Mapping the Political Contours of Cyberspace

William Gibson coined the term “cyberspace”, for his 1982 short story Burning Chrome to create a “a narrative engine, and a territory in which the narrative could take place”. Twenty years on, cyberspace is the world’s narrative engine: and an uncharted territory to which the world is still coming to terms.

Political, industrial, and civic leaders are gathering at the Foreign Office’s London Conference on Cyberspace next week to think through the implications, opportunities and contradictions of this emerging world.

The conference will explore key themes – prosperity; social good; freedom of access and expression; cyber crime and international security – with the aim of deepening mutual understanding and beginning to outline a political, social and economic strategy to secure the benefits of cyberspace while addressing the concomitant threats to personal and national security.

The Foreign Office would like the dialogue at the event and online to be as broad as possible – and, in support of this process, Debategraph will be mapping and curating the dialogue as it unfolds live and online.

To start exploring the map – which we have seeded with the initial framework of the conference – click on the small bubbles to move deeper into the debate and on the larger bubbles to move back up.

You can gain an insight into the range and scope of the debate by watching the map evolve here, but you are welcome to add your voice to the debate online by adding new ideas and comments to the map and by rating the ideas, or by suggesting new ideas and questions via Twitter using the #LondonCyber hashtag and/or the Foreign Secretary’s Facebook channel (both of which we will be monitoring as well).

As discussed before, the whole structure of the map is like a wiki – every aspect is provisional, and open to further refinement – and everyone can add new issues, positions, arguments and evidence to the map.

The aim is to weave together all of the arguments into a rich, transparent, non-linear structure that anyone can explore and understand quickly.

As with the other maps in the The Independent series you can keep up to date with developments via @TheIndyDebate on Twitter, and you are welcome to embed the map (like a YouTube video) on your own site or blog using the code shown below:

<iframe src=’http://debategraph.org/Flash/fv.aspx?r=121532&sc=smalll’ frameborder=’0′ width=’480′ height=’500′ scrolling=’no’></iframe>

*Cross-posted at: The Independent

Public Services 2.0

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.

The workshop was a great success across all these dimensions, and the slides and videos for all of the presentations are worth exploring in depth.

On a personal note, one of the joys of the event was the chance it afforded to meet people whose work I have long admired from a distance including James Munro, Lee Bryant, Anna Maybank, Dominic Campbell, Justin Kerr-Stevens, Emma Mulqueeny, Richard Stirling, Ivo Gormley – whose highly recommended film Us Now features Debategraph briefly and tantalisingly on screen at a key moment – and Søren Duus Østergaard.

In the aftermath of the workshop it has been delightful to see the same sense experimental adventure bubbling up elsewhere, and in the European context, the next collaborative step, emerging as spontaneous initiative from the workshop, is to imbue the European Commission’s imminent consultation on the i2020 strategy with more of the same spirit.

Of which more later.

Obama: Making Sense of the World?

And so the kaleidoscope turns, and we see the world anew.

Or do we?

Barack Obama’s inauguration today 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.

inaugration

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 others have 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.

Cross-Posted at: Independent Minds

Mapping the Crisis in Gaza

As the What Should Obama Do Next? map began to address the unfolding events in Gaza last week, it was soon apparent that the immediate crisis and the wider Arab-Israeli conflict merited detailed consideration on a new map.

To this end, Independent readers and the Debategraph community have begun to seed a map on the crisis; including arguments raised by Robert Fisk and Johann Hari, and some of the questions and answers from the Twitter press conference organised last week by the Consulate General of Israel in New York.

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 with the Obama map, you can also keep up to date with developments on the Gaza map via @TheIndyDebate on Twitter.

Cross posted at: Independent Minds

Towards Live Government…

The Independent’s mapping project, What Should Obama do Next? , is one of multiple initiatives appearing across the web linked to the Presidential inauguration of Barack Obama.

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.

Dan McSwain is right to note that "no other transition team has ever opened these types of channels of communication with the American people" and the team’s early energy, enthusiasm and willingness to experiment are praiseworthy; though, no doubt, like all start-up developers in public beta they’ll be attuned to thoughtful and constructive criticism as part of their process of continuous development.

