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David Price

David co-founded Debategraph with the former Australian cabinet minister Peter Baldwin. Debategraph combines argument visualization with web-based collaborative editing to make the best arguments on all sides of any public debate freely available to all and continuously open to challenge and improvement by all. David also blogs at Open to Persuasion, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Gordon Brown: Termination or Salvation?

Posted by David Price
  • Monday, 8 June 2009 at 03:21 pm

In the aftermath of the historically poor results in the European and local elections, and with the prospects for the general election bleak, Labour MPs face a critical choice this evening; a dilemma on which their careers, the future of the Labour Party, and the future of the country may turn: should Gordon stay or should he go?

Help us reflect on this choice by adding your thoughts and ratings to The Independent’s interactive visual map of the arguments for (green) and against (red) Gordon Brown’s continuing leadership. As before, the whole structure of the map is like a wiki – every aspect is provisional, and open to further iterative improvement – and everyone can add new points and comments to the map.
 


(click to view map live)
 

The aim with interactive collaborative maps of this kind is to weave together and rate all of the salient issues, positions and arguments distributed through the community into a single rich, transparent structure – in which each idea and argument is expressed just once – so that anyone can explore quickly and gain a good sense of the perceived merits of the relevant choices.

You can move around the map by clicking on the spheres: clicking on the smallest coloured spheres takes you deeper into an argument, clicking on the largest sphere takes you back up.

To rate the arguments, click on the arrows that connect the spheres. A 1–9 rating scale opens when you click on an arrow (although you will be asked to log in first time – to stop people voting for the same idea multiple times). A “9” rating means that you think it’s a very strong argument: a “1” rating that it’s a very weak argument. As the community begins to rate the different ideas the thickness of the arrows changes to signal which ideas are perceived to be strongest and weakest.

The “i” button below the map opens a help page and the adjacent “screen” button opens the map to a full-screen view. The other buttons let you access fuller underlying content (expressed in a different visualization, which is also where you are able to add your own ideas to the map). Finally, you link to, share and embed any view of the map directly by clicking on the button next to the search magnifying glass.

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

<iframe src='http://debategraph.org/flash/fv_indep.aspx?r=18241' frameborder='0' width='450' height='600' scrolling ='no'></iframe>


What should the Labour Party do next?

Posted by David Price
  • Thursday, 14 May 2009 at 08:54 am

With the Labour Party languishing in the latest set of polls – recording in one poll its lowest rating since opinion polls began in the 1940s – a third place finish looming in next month’s local and European elections, and rumours of a challenge to Gordon Brown’s leadership building in Westminster, what should the Labour Party do next?

We would like you to help us crowdsource this topic by adding your thoughts to The Independent’s interactive visual map of the choices the Labour Party faces – and to start the conversation and debate we have included some initial issues on the map. The map also offers you the chance to signal who you think should the lead the Labour Party into the next election and why.

For example, you can develop the arguments for and against Gordon Brown continuing to lead the Party:
 


(view live)


...or begin to the build the case for and against the potential contenders, such as Alan Johnson (who is the next participant in The Independent's Ask the Question series – following on from Yvette Cooper).
 


(view live)


This map is different to the earlier maps in the series in that it is exploring the topic from a particular institutional perspective (i.e. the Labour Party's perspective). Future maps will consider what strategies the other parties should be pursuing in preparation for the next election, as well as examining reform of the political system from a non-partisan perspective.

As ever, if you would like to embed the live map on a blog or your own website, you are welcome to do so using the embed code below:

<iframe src='http://debategraph.org/flash/fv_indep.aspx?r=18238' frameborder='0' width='450' height='600' scrolling='no'></iframe>
 



Dissecting the G-20 Communiqué

Posted by David Price
  • Thursday, 2 April 2009 at 07:47 pm
So what are we to make of the G20 Communiqué?

As part of The Independent's visual mapping of the London Summit, we have broken down the G20 communiqué into an interactive visual graph, that lets you comment on and rate each of the major points.

...and we want you to know what you think about the measures proposed.

So click here to start exploring the interactive graph, and tell us if you're feeling quantitatively eased or squeezed.

And why?





Mapping the legal status of the war on Iraq

Posted by David Price
  • Saturday, 28 March 2009 at 10:55 pm

On 26 February 2003 in the build up the Iraq war, a group of 43 Australian legal experts published an article in the Sydney Morning Herald Coalition of the Willing? Make that War Criminals, arguing that the war would be illegal and that George Bush, John Howard, and Tony Blair would be war criminals.

