meetings, but becoming a distinct design problem as soon as the process is taken ‘online’. The professionals involved in its construction and operation will call this a ‘system’. 

A different view may focus on the content of the messages exchanged. In addition to the different types of claims about the merit of the proposed plan, the participants will harbor and express judgments about its  desirability or plausibility. The judgments can be expressed as characterizations such as ‘nonsense’ or ‘brilliant’ or ‘gee, I don’t know’, (which are not very helpful in assessing a collective ‘judgment’),  or on a better defined scale. For example, one with the values ‘yes, don’t know, no’, or a more detailed one such as numbers ranging from +1 (meaning definitely yes), totally plausible) via 0 (don’t know, can’t decide) to -1 (definitely not, totally implausible) with degrees of plausibility in-between.  The messages exchanged between participants (pros and cons, for example) serve to decrease or increase the individual overall plan plausibility judgments. The pros and cons can be further ‘explained’  (justified or supported) by further arguments in favor of the premises of the pros and cons, and on their  plausibility. From such individual judgments, some form of  statistical aggregation into a ‘community decision judgment’ on the same scale can be formed to guide the decision. 

This, like the physical components ‘system’,  sounds more like a ‘stock and flow’ kind of process, but I’m not sure whether there are loops in those flows to make it a proper system, and whether this is a key concern to worry about. Possibly if the process provides the option of modifications of the originally proposed plan in response to arguments: Certain changes will result in increase in judgments about some aspects while reducing others. The process will then become more complicated (and may often appear to some as too complex and even chaotic, even returning to ‘physical’ in a different sense). 

Curiously, the scant efforts to improve this phenomenon seems to appear too complex for many who prefer to rely on simple ‘yes/no’ majority voting regardless of the problems and ‘chaotification’ associated with this crude method (voting rights, the various forms of ‘rigging the system’ (if it indeed Is one); the complex process of drawing complex shapes of voting districts known as ‘gerrymandering’, and its blatant disregard for the solemnly invoked principle of ‘due consideration of all pros and cons’ about public plans: the wholesale dismissal of the concerns of the voting minority. 

’Reaching across the aisle’ to the miscreants and sinners?:  Treason. 

Whether this represents just the inevitable minor aberrations of the supreme governance model of ‘democracy’ or forboding its demise may be worth a separate discussion.

The upshot of these musings? The issue of whether or not, or on what conditions, the project can be called a ‘system’ is, in my modified judgment, not very helpful, in spite of the initially inspiring notion of guiding its design by providing it with ‘virtual’ loops towards better planning decisions.  It also seems to indicate that single forms of ‘systems’ models — cause-effect, stock and flows, only apply well to selected aspects of the overall project. Is it then composed of several  such systems, or asre the systems models just inadequate tools for the description of the whole thing? Again: is that issue helpful or a distraction to its design? 

It seems that i must regretfully leave the systems community to ponder its own process of evolving into a collection of systems silos with its arrays of admission criteria, and abstain from using the term ‘system’ altogether. So what should I call it? 


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: 


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?”



(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. 


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 and other posts on Facebook and this blog 

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.


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.


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? 



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 


Plan A will result in outcome B


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. 



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.  



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.



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


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


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)} 


A ought  to be adopted 


A will result in B given conditions C


B ought to be pursued 


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. 


[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. 



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?


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. 

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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 › 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 ==