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).

It’s against this background that the latest development from the Obama transition team—in making all policy documents from official meetings with outside organizations publicly available for review and discussion on Change.gov—offers a tantalisingly encouraging sign.

As Dan McSwain, again, notes:

"…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.

MAP UPDATE: 

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:

Visual Mapping, Benchmarking e-gov, Tomorrow Happens, Heuristiquement, and @stoweboyd, @grisvert, @TheMindMapWatch, @jeanlucr

..and incidentally, henceforward, as well as the map email digests and RSS feed you’ll also be able to keep track of the latest developments on the map here http://twitter.com/TheIndyDebate.

 

Cross Posted from: Independent Minds.

Help us map the mind of the blogosphere

Cross-posted from: Independent Minds

To celebrate the launch of The Independent Minds blogs, and as part of our Obama project with The Independent newspaper, we are launching a global experiment to map the mind of the blogosphere.


Source: Matthew Hurst’s Blogosphere Meta-Core.

Not all of it, obviously… not, for example, the part that’s thinking about Britney Spears and Angelina Jolie.

We’re just focusing on the part thinking about the inauguration of the new President and the choices he faces. And we want to transfer the collective insight of the blogsophere into the map that’s already building here.

Can we do it? With your help… yes we can.

We’re not expecting you to learn the pros and cons of argument visualization; though if you want to stretch your mind with something other than a Crossword or Linkudo we’d love to help.

Instead, all you have to do, if you are blogger, is to let us know when you have posted about Obama and any of the policy issues he faces. You can do this in two ways:

(1) Include a link to the map in your blog post:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/article1022466.ece

or,

(2) Embed the map like a YouTube video, using the code below:

<iframe src=’http://debategraph.org/flash/fv.aspx?r=7714&d=2&i=1′ frameborder=’0′ width=’490′ height=’650′ scrolling=’no’></iframe>

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.

Starting now with: Ideal Government, Contrary Brin, AlwaystheTwain.

If we miss a blog post, email me at david AT debategraph DOT org – and if you’re not a blogger, but know someone who might interested in participating, please pass the links along.

Introducing ESSENCE 2009…

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.

Ready?… / …Engage

Essence Sponsors:

                   

 

Essence Partners:

        

 

 

 

 

Debate Maps, Public Policy, Openness and Trust

Paul Johnston wrote a characteristically thoughtful and constructive post last month on the need for public authorities to open up debates on public issues to genuine citizen engagement and influence.

Prior to the post, Paul and William Heath catalysed a debate map on the government’s plans for a new Identity System in the UK; a snapshot of which is shown below. Reflecting on the process, Paul provided an excellent précis of our public policy objectives for Debategraph:

“David believes that as more experts engage with the map, its quality and accuracy will steadily improve, so that even newcomers to the debate will quickly be able to see what parts of the debate are most important and where the real differences lie. The tool anyway has a capacity for people to rate elements of the argument, so there is also scope in this way for the wisdom of the crowds to shape the debate. So for David (if I have understood him correctly) the key issue is to go beyond the superficial yes vs. no of much political debate and provide a map that really captures an argument in all its complexity and sophistication. For him (I think) a map needs to be fairly detailed if it is to be genuinely enlightening and so make a real contribution. And Web 2.0 enables this because a wide range of true experts can engage and so allow the real substance of an argument to emerge.”

It’s a lucid summary, to which I would add:

(1) Debate maps aim to capture succinctly and in context every argument that anyone thinks is pertinent to a debate. The complexity of a map mirrors the complexity of the relevant issues as perceived by the community of mappers. Simple issues produce simple maps: complex issue produce complex maps.

(2) Many of the issues that we face in the 21st Century are intrinsically complex. And we can either ignore or deny this complexity and hope for the best, or seek to understand and deal with it. Debate maps give us a means to understand this complexity by letting us to capture and explore it at our own pace.

(3) Debate maps strip away the extrinsic complexity of public debates—the cacophony of partial arguments repeated in ever-louder voices—that can bedevil attempts to deal with the underlying complexity of a debate. Once an argument is represented on a debate map, people can focus on improving and responding to it rather than repeating it.