Greg Hunt, the Liberal MP for Flinders responded in The Age on 19 March 2003 with an article entitled Yes, This War is Legal.

Tim van Gelder, one the world's leading argument mappers, and a pioneer of computer-assisted argument visualization, has mapped both arguments with his students at the University of Melbourne – and you can see the maps reproduced below (using Tim's excellent bCisive mapping software).

As Tim blogged this week the articles are of particular interest from argument mapping perspective as the gravity of the issue and intense public interest at the time gave the authors strong incentives to present the best cases they could.

Yet, as you start to explore the maps it quickly becomes clear that both arguments are at best incomplete.

To some extent the weaknesses of the arguments reflect the limitations of the form in which they are presented; as the full complexities of the relevant arguments don't compress well into short opinion pieces (or, indeed, newspaper blog posts).

...but what is the right form of communication for addressing such critical and complex issues in, and as, a society, when our traditional forms of communication – from editorials, to radio phone-ins, to research papers, to Parliamentary debates, to dossiers (and including, some might say, legal opinions from the Attorney General) – exhibit the same intrinsic weaknesses to a greater or lesser degree?

A growing community of people, of which Tim and I are enthusiastic members, see collaborative visual mapping as one of the most promising developments in this area; as mapping provides a way to assemble all of the disparate perspectives into a coherent whole and to make this structure transparent to all and open to further challenge and refinement by all

There’s much still to be achieved in this emerging field; however, in Tim’s maps and the debate graph below (drawn from Tim's maps and the source articles) it is possible to see the glimmer of a different form of civic discourse across society at critical moments; one in which the first impulse is towards building an open, shared understanding of shape of the problem.


...and with this in mind, anyone who would like to join us in building a comprehensive, contemporary overview of the arguments around the legal status of the war in Iraq is welcome to begin to fill in the gaps and refine the arguments on the debate graph above or via Tim’s site.

Critical Thinking on Climate Change?

Posted by David Price
  • Thursday, 12 March 2009 at 04:49 pm

The Earth's climate is a complex dynamic system about which we have much to learn: so too the climate of human opinion.

Both are layered with uncertainty: yet we are compelled to act; to decide with our knowledge and ignorance deeply entwined.

And, in the case of climate change the costs of poor decisions (in whatever direction) are huge.

A significant tension in public opinion around climate change is expressed in Sir Karl Popper's observation (in a different context) that:
 

"The history of science, like the history of all human ideas, is a history of irresponsible dreams, of obstinacy, and of error. But science is one of the very few human activities - perhaps the only one - in which errors are systematically criticized and fairly often, in time, corrected. This is why we can say that, in science, we often learn from our mistakes, and why we can speak clearly and sensibly about making progress there."
 

For the supporters of the IPCC consensus, the consensus embodies science at its systematically critical best. For the sceptics, the consensus represents obstinate and erroneous science distorted through the lenses of politics and financial interest. Oddly, both poles are united in the claim that the other is insufficiently, systematically self-critical.

The Independent and Debategraph are experimenting with a way of bringing this process of systematic critical reflection into the wider public conversation about climate change. The approach builds on the three-fold perception that:
 

(1) Contentious and complex debates can be mapped comprehensively so that all pertinent issues, positions, arguments, evidence, and scenarios are represented in a transparent and coherent visual structure—by breaking down the subject debated into meaningful parts; identifying the relationships between those parts; and presenting the parts and their relationships visually.

(2) The collaboratively editable potential of the web can be used to externalise and open up this process to collective intelligence and critical review of the community.

(3) The evolving maps can be shared and embedded across the web – wherever the debate is occurring – so that changes to a map on any site will be immediately reflected across all the sites on which it appears.
 

Debategraph is able to address the messy, multidimensional, multi-perspective nature of the underlying issues and to create structures that are sufficiently mutable to evolve continuously and iteratively in all respects as the community's understanding deepens and broadens.
 


(click here to view live)
 

However, the real challenge is not the technical one; rather it is to engage the expertise and understanding distributed throughout the community to develop a map to the point at which it truly embodies a mature systematically critical overview of the relevant field.

