The full schedule encompasses a mixture of debates, seminars, and panel discussions, including: Climate change is the greatest threat to humanity, Countdown to Armageddon – how long have we got?, Can Asia go green? Can technological innovation save us from disaster?, Green Herrings – what we need and needn’t bother doing, Biofuels – essential or a waste of time, UK political parties aren’t serious about climate change, Green Capitalists – a contradiction in terms?, Geoengineering – is it the silver bullet? Renewables – wind, solar & other – are they worth the bother?, and Bioperversity: An obituary for the world’s rainforests and other major ecosystems?
I’ll be aiming to map as many of points being made by the speakers on the day, and building on the initial seed maps over the subsequent days—and you’ll be able to follow the maps developing online on the IQ2 Green Festival website and on the Debategraph home page.
The current work in progress on the existing climate change map is shown below:
Feel free contribute to the debate maps from afar as they are developing, and if you are planning to attend the event with a laptop, join in and we can use the maps as an intelligent, multi-dimensional conference back channel.
And so the kaleidoscope turns, and we see the world anew.
Or do we?
Barack Obama’s inaugurationtoday as the 44th President of the United States of America, marks the end of a remarkable personal and national journey. Arrival at such a destination is a cause for global celebration. But as with all great journeys the arrival is also only a beginning.
Obama is taking a leading role in a world system that is severely perturbed on multiple levels. Such perturbation often proceeds collapse: and can proceed the emergence of a more sophisticated and better-adapted system.
It’s not clear—it never is—to what extent the choice of branching paths is open to us. But it surely behoves us to act as if it is.
My (personal) sense is that we face a mess of complex, interrelated and non-linear problems; sane responses to which lie beyond our existing methods and tools. In essence, we need to re-configure our modes of political thinking and organization to enable us—as local, national, and international communities—to move significantly closer to collective maxima of intelligence (both reasoned and emotional).
For those for whom the analogy is familiar, we’re awaiting The Mother of All Demos in the political realm to match Doug Engelbart’s technological masterpiece 40 years ago (which pre-figured much of the technological landscape that we inhabit and take for granted today). It’s the social dimension of Engelbart’s vision of augmented collective intelligence that lags behind our technological achievements: and it needs to catch up quickly.
The signs are that Obama, and the team around him, are mindful of this. As othershave noted already, one of the most encouraging aspect of the Change.gov experiment was the speed at which the interaction on the site improved iteratively across the transition. The challenge now is how to crystallize this process—to enable genuine and deeply collaborative sensemaking—and how to set this process in motion in the first few months of the administration when the opportunity and receptivity to change are greatest—and when the character of the administration will be forged.
Readers of The Independent and others who have joined in developing the Obama and Gaza maps over the last couple of months have demonstrated on a smaller scale and in vitro that different and radically collaborative models of sensemaking are possible—and we are grateful to everyone who has participated directly so far, blogged about and embedded the maps, and to the BBC World Service’s Digital Planet, BBC Technology and PRI’s The World: Technology podcast for their support in spreading the maps more widely.
Both maps will continue to develop as exploratory exemplars of the kinds of cumulative, comprehensive and distillative sensemaking processes that the web is starting to enable—with the Obama map, in particular, shifting to a focus on the first 100 days.
Deeper challenges remain. The emerging set of collaborative sensemaking and deliberation tools of which Debategraph, is one example, are still nascent, still figuring out the basic principles—still more VisiCalc than Excel. The tools require a basic visual literacy that itself is only just beginning to emerge in society. And the maps, and other sensemaking constructs, require time to build and time for reflection in an impatient and attention-poor age.
But, today, of all days, is a day for optimism. The day on which Barack Obama embodies the realization that long journeys towards distant mountain tops can reach the summit.
The Gaza map (above)—which will require significant iteration and community input from a wide range of voices to reach maturity—is motivated by two medium-term objectives:
(1)to present the different worldviews that underpin the conflict fairly and succinctly on a common map.
