Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Picket Project - Online Collaboration: Creating a Stream of Solutions for Politicial Issues

I understand where the Picket Project is trying to go with this.  I have some doubts as to whether it is achievable because of the necessity of finding enough people who will actually collaborate to be of any value.  Of course I'm looking for timely successes; what I consider to be timely is age driven.  Ambitions such as this takes time.

Never-the-less, I continue to think the effort a worthy one and since people far more savvy than myself are the movers behind it, I will continue to offer to you their insights.  One of these days there will be a breakthrough in this area and it will be internet driven.  Politicians who scoff at the thought will be the losers.  Beware though, they're getting there.  I haven't heard one laugh about not being computer literate since the last presidential election. For that matter they are using the web far more effetively than the electorate - thus projects such as this.  Happy reading.

We need to turn our government into something that works for everyone. The political leaders in this country, however, are too focused on their own agendas to recognize the solutions needed to solve real challenges. Despite their expertise, they are not the only stream of information for us to draw upon. Fortunately, there are many more intelligent Americans than intelligent insider politicians; and it is our insights which will direct the future.

But how can we properly reflect on these insights? How can we fully analyze the solutions we propose for complex problems? We need a tool which can provide a platform for recording, analyzing, and combining our collective insights in a meaningful way.

In a 2005 TED Talk, information technologist Clay Shirky explores a path to accomplish this. He points out that coordinating individuals through designed, online systems provides benefits far beyond what standard institutional models can. When you use a system which bypasses the control that institutions demand, you are given greater freedom and flexibility. By doing this, the system fosters more – and often better – contributions due to the lack of prerequisites to participate.

Shirky’s explanation on the benefits of coordination demonstrates that we can work together to find relationships in data that are not easily found in other ways. With the right tool, we each can make small contributions that compound to form a greater collaborative system. This has proven itself through the tagging system in Flickr, the friendship mappings in Facebook, and many other social media features. Using this principle for policy decisions seems quite natural.

A collaboration tool which leverages the benefits of decentralized cooperation can provide us with a place to record the vast number of ideas we should be exploring for our country. However, emotionally charged topics, like politics, need to be approached quite differently compared to other cooperation schemes.

One possible technique which could be used, argument mapping, is the process of breaking down and mapping arguments into a fixed structure that may include ideas, questions, pros and cons. Many have studied this structure, which has shown its effectiveness in a number of different scenarios: business, law and politics to name a few.

There are considerable benefits to using argument mapping. The one that seems most interesting is its ability to civilize polarizing discussions, such as political rhetoric. This increase in civility is a consequence of the structured approach to the idea’s analysis. When mapped, the important ideas which justify an opinion may diverge at any point in the argument when others disagree. This allows everyone, particularly those with conflicting opinions, to make their cases effectively without being drowned out.

This approach brings about other benefits as well. The promotion of an in-depth analysis of the issues and an increased comprehension of these issues will be discussed later. Furthermore, the downsides of argument mapping will be addressed by using a new but related technique that will provide even further benefits on top of those previously mentioned. However, for now, it is important to note that the studies done on argument mapping have shown that it is possible to allow a large group of people to cooperate on important, controversial issues. This is key.

If we want to be able to come up with the most beneficial solutions to America’s challenges, we have to explore a much larger set of possibilities than any group as small as our government can come up with and properly work through. Even out of sheer trial and error, Americans could explore more possible answers to their natural conclusions and consequences than just the politicians themselves could.

To accomplish this, however, we will need a proper group collaboration tool which allows us to fully explore an issue as well as the potential solutions to it and the inevitable consequences of them. The Picket Project is about creating a collaboration tool that could allow us to break free from our dependence on Washington and come up with meaningful solutions like never before possible.

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