Archive for February 2009

The Deliberatorium and Open Source Democracy

February 12, 2009

I received a questionnaire from Vasilis Kostakis who is conducting research towards an article on open source democracy and wikipolitics. He contacted me to ask about how my work on the Deliberatorium relates to these concepts. I include my responses below.

1) What are the results and your conclusions so far? What are the next steps and what do you aspire to?

Our initial evaluations have focused on whether large numbers of people, without special training, can effectively use our tool to create large deliberation maps on complex topics. Our results to date (from 3 evaluations: 200 people in Naples, 300 people in Zurich, and 100 people at Intel) seem positive in that regard. Our next steps include other evaluations (for example with the US Bureau of Reclamation) as well as the development of new functionalities aimed at:

  • making it easier to find/enter content in large maps
  • collecting metrics on the progress and problems in a deliberation
  • integrating deliberation maps with social media (such as chat, email, and wikis) that are based on narratives and conversations

2) What effects do you believe that the Deliberatorium could have on the production of politics i.e. decision making processes and problem solving?

My hope is that the Deliberatorium will make it possible for large numbers of people to much more effectively and systematically collect and evaluate a wide range of ideas concerning how to solve complex problems. I believe it can help in two ways:

  • Take better advantage of the cognitive diversity our societies offer to increase the range of solutions being considered. In current social computing systems, all too often only a tiny fraction of the possible solution ideas see the light of day, because of problems such as redundancy and dysfunctional collaboration dynamics.
  • Foster decision-making based on evidence and logic rather than bias and emotional manipulation. The deliberatorium is designed to encourage people to explain why they support given ideas, and uses a community rating scheme that rewards coherent, well-supported arguments.

3) In our paper we cite the Deliberatorium platform as one of the existing means towards open source democracy. Do you see it in that way too? If not, why?

Open source democracy has different meanings to different people. I think many see it as being about giving everyone an equal voice in making decisions that effect them. While I appreciate that value, my focus is more on finding ways to use our collective intelligence to identify the best possible responses to pressing problems. Since I am exploring the use of reputation and proxy voting systems, you might even say that the Deliberatorium embodies meritocratic, rather than democratic, principles. But I think it is compatible with open source democracy, since my work aims to help people identify possible solutions and is agnostic about the process by which people eventually decide which of these solutions is adopted.

4) What are the main strengthens and weaknesses of the Deliberatorium?

I think it’s main strength is that it allows us to tap, in ways not previously possible, the skills and knowledge of large numbers of people in the service of solving complex multi-disciplinary problems. I think it’s main weakness is that it is currently based on a style of interaction that is somewhat formal and artificial. Our goal is to integrate the strengths of a deliberation map with the narrative conversational modes of interaction that people find natural.