Hence, the current climate change map should be seen as the seed not the tree—a seed that offers all participants in the public debate (whether supporters of the consensus, sceptics, or representatives of any other part of the spectrum) a means to express their ideas openly, fairly, succinctly in full, in a form in which they can be challenged and refined systematically in the context of all the other ideas.

And, if we were looking for a creed in pursuit of this goal, it might not rest too far from another of Popper's observations:


The true Enlightenment thinker, the true rationalist, never wants to talk anyone into anything. No, he does not even want to convince; all the time he is aware that he may be wrong. Above all, he values the intellectual independence of others too highly to want to convince them in important matters. He would much rather invite contradiction, preferably in the form of rational and disciplined criticism. He seeks not to convince but to arouse — to challenge others to form free opinions.



Visualizing Peace in the Middle East

Posted by David Price
  • Sunday, 1 March 2009 at 07:06 pm
With Tony Blair –  the Middle East envoy for the Quartet (UN, EU, USA and Russia) –  visiting Gaza and the Sderot today, it's a good moment to explore the core issues on which any long-term Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement depends.


The image above shows the top-level issues that Independent readers and the Debategraph community have identified so far, namely:

      > the questions around Israeli and Palestinian statehood;

      > how to handle Jerusalem;

      > the fate of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank; and,

      > how to address the Palestinian refugees right of return.

You can open the live map here and drill down into each issue to examine the potential approaches advanced so far in response to each.

Thus, for example, drilling down into the Statehood issue currently opens five potential approaches to Israeli and Palestinian statehood:



...and clicking on one of approaches (the bi-national, single state option for illustrative purposes here) reveals the arguments mapped so far for-and-against the single-state proposal:



The map is still in an early stage of development, and anyone can add new issues, positions and arguments – with a view to building a comprehensive overview of the options for peace in the Middle East that captures every perspective on the debate fairly and succinctly.

Reaching this goal will take multiple iterations of collaborative dialogue and mapping across the community of interest – and all suggestions for additions to the map across the next few months will be very welcome.

Brainstorming the Middle East

Posted by David Price
  • Thursday, 26 February 2009 at 10:25 am

The events in Israel and Gaza this year have prompted gloomy prognoses for the prospects for peace; a mood deepened by the mixed signals from the Israeli election and the latest developments with Iran.

Lord Patten, writing for European Voice last month, struck a particularly bleak note:

"However tough things looked in the past, I have never felt such a sense of despair about Palestine and Israel. Reason has been drowned in blood. It seems as though the politics of hope have given way to the politics of the cemetery. Poor Palestine. Poor Israel."

Independent readers have started to explore the options for peace in the Middle East over the last few weeks, and, though the map is still at an early stage of development, it already provides a succinct insight into the nature and scale of the challenge; showing how strong views at either end of the spectrum pull the peace proposals towards the gyre of despair.
 


(click to view live)


One of the advantages of visual mapping in this context, though, at least at the outset, is that it's not asking anyone to take sides: just asking everyone to pool their understanding to map the contours of the problem.

The visual mapping process also opens up the possibility of creative brainstorming and lateral suggestions, such as the proposal to relocate the UN headquarters to Jerusalem, illustrated below – and we would like to see more contributions of this kind as the map develops over the coming weeks.
 


(click to view live)


Given the progress made with the map so far, and the work still ahead, we're extending the first mapping phase through the spring, and, will be including other partners in the process as we seek to engage the main actors in the region.

Anyone who would like to join us in this process is welcome to do so, and, if you would like to involve your own blog or website readers in the debate, you can embed the map—like a YouTube video—using the embed code shown below:
 

<iframe src='http://debategraph.org/flash/fv_indep.aspx?r=11474&d=2&i=1' frameborder='0' width='490' height='650' scrolling='no'></iframe>


In the meantime, I will be examining different areas of the map in detail on the blog over the coming weeks and will present the mapping community's work-in-progress to a conflict resolution forum in Haifa later this year.



Obama - Making sense of the world?

Posted by David Price
  • Tuesday, 20 January 2009 at 12:01 pm
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.

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.

Mapping the Crisis in Gaza

Posted by David Price
  • Monday, 5 January 2009 at 12:41 pm

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—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.


Towards Live Government...

Posted by David Price
  • Saturday, 6 December 2008 at 09:52 am

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 (1,996 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

A big 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.

 

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