Evolving Collective Intelligence by Tom Atlee

Exploring how to generate the collective wisdom we need

Exploring how to generate the collective wisdom we need

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May 01, 2005

Citizen Journalism vs Framing Issues for Deliberation

Bruce Wilson is a programmer interested in citizen journalism. I talked with him about my idea for citizen journalists to co-create wikipedia-like multiple-viewpoint online databases summarizing and giving access to the range of views on news events, public statements and issues in general. I was looking for software that could facilitate that, so that anyone could participate in a relatively unmanaged, self-organized way. I learned some interesting things from his response.

Bruce pointed out that these topics -- news, issues, public statements -- are more controversial than most wikipedia topics. It is hard enough, he said, for diverse, widely scattered people to create something coherent in an open online environment without a lot of moderating and managing. If you put ordinary cybercitizens to work trying to build inclusive, coherent descriptions of controversial, high-stakes topics together, there isn't much chance you'll succeed. They'll argue about, erase or replace each other's work -- or special interests will get involved to distort the results -- or the whole thing will become so messy, voluminous and complex that it ends up virtually unusable.

Furthermore, he said, news is a time-sensitive thing: "The coherence you seek would have to be generated in hours or days, at most." Any social situation that lasts longer than that becomes "an issue" -- a social or political controversy that sustains itself over time.

In short, my vision probably wouldn't work.

Bruce's perspective shifted my thinking. Because of the time factor, I decided we need to clearly separate integral citizen journalism (multiple-viewpoints on news events and public statements) from framing issues for deliberation (describing the range of approaches to an issue and the arguments and evidence for and against each approach). I like the idea of citizen journalism, but my primary concern is how to generate a legitimate, inclusive, wise voice of We the People to address long-standing public issues. That would require building a grassroots capacity for citizen deliberation towards coherent outcomes (e.g., policy recommendations that represent the informed, common sense wisdom of the vast majority of the population, were they able to deliberate together). I have a hunch there might be ways to develop online tools to support such deliberation.

Framing issues for deliberation is a primary form of such support. Currently it is done by professionals and professionally-run networks of deliberative activities. But I want to enable We the People, the whole people, to participate in issue-framing with as little professional management as possible -- and to actually be the source of how issues are framed. Framing an issue well takes time, and I still have faith that ways can be found to do that with widespread online participation. I have some ideas bubbling and I'll write about them soon. But, thanks to Bruce, I now see that my effort to frame issues online is a separate activity from citizen journalism, which will probably continue to be a wild and wooly affair.


posted by Tom Atlee on Sunday May 1 2005
updated on Saturday September 24 2005

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Readers' Comments

Tom, I heartily support both of your ventures, Citizen Journalism and the Framing of Issues for Deliberation. I wish to comment on the follow paragraph:

"Framing issues for deliberation is a primary form of such support. Currently it is done by professionals and professionally-run networks of deliberative activities. But I want to enable We the People, the whole people, to participate in issue-framing with as little professional management as possible

Posted by: Larry Victor on May 7, 2005 04:37 PM


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