The Deliberatorium and Open Source Democracy

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.

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11 Comments on “The Deliberatorium and Open Source Democracy”

  1. Matt Briggs Says:

    Interesting post. In considering redundancy and how to deal with it in a sampling, I enjoy the visualization that Tweet Deck has used to emphasize the topics that are trending in Twitter.(words appearing in larger size fonts to match the frequency of their mention) To me this is an elegant way to handel redundancy, however could lend it’s self to creating a feedback loop. It is as if we are starting to have a live look at the collective consciousness.

  2. […] and are now migrating to the web. Debategraph is among the pioneers; see Mark Klien’s blog for more about Deliberatorium, see the bCisive online platform for a new product, and see the […]

  3. Martin Lewitt Says:

    I found your blog through the climate Deliberatorium, I thought it might be critically discussed here. It was quite an impressive collection of articles, and competing hypotheses. It must have been quite a bit of work. It must be difficult to do well, especially in on a technical subject such as climate science without a thorough understanding of the issues. Where does it go from here, is there a synthesis that is done afterwards the reaches some kind of conclusions?

    I found several topics where the text and the headline weren’t necessarily in agreement. I also found that some of the topics compounded more than one idea, and I was forced to decide which one I would answer based upon, because the ratings would not have been the same for both. A superficial analysis might think some views of the responder were contradictory, when actually subtle distinctions were being made that were not being captured by the Deliberatorium. It makes those questions a bit like a poorly worded or biased poll question. Although, I wasn’t detecting bias, just perhaps a failure to grasp some of the technical distinctions that could not be correctly presented so simply. Also sometimes the literature presented wasn’t the most definitive choice on that topic. Were we supposed to base our answers upon what that literature supported or upon our understanding of the best evidence on the topic?

    • klein1960 Says:


      Sorry to take so long to reply. I appreciate the useful feedback on the climate change map. The map clearly needs to be improved as you suggested, unbundling some posts and adding additional ideas and arguments and improving the language (it was created by a grad student from Italy) and so on. Our thinking was that we would fix the outright errors and then make the map editable by the public (using a moderated process to avoid chaos), so that interested parties can improve the map by adding the ideas and arguments they find compelling. Do you think that people like yourself might be interested In doing something like that? The advantage is that, at the end, the community will have created a well-organized compendium of the competing ideas, rather than (for example) a large scattered collection of blog posts and comments each addressing small pieces of the overall question.


      > New comment on your post “The Deliberatorium and Open Source > Democracy” > Author : Martin Lewitt (IP: , > > E-mail : > URL : > Whois :

  4. Martin Lewitt Says:

    After seeing your response, and the mention of an editable map, I recalled that a year or two ago I had visited a wiki that seemed to be a related idea. After searching in vain, I realize that previous experience was probably an earlier version of deliberatorium.

    Editing a map like that would be real interesting, especially if new nodes could be created and levels in the hierarchy could be changed, added or swapped.

    My experience with wikipedia was that excellent articles that were labors of love could be achieved, but that if the subject was controversial, a clique might gain control and bias the article.

    It may be more natural and easy to compromise on such subjects with this map type organization.

    While I don’t think I could commit to an attempt to do a total revision, i think I would to try the map editing, add or refine the low hanging fruit I see. I’ve been particularly focused on model diagnostics, climate sensitivity, climate feedbacks and solar, I probably could not find the time to be thorough outside these areas. As I run across things produced by others, I could suggest that they might revise or add something to the deliberatorium.

    I didn’t look for editing capability, when I went through it. Was it there?


    • klein1960 Says:


      I’m glad you’re interested. The editing capability was not enabled in the climate map evaluation, to keep things simpler, but when it is enabled you can add new posts, comment on posts, edit them, move them around, etc. I certainly wouldn’t expect you to do a total revision by yourself, I was thinking that we could open the map up to a community of people who would each focus on the stuff they know. Each individual might do just a little, but in aggregate it could amount to a major upgrade of the map. I’ll get back to you if/when we decide to go ahead with it, so you can pitch in as you like. Mark

      > New comment on your post “The Deliberatorium and Open Source > Democracy” > Author : Martin Lewitt (IP: , > > E-mail : > URL : > Whois :

  5. Joseph Eisen Says:

    Looking over the climate map, it’s clear your tool helps promote and organize ideas and their pro/con arguments about an issue. It really expands and fills out the discussion.

    Would you talk a bit about how the resulting map and its information can be pulled together for decision making? Is there a more clever route than starting at the deepest level and accepting or rejecting each idea based on its pros and cons until you reach a top-level decision?

    • klein1960 Says:

      Map-based decision-making does not have to be a strictly bottom-up process. You can do some decision-making based on a top-down traversal, eliminating whole branches, for example, based on the cons attached to ideas at the top of the branch. You might decide, for example, to eliminate nuclear fission energy based on the waste disposal issue, since that con applies to all forms of nuclear fission and will therefore be attached to the top of the “nuclear fission” branch of the map. Another factor that effects how you would traverse a map is idea dependencies. Decisions in differing branches often interact and should not be made in isolation from each other. So it would make sense to select among different bundles of ideas, as opposed to just among individual ideas. In general, traversing a hierarchical decision space with dependencies to find the “best” decision is a kind of nonlinear optimization problem, for which there are a wide variety of techniques (e.g. simulated annealing, genetic algorithms, tabu search), each with different strengths and weaknesses.

      Does that help?

  6. I like the idea of people participating and although I found this by mistake I am interested to follow this extremely interesting thread.

  7. Are you still working oin this concept? I’m interested in making an experiment in Denmark along these ,ines. I will be participating at the workshop 18-20 April in Boston. Will you be there?

    Henrik Hjortdal, Copenhagen, Denmark

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