NB: Remarkably absent from the document is the substantial body of material from Paul Monk, pending receipt of release from the author.

Foundational documents for
''Participatory Deliberation''

Mandate


"The Purpose of computing is insight, not numbers."
--Richard Hamming
Numerical Methods for Scientists and Engineers


"The power of computers to collect, store and manipulate numbers has increased dramatically since Hamming's pointed observation. Much of this increased power, however, is wasted because humans are poor at gaining insight from data presented in numerical form. As a result, visualization research takes on great significance, offering a promising technology for transforming an indigestible mass of numbers into a medium which humans can understand, interpret and explore.

The transformation from numbers to insight requires two stages. As shown in Figure 1, the first maps from numbers (data/processes) to images by means of some algorithmic technique. The second maps from images to insight by means of perception. A true science of visualization must incorporate both a formal theory of computer graphics and a theory of human perception."

Marc Green, Ph. D.
Toward a Perceptual Science of Multidimensional Data Visualization:
Bertin and Beyond


As Green suggests concerning computation and scientific visualization, so we proposing (along with others) with regards to computation and discourse: the processes that enchance creativity, collaborative decision making and group discernment are at hand. --Ben Tremblay, 26JULY04


I have for all my mature life been impressed by people's tenacity, and in no specific more than discussion, whether in electronic forums or newspapers' letters to the editor; as though the deep urge to gather by the fire moving us to congregate and exchange views ... as Y. Bar Hillel put it: "I am reasonably sure that humanity spends more time on argumentation in natural languages than on the pursuit of scientific knowledge."

Perhaps we seek to clarify our own mind? get a sense of our neighbours'? (see quotes from Maurois and J.S. Mill)

Perhaps it's only (mere?) conversation ... perhaps discourse, or discussion, or debate, or even some form of argument. I like to think that it has to do with aletheia, where we are bringing something into the light, out of the murk. (see a bit from Software Tools for Collaborative and Educational Sense-Making: "The etymology lies in the Latin argmentum, from arguere which means to make clear.")

But it seems we're always getting muddled ... and perhaps that's why it's more often more arcane and inchoate social dance than clarification or explication. In "Towards a Theory of Meta-content" R.V.Guha comments, "There are several problems associated with the expressiveness of the language. The computational complexity of inferencing is too high. The language is too expressive for non-logicians to effectively use." and suggests an approach to the problem. Likewise when Robert Kent cites Gantner and Wille, reminding that "the philosophy of Conceptual Knowledge Processing [... is] a principled approach to knowledge representation and data analysis that advocates methods and instruments of conceptual knowledge processing which support people in their rational thinking, judgment and acting and promote critical discussion."

The Knowledge Science Institute at the University of Calgary, long-time players in this domain, point to how the combination of graphics with semantic networks as effective, and "The IBIS Manual" from Touchstone Resources Whitepapers points out that "in practice finding the best question to ask is an art form." (It's our contention here that the converging approximations generated by open discussion will side-step this "best question" problem, with successive iterations of concensus edging forward ... the first aspect of aggregation, the cumulative effect of sufficient being, we hope, excellence.)

In "Neural Networks as the Basis for Self-Organization", Deborah Vakas Duong quotes Peter M. Allen: "The richness of human systems, produced by layers of mutual adaptation and initiative and framed by historical circumstances makes each situation `unique'."

We suggest that implementing a system of integrated communications will present the topological manifold of individual experience in a manner that will actualize the potential coherence. And in this we are as confident as is Paul Monk in his contention: "Using a technique called argument mapping, we can structure, communicate and correct arguments of any degree of complexity with a clarity and efficiency simply unavailable using other means. If we use the technique in a deliberative process, we can govern the deliberation, constrain it from straying off course, target our use of evidence, specify our disagreements, and capture the whole process with an ease and rigour significantly greater than are available using standard cognitive processes." Likewise I share the concerns that move him to quote Robert Reich: 'The intellectual equipment needed for the job of the future is an ability to define problems, quickly assimilate relevant data, conceptualise and reorganise the information, make deductive and inductive leaps with it, ask hard questions about it, discuss findings with colleagues, work collaboratively to find solutions and then convince others."

A basic conjecture here is that the mud-slinging that so often characterises online forums represents only the lowest common demoninator, without necessarily posing an actual constraint. In "Can online political chat be fixed?" Nicholas Thompson quotes one of his correspondents: "People do not look to message boards for ''group therapy,'' but for ''venting.''" and points out how "once a few people have disrupted a political thread, the more level-headed of the original debaters quickly abandon it", underlining how actual discourse can be fragile; we suggest that best practices in forum moderation can be catalyzed by a format that at once reduces opportunity for disruption while aggregating the best commentary.