(4) Debate maps grow to maturity through iterative community interaction: capturing, responding to, clarifying, distilling, rating and reorganising the arguments into as rigorous, concise and comprehensive a structure as possible. Expert input is a vital part of this process, but, from the perspective of the map, the definition of an expert is simply anyone who has something novel and pertinent to add to the debate.

In his post Paul proceeds to outline a 5-stage template model that he suggests could be applied to complex political debates to help participants to get to the essence of the debate and of the different views within the debate. It’s a stimulating proposal that merits detailed reflection. From my perspective, the distillation and clarity that Paul is quite rightly striving for here, will naturally occur with maturing debate maps; as the focus of activity shifts from gathering and articulating the arguments and options to sifting and choosing from the arguments and options.

A further characteristic of debate maps is that they provide open spaces in which debates can evolve to find their own form, as new issues and options emerge. Hence, the boundaries of debate maps are not fixed by government-centric frames—a potential concern Martin Stewart-Weeks raises with respect to the templates—but are discovered and defined by the participants in the process of building the map. This is important because, as Martin notes:

“Part of the citizen engagement debate is about expanding the capacity for people and organisations to not only be the ones being consulted about the government’s agenda, but to be able to determine, at least to some extent, what the agenda should be in the first place.”

The open process of exploration on a map also frees participants from the need to adopt and defend fixed positions in the debate from the outset; keeping open the possibility that previously hidden but ultimately more attractive options will be identified. It also reduces the risk of premature distillation of the issues into a superficially attractive but fundamentally flawed policy position.

The belated publication this month of the Crosby report—which reframes the ID debate in an imaginative and potentially generative way—highlights the structural weaknesses of the current policy making process. An initial exploratory mapping process might have brought the arguments the report makes to the surface of the debate sooner. Conjecture, perhaps, but there are few less visible places for an argument to reside than in a drawer in Whitehall.

The transparency and openness to arguments from all sides that debate maps embody and encourage are surely vital components of any serious project to rebuild public trust in the policy making process. An issue that William Heath reflects on elsewhere.

And the transparency works both ways; as debate maps bring the trade-offs involved in political choices into sharper focus for the people making the policy demands as well as those making the decisions. And constructive engagement with these trade-offs is essential on both sides of the decision, as Matthew Taylor has argued eloquently at length.

Debate maps aren’t predicated on an assumption of underlying consensus—although if consensus is there to be found they will assist in its discovery—and debate maps don’t remove the burden of contentious decisions from Government. They merely strive to ensure that those contentious decisions are made in full cognisance of all the arguments that the community can muster, and that the Government provides an open and clear rationale for its decision in the context of those arguments.

As Paul notes in closing his post:

“Anyway, I think this is a really interesting field and I would love to see some public authorities embracing it and experimenting!”

Joining the Open Education Revolution

Following our adoption of the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license, I am delighted to report that Debategraph has signed the Cape Town Open Education Declaration.

The Declaration, discussed here by Jimmy Wales and Richard Baraniuk, launched in January this year with the support of the Open Society Institute and the Shuttleworth Foundation.

The full text of the Declaration begins:

“We are on the cusp of a global revolution in teaching and learning. Educators worldwide are developing a vast pool of educational resources on the Internet, open and free for all to use. These educators are creating a world where each and every person on earth can access and contribute to the sum of all human knowledge. They are also planting the seeds of a new pedagogy where educators and learners create, shape and evolve knowledge together, deepening their skills and understanding as they go.

This emerging open education movement combines the established tradition of sharing good ideas with fellow educators and the collaborative, interactive culture of the Internet. It is built on the belief that everyone should have the freedom to use, customize, improve and redistribute educational resources without constraint. Educators, learners and others who share this belief are gathering together as part of a worldwide effort to make education both more accessible and more effective.”

And, via David Wiley, Mark Shuttleworth offers the following video introduction:

With historic forms of education in kaleidoscopic flux, it’s a remarkable and inspiring time to be alive. And, as the range and depth of the Creative Commons licensed debate maps mature, Debategraph is committed to making a novel and substantive contribution to this revolutionary movement.