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Possibilities for Massive Participative Interaction

including voting, questions, metaphors, images, constructs, melodies, issues, symbols

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Background
Voting
Questions
Metaphors
Images
Constructs (architectural)
Constructs (simulation)
Constructs (gaming)
Melodies and songs
Issues
Symbols
Cross-model possibilities


Background

The following sections explore a range of techniques to enable interactive participation by millions of people in support of collective decision-making and strategy articulation. It notably responds to the needs of a range of worldwide initiatives to enable massive participation in some form.

Such possibilities clearly merit consideration in a period when the European Union is striving to give itself greater legitimacy through a new version of a European Constitution -- if necessary by avoiding significant public consultation in the form of referenda.

The exploration is also of relevance given the wide variety of web-based technical innovations that ensure popular interaction by millions on a daily basis across the world. Conventional intergovernmental institutions have accorded little attention to these phenomena -- except as being disruptive of the dynamics of democratic processes that appar increasingly outdated. It could be considered extraordinary, for example, that no consideration is given to the possibility of more representative cyberparliaments and virtual popular assemblies -- especially given the massive budgets currently allocated to face-to-face intergovernmental meetings where "access" is implicitly controlled by questionable means. The possibilities now exceed by far those envisaged less than a decade ago (cf The Challenge of Cyber-Parliaments and Statutory Virtual Assemblies, 1998).

Voting

This approach has been most discussed. Increasingly the development in interactive computing worldwide is rendering credible some initiative of this kind. Variants, dependent on access in technologically remoter areas, include:

Main issues include (many discussed in Practicalities of Participatory Democracy with International Institutions: attitudinal, quantitative and qualitative Challenges, 2003):

Questions

A different form of engagement is elicited and achieved by focusing on questions (variously discussed in papers at Documents relating to Quests, Questions and Answers). It is appropriate to see questions as essential to new thinking, both on the part of individuals reflecting on new strategic options and by their representatives in considering new proposals and the adequacy of their collective decision-making. Several approaches may be taken:

Such processes could be enhanced by the exercise of the UIA in generating over one million questions (Generating a Million Questions from UIA Databases: Problems, Strategies, Values, 2006) and seeking to map their interrelationships (Preliminary NetMap Studies of Databases on Questions, World Problems, Global Strategies, and Values, 2006)

Main issues include:

Metaphors

In order to increase the degree of integrative response to more complex sets of issues on and to enable a more coherent strategic framing of the challenge, the focus may be placed on the identification of insightful metaphors. This assumes a recognition of the role of metaphor in communication and policy-making (Documents relating to Metaphor for Governance). Clearly metaphor is widely used by politicians to articulate their programmes -- and by the media in describing and criticizing them. The ability of metaphors to "travel well" across cultures and within a society is well-recognized. The role of metaphor in formulating strategy is also well-recognized, although less widely discussed.

Several approaches may be taken:

Main issues include:

Images

Given the participative success of worldwide sharing of video clips as via Flickr and YouTube, there is clearly the possibility of adapting some such approach as a means of articulating focus on strategic issues -- even of communicating visual metaphors across cultures.

Main issues include:

Constructs (architectural)

Another alternative to a word-focused approach, with much greater emphasis on collective elaboration of an integrative outcome, it can be imagined (with much more intensive work) that a form of collective interactive construction exercise could be devised in a common virtual environment -- in one (or more) collaborative spaces.

Several approaches could be envisaged:

Main issues include:

Constructs (simulation)

As another alternative to a word-focused approach, again with much greater emphasis on an integrative outcome, it can be imagined (with much more intensive work) that a form of interactive model-building process could be devised. In effect this is a dynamic extension of that discussed with respect to architectural constructs (above).

One prototype for this approach is that of SodaConstructor, developed by Ed Burton of SodaPlay -- the project of a London-based company called Soda Creative Ltd as part of their research and development process. Users, accessing freely, can construct animated. If satisfied with the result, these can be stored online (selected examples; walker) on the Sodaplay server or offline on their local computer. Sharing a model online involves either sending it to the SodaZoo or posting it in the SodaForum. Users need to be online to login into a SodaPlay account to save it on the SodaPlay server. Some users develop their own independent interfaces to facilitate construction of models (see SodaGenerator).

