Prepared by Gene House
Submitted to Douglas Schuler
Civic Intelligence: Theory and Practice
Case Study: e-Liberate
Week 7, Saturday, 5/14/2011
- Civil societies of antiquity have leveraged both tongue and pen as the primary means of dialogue and deliberation. From purveyor to interlocutor, dialogue and deliberation centered around “meeting places”. The capacity for deliberation across geographical boundaries in the absence of technologically advanced artifacts was protracted at best. With the advent of Radio and Television, came promises of an enlightened, informed and connected society. Society soon found the industrial information complex had its own design for civil societies. For with ownership of airways comes disproportionate access to guide or distract citizens from the significant shared problems of our time. With an increasing world population, comes the need for increased civic participation. “Non-Proprietary Civic Collaboration” could be one possible answer, and an approach central to the underpinnings of e-Liberate.
- Orientation - describes the purpose, principles and perspectives that help energize an effective deployment of civic intelligence.
- Adaptations by people to a networked digital economy is taking place. Widespread access to ICT's without the physical restrictions of significant capital financing affords to humans the ability to construct coordinated bodies of work either collaboratively or individually. Technological artifacts such as computers, smart phones and the internet have fostered an era of global participatory political movements. The recent events in Egypt is an example of the power social networking sites. Real time reporting of world events is now tweeted, blogged and posted using Facebook and Twitter. Sensitive to this new era, e-Liberate offers a means of deliberation without the proprietary mechanisms of the industrial information complex. Coming at a time when it is critical that software applications offer platforms that facilitate dialogue, e-Liberate goes one step further. By leveraging Robert's Rules of Order, e-Liberate, provides a means towards structured deliberation, one uniquely focused towards participatory decision making. It is the aim of e-Liberate that this participatory decision making process will take a proposal though the "life of motion" cycle, culminating in a collaborative and definitive decision, representing group expression and "Civic Intelligence".
- Organization - refers to the structures, methods and roles by which people engage in civic intelligence.
- Simply put, e-Liberate is an online software application that facilitates online meetings utilizing standardized "rules of discourse". Current organizational structure is a loosely knit group of individuals interested in civic engagement and deliberative democracy.
- Engagement - refers to the ways in which civic intelligence is an active force for thought, action, and social change. #Intelligence - refers to the ways that civic intelligence lives up to its name.
- Dialogue and deliberation can be fraught with abuse. A cursory glance at television shows, such as Point/CounterPoint, Crossfire, Hardball with Chris Matthews, and many others to numerous to list, illustrates dissenting opinions are met with vitriolic responses. The political constituents of society (politicians), often fall prey to this form of contemporary rhetoric. We need to look no further than the latest political advertisement to see defamation of character executed by both sides of the political aisle. Political "story telling" works. Often framed as good against evil, protagonist versus antagonist, ether way, marketeers know humanity loves rooting for the hero. This form of pathos laden rhetoric has found its way into the digital domain as well as public and private organizations. Modern online discourse and deliberation could benefit from the structured mediation facilitated by software based on participatory design.
- Products & Projects - refers to some of the outcomes, both long-term and incremental, that civic intelligence might produce.
- The desired outcome of the deliberative process facilitated by e-Liberate would be one that provides a measurable outcome. It would leverage group participation in such a way that the majority could not preclude the minority from being heard and similarly the minority could not prevent the majority from making decisions.
- Resources - refers to the types of support that people and institutions engaged in civic intelligence work need.
- Critical to the success of e-Liberate, will be access to funding. Acquisition to this monetary requirement could come via grants, non-profit or even for-profit organizations. The obvious source of income could come via advertisements, but sensitive to the idea private funding and or investment steers direction should be considered.
- As with many emerging software applications, user participation is key. There are many elements that elevate Facebook to its current level of popularity, most notably is the obvious, user participation. Before Facebook's success was measured in dollars it was measured in eyeballs. "In a paper by Christiaan Hogendorn titled Spillovers and Network Neutrality, Hogendorn makes the case that the real draw to networks is the connection to people and the greater the number of people, the greater the draw, supporting further network expansion. Hogendorn simply states "Consumers value network effects a lot." (Hogendorn, 2010) Clearly, successful networks leverage both collaboration and widely distributed information. If Facebook has shown us anything it is that people enjoy interaction within a networked community. Central to the success of this model is that Facebook allows the users a space in which individuality can be expressed. In addition, exclusivity of community gives rise to a sense of ownership. Individuality and ownership must then be part of any application moving forward into deliberative democracy.
- Fiorella De Cindio speaking at Evergreen State college, laid out the framework for a deliberative software application. Three key components to the model were identified as “Community Space, Personal Space, and Deliberative Space.” Facebook comes close to achieving the requisite components, however falls short in De Cindio’s eyes due to the proprietary nature of Facebook." (House, 2011) e-Liberate by design employs Non-Proprietary Civic Collaboration, but if e-Liberate is to realize any form of meaningful success, it must consider allocating the resources needed for further application development. Organizations will need exclusivity on the app, thus providing the psychologically needed sense of ownership. In addition, this "organization page" will need a lower root page that is focused and "owned" by the user/participant/employee etc. This would provide a place for casual interaction among members, thus facilitating the "Community Space" De Cindio speaks of. It should be noted that exclusivity between organizations would be paramount, as to respect organizational privacy. The third "place" would be the personal page, and could be constructed much like Facebook's "Info Page", or possible designed following the Linkdin model.
Pattern Language Association
- e-Liberate provides the proverbial cones of deliberation, enabling organizations a sort of digital facilitator guiding the group through the meeting process.
