Making sense in a senseless world

In view of the hype around the Obama-driven promise of a more participatory governance through ICTs, it is worth remembering that all this discussion is not created in a vacuum; it is a hard road travelled and fought before and things are not as simple as a lot of journalists and other…”experts” make it to be. Many worthy people and organizations have long been investigating models of online deliberation, argument visualization and “collaborative models of sense-making”, necessary when millions of people each with his/her own individual views are called in to co-shape complex policy issues. 

David Price reminds us of this fact in his article in Independent Minds (the Independent’s contributors’ blog), where he rightly says that,

Deeper challenges remain…. The emerging set of collaborative sensemaking and deliberation tools….are still nascent, still figuring out the basic principles….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.”

And he should know, as he is one of the people behind some innovative projects like Debategraph (co-founded with the former Australian cabinet minister Peter Baldwin), which is a wiki debate visualization tool that enables users to decompose a conversation, by visualizing the arguments and counterarguments surrounding complex issues and track different debates which are semantically interrelated.
For example, Ofcom, the UK regulatory authority, has praised the attempt to use the platform to map its own consultation into the future of Public Service Broadcasting in the UK.  The tool has also been used to visualize and disseminate the debate on “what Obama should do next”  (and here) and the current discussion on the “Crisis in Gaza”.
 (sorry could not embed, but click to go to maps)


Click to visit map


Click to visit map

Click to visit map

David Price is also one of the people who have initiated Global Sensemaking(GSm), a group “dedicated to helping humanity address complex, interrelated global problems—such as climate change, energy policy, poverty, and food security—by developing and applying new web-based technology to assist collaborative decision making and cooperative problem solving”.

GSm’s current leading project is ESSENCE, the world’s first global climate collective intelligence event, an internet experiment designed to bring together scientists, industrialists, campaigners and policy makers, and the emerging set of web-based sensemaking tools. The aim is to develop a comprehensive and distilled visual map of the issues, evidence and options facing the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009.

Why am I saying all that? Simply to show that the intelligent use of social media to elect a president, although admirable marketing-wise, is not an indication for successful crowdsourcing politics…the road ahead is more demanding and more bumpy than it looks.


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