SodaConstructor is a freely accessible Java technology-based online construction kit that gives players the ability to build and visualize interactive creations using limbs and muscles. By altering physical properties like gravity, friction, and speed, curiously anthropomorphic models can be made to walk, climb, wriggle, jiggle, or collapse into a writhing heap (see description of underlying physics). A SodaZoo has been built up, where a large and active worldwide community of sodaplayers has placed a strange and diverse menagerie of SodaConstructor models. Under funding from the UK National Endowment for Science and Technology and the Arts (NESTA), SodaPlay is currently developing SodaConstructor and related software into a flexible toolkit to deliver creative learning and fun to schools in the UK [more].

As discussed elsewhere (Animating the Representation of Europe: visualizing the coherence of international institutions using dynamic animal-like structures, 2004), the animal-like models could be used to render strategy-delivering programmes (including international institutional structures) more meaningful and appealing by using dynamic representation techniques that have the recognized communication strengths of animation -- notably for the media. This is seen as a means of shifting beyond the "pillarization" of international initiatives (presented above). The success of SodaConstructor in attracting millions of users at all levels of society is an indication of the creative potential of such tools. The success of the UIA in holding thousands of organization elements in large relational databases, and displaying them in interactive maps, is an indication that operational significance can be given to such maps.

Main issues include:

Constructs (gaming)

Arguably there are many lessons to be learnt from massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) and from virtual environments such as Second Life.

The relevance of some of these possibilities to impact on strategic thinking has been explored elsewhere (Playfully Changing the Prevailing Climate of Opinion: climate change as focal metaphor of effective global governance, 2005)

Melodies and songs

There is the possibility of formulating the results of any massive interaction with the population in terms of music or song.

A range of possibilities -- with examples of their implementation -- are documented in some detail in a separate paper (A Singable Earth Charter, EU Constitution or Global Ethic?, 2006). Basic alternatives include:

Main issues include:

Issues

This approach would focus on issues in a manner analogous to the above focus on Questions.

It is appropriate to note that the Union of International Associations maintains databases on over 50,000 extensively interlinked world problems and strategies.

Symbols

This approach would emphasize the identity dimension through which the complexity otherwise held by issues, questions or metaphors is compressed into a symbol or image. The use of symbols has of course long been a characteristic of socio-political (and religious) identity -- as it is for individual identity. Symbols are of course used for voting in countries where the population is characterized by a degree of functional illiteracy.

Main issues include:

Clearly many of the issues in the organization of this visual approach are analogous to those described above, notably with regard to images. One interesting metaphor for the exploration of this process is the mergence of Chladni patterns as a result of resonance amongst a multitude of (magnetized) particles -- giving the possibility of dynamically emergent symbols. Based on Chladni's work, photographer Alexander Lauterwasser captures imagery of water surfaces set into motion by sound sources ranging from pure sine waves to music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Karlheinz Stockhausen and even overtone singing.

Cross-modal possibilities

Clearly the above possibilities would be of different appeal to different people -- or groups of people -- especially given different access to necessary technology and different cultural preferences. As a marketing challenge, the technical question would be how to interrelate any combination of these modes of massive participant interactivity. How can one feed into or usefully constrain another? How are synergy and multiplier effects to be elicited? A particular issue is the extent and nature of the interaction encouraged between participants as first explored for a number of major international conferences (Participant Interaction Messaging improving the conference process, 1980) and now basic to a wide variety of chat-room facilities. These might be seen as a prelude or parallel process to any of the above.

Of particular importance in ensuring both participation and visibility to the media, is the role of exemplars in embodying integrative dimensions and contrasts. Here the challenge is to move beyond the role of such Very Important People (VIPs) in "importing" public attention to themselves as exemplars -- endorsing particular views such that many have no need to reflect on them or take responsibility for them. Massive public participation can usefully be reframed in terms of "Very Exportant People" (VEPs) in appropriately "exporting" attention to their representatives to complement the role of VIPs.

Fundamental to the success of any such exercise is the degree to which participation is felt to be significant as providing an emergent focus for integrative action in response to the complex of governance issues -- whatever combination of approaches is used,

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