(2)to map creatively and constructively the options open to the participants in the conflict and the international community, and the arguments for and against the different options.
This is an emotive subject, and the map is at an early stage of development; so if you see statements with which you disagree strongly or spot gaps in the arguments, please help us to address these on the map.
After logging-in, anyone can add new issues, positions and arguments, edit and restructure the map, and evaluate the different arguments; so the whole structure evolves as new perspectives are added to the map.
Hence, every aspect of the map at this stage should be regarded as mutable and provisional—with the aim being to enrich the structure iteratively and collaboratively until the map reflects a maximum of community intelligence.
As Jimmy observed in his blog on the Huffington Post, mastery of internet campaigning is not the same as delivering government via the web. So it has been fascinating the observe the first edemocratic steps on Obama’s Change.gov site.
The Change.gov process so far has included blogging, YouTube insights and feedback (example below), threaded commenting, and the admirable step of opening up the content on the site via a Creative Commons license—and the volume and variety of the feedback on the discussions around health care (3,701 comments) and the economy (3,563 and counting) illustrate the potential and the challenges involved in processes of this kind.
Sustaining this openness to iterative experimentation will be one of the keys to fulfilling the transition team’s early promise beyond the inauguration. In part, this is because the capabilities of the web are evolving rapidly. YouTube and Twitter, for example, two of the most significant on-line tools used during the campaign, didn’t exist at the time of the last Presidential inauguration (and Twitter was only formally incorporated after Obama declared that he was running for office).
But, more fundamentally, it is because this openness to iterative and collaborative experimentation and improvement is one of the web’s deep lessons and, potentially, contains the means to transform our understanding and experience of governance.
Doc Searls refers to this wider emerging process as the "Live Web", and so, in his honour, we might characterise the opportunity ahead for the Obama transition team as being the chance to the effect significant shift towards "Live Government".
More smart people outside government than within it
For the first time in modern industrial society, governments have the chance to realise the potential embodied in Bill Joy’s observation that there will always be more smart people outside government than within it…
And, in view of the scale and complexity of the challenges faced in the early 21st century, there has never been a more urgent time to realise this latent, distributed potential.
Live Government will take many forms that we can’t see clearly yet; however, two dimensions that seem central to the concept based on current trends are:
(1) Making the data of governance fluid, transparent, mashable and easily discoverable in context; getting the data in front of the people who have a contribution to make, and ensuring that the data is continuously up to date. This trend can be seen in the US in the form the Sunlight Foundation and the recent Apps for Democracy competition—both of which owe something to the pioneering work of the MySociety team in the UK.
(2) Externalising the current policy thinking of government in a open structured form to which people can contribute continuously, directly, precisely, cumulatively, and with a high signal-to-noise ratio. This trend, still comparatively nascent, can be seen in a prototypical form in policy wikis, annotation tools and sensemaking tools (of which Debategraph is an example).
"…we’re inviting the American public to take a seat at the table and engage in a dialogue about these important issues and ideas—at the same time members of our team review these documents themselves."
It will be fascinating to see if the Obama transition team can carry this energised enthusiasm into office.
Thank you to everyone who has contributed to the development of the map over the last week, and to the people below for helping the map meme to circulate in the blogosphere:
Then tag the post TheIndyDebate. When you do this, we’ll detect the post and start to include your thoughts in the map.
Embedding the map will let your readers watch the map evolve in situ on your blog. And, if you link to or embed the map, we’ll publish a reciprocal link (both here and on the Independent Minds blog) back to your blog.
Over the next 10 weeks, Independent readers and the Debategraph team will develop a series of interrelated debate maps of the key policy and political questions facing Obama as he prepares for office.
Whether it’s tackling the global financial crisis, deciding who to appoint to key cabinet posts, or determining how to proceed on climate change, Iraq or the crisis in the Congo, you are welcome to join us in building comprehensive maps of the political choices open to Obama, the arguments for and against the different options, and the path you think Obama should follow.