More formally, we are suggesting that the practice of actual discourse ethics act to promote, encourage, and support echanges that act similarly; if we can describe the over-arching goal as "unlearning what is false", we can describe the activity as breaking out of habitual patterns and behaviours that sabotage the discourse project. Drawing from "The IBIS Manual" yet again, we find "the result of years of practice is that most people have a very effective "Answer Reflex," which is the source of the commonly heard discussions of the ''Yes, it is!'' - ''No, it isn't!'' variety." (Excepting the actual words, the pattern is identical to "You're stupid" - "No. I'm not stupid! You're stupid.") This extract continues with a mention of Buckminster Fuller: "Fuller described the Answer Reflex as the ''Mistake Mystique'': the tendency to avoid both the risk of being wrong and the vulnerability of not knowing by always ''knowing the right answer''."

Including a quote from Websters ("to deliberate is ''to weigh in the mind; to consider the reasons for and against; to consider maturely; to reflect upon; to ponder; as, to deliberate a question.''"), Tim van Gelder makes a crucial distinction, pointing out that "Deliberation is not the same as reasoning" and "Deliberation also differs subtly from argumentation. . . . The latter ... involves rational persuasion: the point of argumentation is to influence others' attitudes by means of arguments. Deliberation, by contrast, is aimed at determining one's own attitude" and then continues to explicate "deliberation" as it is applied in this project:

"Deliberation, as the term is used here, is a process aimed at deciding whether some claim ought to be believed by considering the relevant arguments. The claim might describe what one should do (i.e., be of the form I/we should do X) and so deliberation can be directed towards action as well as belief. The arguments considered will invoke further claims, and in some cases their truth must also be determined through deliberation; and so on. Thus deliberation often involves considering an extended hierarchy of arguments.

If the complex of inter-personal exchange are challenging, the problematics of accessing document-bases remain daunting, and continue to grow. Y.-J. Lee's "Concept Mapping Your Web searches" addresses these matters in corporate, academic, and educational contexts: "Information and knowledge are growing at a far more rapid rate than ever before in the history of mankind. As Nobel laureate Herbert Simon put it, the meaning of 'knowing' has changed from 'being able to remember and repeat information' to 'being able to find and use it' (Simon 1996)." From the body of research on the pressing need for search technology we draw material illustrative of user needs; there is not only the requirement for methods that allow individuals to re-use their own efforts but there is also the unrealized benefits of sharing the results of those efforts and invested resources ... again, the aspect of aggregation.

We are promoting the activity of discourse to a central role, as an organizing principle ... the core of an integrative portal. It is this author's conviction that the infinite space of conjecture collapses when matters encounter the contraints of decision making situations typical of policy making, whether political or industrial: rather than the perfect answer, we move towards the best possible by a process of dialogue, on the grounds of a shared base of knowledge. From the ''IBIS Manual'': "[IBIS] moves the asking of questions into a central role in the dialogue process. In IBIS, ideas are always defined relative to some question."

Clustered around discourse informed by discussion in the form of arguments (where propositions are responded to by conjectures or reasons, alongside refutations and objections) we will have sets of document-sets, the notion being that each step along the exchange is accompanied by an easily and effectively accessible body of documentation, addressed via efficiently identified citations. Neither rhetoric, nor sophistry, nor flame, nor whim ... no snake-oil and no rainbow-coloured smoke; research, reports, best practices and use cases along with paradigmatic statements and the most credible explications. What arises is, in effect, a manner of hypothesis testing, of assigning meaning in context, of assessing credibility and value. What is valued in principle is juxtaposed with what has workd in the past (or not) as well as what has been experienced (or not). (With Bayesian methods on the horizon at all sides, I suspect that abductive inference will soon come to play.) As John T. Nosek puts it in "Augmenting Sensemaking Conversations", "Complex, ill-structured, situation domains span such areas as command and control, business planning, new-product design, process reengineering, information systems development, etc. However, in all cases, the growing importance of group sensemaking, i.e., the elicitation and construction of group knowledge relevant to an emerging situation, is becoming clear -- those that do a better job of it will have a better chance of survival and increased competitive advantage."

At each step the process us supported by the "participatory deliberation" framework. The "IBIS Manual" points out a specific example of this operation: "the old trick of "truth by repetition" -- saying one's point over and over until everyone else accedes -- is disarmed, because once an Argument has been posted it becomes silly and obvious to repeat its contents." The efficacy of the method in reducing friction is accompanied by the effectiveness that comes from observing cognitive principles. Y.-J. Lee describes VisSearch environment in operation: "people create a single concept map of the problem for which they want to find useful Web-based information, instead of conducting a series of separate Web searches." And Nosek points to similar advantages with SenseMaker: "if the rationale is accessible, such as the assumptions used in the construction of the plan, groups have demonstrated that they can successfully discuss and construct some degree of meaning of the differences in assumptions and therefore more effectively revise or reuse plans."