- Voices of the Unheard
- Civic Intelligence
- e-Liberate SeeMe Modeling -- First Iteration
- First Mover Advantage
- e-Liberate's uniquely focused design leveraging parliamentary procedure could realize "First Mover Advantage", FMA. Market saturation of social applications is evident, however e-Liberate is an early entrant into the cyber-market of deliberative applications insofar that its schema leverages Robert's Rules of Order.
- Resource Conservation
- With the advent of the internet, organizations have been searching for ways new ways to conduct business. Carving out new organizational space, the internet to a large degree, dismantles the traditional barriers to communication, i.e. geographic, temporal and monetary, editing... .
- Access Points
- Absence of Non-Linguistic Gesture
- "Historically modes of communication have been personalized, for example the personal transmission of knowledge in the era of Socrates and even today via lectures, town halls, community association meetings etc. The use of "nonlinguistic gesture" helps frame the connotation of the message, in the absence of this central component of communication interlocutors must rely on the written word, which in many cases can be a poor form of communication. ICT as it exists today increases access but not he quality of discussion, as it affords private, individual consumption of information," for example Blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Central to the success of meaningful communicative or deliberative democracy afforded by the internet then must consider ways of adopting a more unabridged form of interaction. One way to accomplish the need for non-lingustic gesture is to incorporate video conferencing in addition to the written (typed) word.
- References: (House, 2011)
- Proprietary Application Design and Control
- Fiorella De Cindio speaking at Evergreen State college effectively illustrated the negative impact perpetuated by proprietary control of the application environment.
- e-Liberate suffers from a lack of continuous software maintenance and development. Thus partnering with non-profit organizations willing to supplement the monetary expense of development could provide further market penetration.
About: All content below complements of e-Liberate
Democracy and the Internet
Since its inception the Internet has been touted as a medium with revolutionary potential for democratic communication. Although other media including television and radio have not lived up to their democratic potential, it is too early to dismiss the Internet as being predominantly a tool for the powerful. Certainly civil society has been extraordinarily creative in using the Internet for positive social change.
Deliberation and the Internet
Although a very large number of communication venues exist in cyberspace, one critical function -- deliberation -- seems to have been omitted. The need for computer support for online deliberation can be shown by the fact that many online discussions seem to have no resolution at all; they often dribble off into nothingness, often leaving more confusion in their wake than before the discussion began. Worse, many online discussions degenerate into "flame wars" where online feuds make it difficult for the non-feuders to get any work done.
Roberts Rules of Order
Motivated by a desire to help make online discussions more productive -- particularly among civil society groups who are striving to create more "civic intelligence" in our society -- Doug Schuler proposed in his 1996 book New Community Networks that Roberts Rules of Order could be used as a basis for online deliberation. Roberts Rules of Order was developed by Henry Robert in the late 1800s to describe an orderly process for people meeting together face-to-face to make decisions fairly. One of the most important criterion was that although every attendee would have opportunities to make his or her ideas heard the minority could not prevent the majority from making decisions. Robert labored over his "rules" for 30 years and they are now in daily use by tens of thousands of deliberative bodies worldwide. One of the interesting things that we have learned about Roberts Rules is that the process seems to scale up: small groups of 5 or so can use as can groups numbering in the hundreds.
Development at The Evergreen State College
In 1999 a team of students at The Evergreen State College developed the first prototype of an online version of Roberts Rules of Order. This was later presented at CPSR's DIAC-00 symposium by John Adams and Matt Powell. In 2003 Evergreen student Nathan Clinton, working with Schuler, designed and implemented the system which is now ready for beta-testing with actual users. Clinton and Schuler named the system e-Liberate, which rhymes with deliberate (the verb).
We of course hope that e-Liberate will prove as versatile as the original Roberts Rules. E-Liberate is intended to be easy to use. It employs a straightforward user interface which is educational as well as facilitative. The interface shows, for example, only the legal actions that are available to the user at that specific time in the meeting. (A user can't second a motion when there is no motion to second!) At any time an "about" button can be clicked to explain what each particular action will accomplish thus providing useful cues that aren't available in face-to-face meetings. Take a look here for a transcript of a sample session.
We at CPSRs Public Sphere Project are now beginning to work with groups who are interested in trying the system to support actual meetings. We believe that face-to-face meetings are still very important but appropriate use of e-Liberate can help organizations with limited resources. Our hope is that non-profit groups will use e-Liberate to save time and money on travel and use the resources they save on other activities that promote their core objectives. We are enthusiastic about the system but we are well aware that the system as it stands may have problems that need fixing. It is for that reason that we plan to host a small number of meetings over the next few months and gather feedback from attendees. After that we plan to make e-Liberate freely available for online meetings and to release the software under a free software license.
The system in its current form can support meetings that take place in real-time over an hour or so and, also, meetings that are more asynchronous (and leisurely), meetings that could, in theory, span a year or so, making it necessary for meeting attendees to log in to e-Liberate once or twice a week to check for recent developments and perhaps vote or make a motion. Over the next several months we hope to study a variety of online meetings in order to adjust the system and to develop heuristics for the use of the system.
It is our intent to make e-Liberate easy to use. E-Liberate provides cues to permissible actions and provides online help for all features. The Use of e-Liberate intended to be educational; meeting attendees should become more knowledgeable about Roberts Rules and the use of e-Liberate over time through normal use of the system. Having said that, however, it is still important to acknowledge that some knowledge of -- and experience with -- Roberts Rules is critical to successful participation in online meetings. Groups intending to use e-Liberate should work to ensure that all meeting attendees have basic understanding of the various motions and the basic rules and we have developed an online manual for that purpose. Additionally, the meeting chair should be prepared to assist attendees whenever possible. Finally, the developers will also be available to assist even though everybody currently working on this project is volunteering their time.