You can watch the maps evolve in the build up to the inauguration, or better still register and begin to comment, suggest new issues, rate the options and arguments, and add new options and arguments of your own.
ESSENCE is the world’s first global climate collective intelligence event—designed to bring together scientists, industrialists, campaigners and policy makers, and the emerging set of web-based sensemaking tools, to pool and deepen our understanding of the issues and options facing the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009.
The event, starts online in January 2009 and culminates with the UN Climate Change Conference at the end of this year.
During the pre-launch phase, we are beginning to identify and assemble teams of scientists, industrialists, campaigners and policy makers to work with the tool developers on specific aspects of the complex set of issues around climate change.
The aim is to develop a comprehensive, distilled, visual map of the issues, evidence, arguments and options facing the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, that will be available for all to explore and enrich across the web.
The project is founded on principles of openness, transparency, and discovery; with no preconceptions about the conclusions that will emerge from the event.
If you are scientist, industrialist, campaigner, policy maker, tool maker—or someone with other ideas and resources to contribute—and are interested in learning more about and participating in ESSENCE, please get in touch.
The granular addressability is shown at the paragraph level in this example; however, CommentPress—which is being applied imaginatively to several publicconsultations in the UK—allows the user to define a deeper level of granularity, enabling a finer one-to-one correspondence between the source document and the map.
The hope embodied in this experiment is that in the build up to the Presidential election in November it might be possible exemplify the potential of the emerging web technologies to shift the modus of political debate (a degree or two) away from the calculated cacophony of ephemeral soundbites toward a more considered, constructive and cumulative conversation.
If you are willing to help in the pursuit of this goal—working on the transcripts, mapping and tying together the arguments, highlighting inconsistencies and areas of agreement, and holding the candidates transparently accountable to their words—please join us.
I love the simplicity of the CommentOnThis and CommentPress approach, which is clearly motivated by similar urge to transparency and read/write participation as Debategraph.
The document-centric approach of CommentOnThis / CommentPress also makes it comparatively simple to enable public participation once the initial time, energy and resources has been expended on creating the original consultation documents.
Debategraph takes a more radical, subject-oriented approach to the same challenge, which if followed to its logical conclusion could (we think) significantly reduce the overall time spent by the consulting body and its stakeholders on the consultation process.
Instead of creating a long consultation document at the outset, the consultation team could start building a public debate map of the consultation issues, and invite the stakeholders to join them in this process—decomposing the subject matter into the individual issue, positions, arguments, evidence and scenarios, and allowing the stakeholders as well as the consultation team to edit, rate, challenge or support the individual arguments.
As each element on the map is also its own wiki-page it’s easy to layer in longer commentaries (up to 50,000 words), images, tables, and charts etc as the map builds towards maturity. And as the core, hierarchical structure of the map is similar to the hierarchical outline of a standard report, it’s relatively straightforward at the end of the consultation period to automatically generate the basis of a final report directly from map—with the a key difference being that everyone’s contributions are already represented in the report.
In this way, rather than having multiple people create multiple documents that redundantly repeat many of the same arguments (each of which has to be written and read multiple times), everyone can focus collaboratively and directly on the issues at hand and ensure that all pertinent considerations and all voices are represented fairly on the map. Visualising and exploring the issues and arguments in this way also enhances transparency and trust in the consultation process and helps to ensure that every issues is surfaced and addressed comprehensively.
As well as potentially reducing the cycle time of the consultation process, the debate map could save further time and resources when the next consultation round on the topic begins; as many of the relevant arguments will already be in place on the map and will not need to be recreated from scratch. Indeed, once created, the debate map can be updated over time by the different stakeholders as new arguments, evidence and scenarios emerge; providing a continuously evolving view of the subject; so that when the next formal consultation process begins the majority of the thinking and work involved may have been accomplished on the map already.