A discussion refit is the injection of technical links into an online discussion in order to make it serviceable for e-democracy. The refit is carried out by a team of two "fitters" who join in the discussion thread for that purpose.
The main purpose of a discussion refit is two-fold: (1) to rationalize and support the discussion by grounding it in formal differences of position, and (2) to resolve those differences by building a consensus on solutions. The formalizations serve to put a little "backbone" into the discussion, while the possibility of consensus holds out the promise of action.
Another purpose is: (3) to recruit quality alpha users for the refit toolset (at the back end). Alpha users are needed in order to help guide the technical development toward the beta stage. However, it is difficult to build a viable community of alpha users from scratch, so instead we use refitting to reach into existing media where communities are already viable, thus making their participants proto-users of the toolset. This physical outreach serves as a kind of "front porch" that invites the proto-users into the larger toolset. Failure to accept the invitation is seen as a usability flaw (technical or procedural) to be corrected.1
|2010.7||Possible strategy for the Ginger Group of the BC New Democrats||(Mike, Thomas) Our first attempt. This is an atypical example of a refit. We restarted the discussion under a new thread that continued from a previous, unfitted thread. The original discussion had focused on traditional democratic reforms, which the e-democracy tools promised to render unnecessary. We therefore tried to redirect it onto other issues, but without success.||Idle|
|2011.1||Home page redesign competition 1, 2, 3, 5, 6. Metaquestion for Metagovernment 3, 4, 5.||(Thomas, Mike, C) Two lengthy attempts involving two issues, one prompted by the other. Both were ultimately abandoned for lack of sustained interest in the issues. Lessons learned in practice (laconic rule), tooling (bridge footings) and design (crossforum extent). Recognizing that crossforum extent would be needed to sustain discussion of any issue led, in turn, to the invention of transitive resource accounting, the development of the resource accounting framework (RAC), and the formulation of the GUEPO plans for aggressive vote mirroring based on the RAC.||Idle|
Definition of terms
- discussion refit
- The injection of technical links into an online discussion in order to make it serviceable for e-democracy.
- A facilitator who enters a discussion thread in order to refit it.
- A participant's stance with regard to the issue under discussion. A particular solution offered by a participant. The toolset will typically enable the participant to publish his/her position as a formal position draft, if he/she wishes.
- position difference
- A textual difference between the position drafts of two users. Position differences are arguably the most important linkage to embed in a discussion.2
- position puppetry
- The publication and maintenance of a position draft by one participant on behalf of another.
- Participants in a refit discussion who have yet to actually use the fitted tools.
- revision difference
- A textual difference between two revisions of a single user's position draft.
Refitting only works where the discussion is already focused on one or more concrete solutions. It is not enough for the participants to be talking about a problem (what is wrong), they must also be talking about how to make it right. This might involve putting forward their own solutions, or critically evaluating the solutions put forward by others (such as a law passed by legislators, or a plan endorsed by officials).
In addition, the e-democracy toolset must be capable of interconnecting with the medium of discussion via embeddable Web links. An example is Votorola's toolset, where the links can variously point to the voting facilities, position drafts, revision differences and position differences. The latter are the arguably the most important.2
Finally, each refit attempt requires two facilitators. The facilitators are called "fitters". At least one of the fitters should be experienced.
The method is a variation of Augusto Boal's invisible theatre, with the fitters doing the job of the embedded actors, and the "script" being improvised on the fly.3
An online thread is located in which the participants are discussing a concrete solution.
Alternatively, if the thread is not concretely focused — but is otherwise promising — then a fitter may enter the thread as a participant and attempt to steer the discussion toward a more-or-less concrete solution. The original participants are then engaged in discussing the merits of the solution. This is done without introducing any new tools.
A team of two fitters joins the thread as participants. They frankly discuss the merits of the various solutions being proposed.
The first fitter uses the back-end toolset to publish one of the solutions as a formal position draft. After publishing it, he improves it by modifying it in some way, and saves the modification. He then posts to the thread, announcing the improvement, and linking to the version difference (original vs. modified text)
The second fitter uses the toolset to vote for the first fitter. He makes a copy of the first position draft, introduces a modification of his own, and publishes it as his own position. He then replies to the first fitter, explaining the modification, and linking to the latest position difference between them.
The two fitters then proceed to collaboratively develop the solution further, frankly discussing their differences all the while, and patching them wherever they can. At the same time, they strive to engage the other participants in a detailed discussion of the issues.
Rules of thumb
- Never induce the proto-users to use the tools
- Do not ask them to cast votes, or to publish position drafts of their own. Do not prompt them to follow the technical links.
- Avoid position puppetry
- Do not publish or maintain a position draft on behalf of another participant. It is okay to vote for a participant, but do not publish his/her position.
- Minimize the footprint of the tools
- Try to keep the technical links and other tool-related content from intruding in the discussion. Paste the links toward the end of each message, for example.
- Focus on solutions and related issues
- Do not allow the discussion to become sidetracked or hung up. If the participants have questions or problems related to the tools, try to be helpful but also concise. If necessary, refer them to another thread or forum where you can help them at length.
- Crossforum ranging - the practice of growing a participatory democracy from small instances (seedlings) that are deliberately planted in open forums.
Notes and references
- ^ Very few complete toolsets for e-democracy have been developed, and none has yet reached the beta stage.
- ^ a b We might argue that "discussions are rational in a democracy only insofar as they are focused on differences of position." See User:Mike-ZeleaCom/G/p/de.
- ^ Augusto Boal. 1974, 2000. Theater of the oppressed. New edition. Translated from the Spanish (Teatro del Oprimido) by Charles A. McBride, Maria-Odilia Leal McBride and Emily Fryer. Pluto Press, London. pp. 143-147. http://books.google.ca/books?id=g8ZbuK6AlqsC
The invisible theatre erupts in a location chosen as a place where the public congregates. All the people who are near become involved in the eruption and the effects of it last long after the skit is ended.