Debategraph

The following guest post is from David Price, co-founder of Debategraph, a debate tool for visually representing complex debates.

Debategraph provides a novel way for geographically dispersed groups to collaborate in real-time in thinking through complex issues.

It does so by enabling groups of any size to externalise, visualize, question, and evaluate all of the considerations that anyone thinks might be relevant to the issues at hand – and by facilitating an intelligent, constructive dialogue around those issues.

Whether the group is a small team, an organization, a network of organizations, or society as a whole, the ability to augment our individual capacity to choose wisely in the face of the complex, multi-dimensional problems we confront today is ever more pressing.

Peter and I co-founded Debategraph in 2006 with the social entrepreneurial goal of creating a new form of public service communication in which the best arguments on all sides of any policy debate would freely available to all and continuously open to challenge and improvement by all.
In the iterative pursuit of this goal, we have been lucky to collaborate on a stimulating range of projects with amongst others: Amanpour on CNN, the Prime Minister’s Office, the White House open government team, The Independent newspaper, and with partners for the European Commission – with all of the public maps forming intersecting parts of a single, emerging graph of thought.

The field in which we are working with other teams is still nascent, and as pioneers together we are still exploring the two-fold challenge of making the tools as simple and natural to use as possible and of cultivating wider literacy and fluency in these structured expressions of thought.

There’s much still to be accomplished with both dimensions of this challenge; however the long-term potential that inspires us to pursue this field can be seen in two of our current projects.

In the first, we are working with the support of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office to develop a large scale map of the nuclear politics domain. Although the map is still in the early stages of development it already encompasses over a thousand ideas expressed from multiple perspectives – and its utility will grow significantly as the branches broaden and deepen to capture the expertise embodied in all of the relevant sub-disciplines and all of the different international perspectives on the key policy issues.

In the second, we have seeded a map with the new Coalition’s programme for government – and subsequently the Bills set out in the Queen’s Speech and the spending cuts proposed – offering a tantalising glimpse of how this collaborative mapping approach could be applied to track the entire policy agenda of the government across its full term in office.

New policy proposals can be added to the map as they emerge, and the map can track what happens when the proposals are implemented. Contradictions and inconsistencies between the measures being developed in different departments of government can be highlighted, and granular ratings can be used to signal the levels of support and opposition for the individual proposals and the salient reasons for this support or opposition.

It would fascinating, too, to begin to interconnect the map with the work being done on the Open Knowledge Foundation’s excellent Where Does My Money Go? project – as indeed it would be to interconnect the map on anthropogenic climate change with the CKAN Climate Change Group project – and if you would be interested in learning more about and/or collaborating on any aspect of our work please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

5 thoughts on “Debategraph”

  1. It’s a little bit sad and more over dangerous for political discourse and open debate to see “complex, multi-dimensional problems” as you describe it broken down into a small set of prejudices (as in the case of “Illegal” Migration to the USA). That’s a problem which I found underestimated in general with Open Data. Data appear to be facts, because the contexts of them are blackboxed either in a machine like in Nature Sciences or in Methods like in Humanities and so on. In this sense Data always is somehow affirmative. They have a message which is alwas the message of its creator. There are many situations in which this is not problematically but when it comes to political discourse it is, as seen in the example above. The question why someone raises an argument, who raises it, in which situation, with which interests is a generic part of political debates which can’t be represented in the approach of Debategraph

  2. Thank you, Niels-Oliver.

    The content and structure of the maps are always provisional and always open to further expansion, clarification, challenge, and support — and their utility accumulates over time through the iterative articulation and interaction of multiple perspectives.

    Many of the maps on the site, including the one that you point to, are more akin to wiki stub pages, awaiting further development, than fully developed expressions of the approach — and you (along with everyone else) are welcome to layer additional perspectives into the map, question the points with which you disagree, and to suggest different ways of framing the subjects.

    The flexibility of the mapping approach also gives you the ability to raise the kinds of questions you ask — about why someone raises an argument, who raises it, in which situation, and with which interests — within the structure of the map itself (or in an interlinked map).

    You are welcome too to begin a map to explore the issues around the nature and interpretation of data in political discourse — which , as you suggest, is a fascinating and important subject — and if you would like me guide you through any aspect of the use of Debategraph, or to collaborate with you in the development of either map, it would be a pleasure to speak to you at any time.

    David

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