Thanks to David Osimo‘s pioneering energy and imagination (and the enabling support of FutureGov and Headshift), I was privileged to have the opportunity to outline some of the thinking behind Debategraph at the European Commission’s Public Services 2.0 workshop in Brussels last month.
As David described in the agenda for the workshop:
“Over the last 3 years, we have seen a dramatic rise in user driven, web 2.0 style initiatives in and around public sector service provision. Initiatives such as Patient Opinion, Farmsubsidy and Theyworkforyou all seek to challenge, disrupt and improve on traditional models of public service delivery from the outside, built on the web 2.0 principles of openness, transparency and sharing.
Against this background the workshop “aimed to bring together the best experiences from all over Europe” to: share experience and knowledge between the people running the web 2.0 initiatives; promote a surge of collaborative initiatives; and raise awareness and better understanding between government officials about why and how to promote web 2.0 in government.
When Peter and I first set out to create Debategraph, one of our fondest hopes was that the tool might help to enrich the collaborative and visual learning experience for students in schools and universities.
So it has been a joy for us this semester to be experimenting with Debategraph in classroom with Dr Sharon Chanley and her politics students at Western Illinois University—and we are tremendously grateful to Sharon and the students for having the curiosity and courage to innovate in this way.
Dr Sharon Chanley and the students of POLS 275
Sharon’s class is exploring issues of poverty and wealth inequality in the U.S. and the historical and existing public policy responses to these, and Sharon explained to us what initially captured her imagination about Debategraph:
When I first came upon the DebateGraph in my search for policy-mapping examples, I felt as if someone had designed it specifically for my approach to teaching — almost as if they had observed my discussion-based classes and then depicted them graphically. In teaching policy issues and the political processes involved, I want students to understand their complexity and the interrelatedness of the issues. DebateGraph allows me to do that in a way that two-dimensional images and discussion alone can’t. Students develop their ability to research their positions, find answers to the compelling questions, and enhance their critical thinking skills while providing me a way to comment on and complete individual assessment of their work — all important to their learning in and beyond the classroom. And, they can do it in a format that fits into their familiarity with the computer, the Internet, and their preference for the visual and importantly in a way that connects them with the rest of the world.”
During the first phase of the course Sharon and the WIU students—Brandon, Colisha, Derek, James, Jan, Jared, John, Julio, Kimberly, Patrick, Robert, and Ruth—are using Debategraph to build an informal collaborative overview of the policy domain. You can see their work in progress below—and in the next phase of the course the emphasis will shift more to deepening the map and developing a more formal structure for the material.
We have been delighted with the enthusiastic feedback from the students so far, who have taken to this new approach to learning in fine style:
I like the DebateGraph as a learning tool because it teaches us how to do in-depth research. It also allows us to open up class discussions, which allows us to hear other people’s points of view.
The DebateGraph is an excellent learning tool which helps students learn through critical thinking. I really enjoy the exercise.
I think the DebateGraph is an outstanding learning tool. It forces the student to look in-depth at a particular subject. It makes people come up with questions to see if the particular problem can be resolved.
In general, I like the graphics display as a study tool. The generation tends to like information that is bite-sized, easily accessible, and fast paced, so the point and click nature makes it very easy to find information and explore related topics which may have been otherwise overlooked.
DebateGraph is not only a great tool, but it has allowed me to gain new knowledge. It is also a great tool for students to learn about policy issues, and it is also a great tool to use.
The DebateGraph is a really cool way to debate topics so that there is a structure and much more information can be transferred.
The students’ feedback is all more gratifying given that 40% of their overall course grade is being assessed on their individual and collaborative contributions to the map. And Sharon has been employing the RSS feed, email alerts, and edit history to support her grading process—and the map Message Board to ask, and answer, student questions outside class hours.
From our perspective it has been a wonderful start, and an experience from which Peter and I are learning much too about the ways in which Debategraph can be used in the classroom; a learning experience for which we would like to give Sharon and her pioneering students a wholehearted Anglo-Australian vote of thanks.
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.