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Designing for Democracy: Distributed Dialogue Processing

Distributed Dialogue Processing


Distributed Dialogue Processing (DDP)  is a ground floor layer of communication infrastructure that provides the constituents in a  human system the means to engage one another in a contextually synchronized, situationally relevant, and low-overhead-to-participate, Distributed Dialogue™. DDP provide a means for processing the experiences of such a constituency and maximizing the opportunity for each contributor to learn from the experiences of each of their constituents. DDP also provides each constituent with the means to exercise their core capacity to make and articulate the kind of meaningful distinctions characteristic of participating in a Dialogue. The best way to understand the functional nature and design intent of Distributed Dialogue Processingä is to understand its premises:

Premise 1) There is an implicit relationship between every person that contributes 'content' to a product, process, service or issue (thought in the form of words or work product in the form of artifacts) and the person(s) (constituents) who interact with that contribution.  Each contribution defines a constituency. This constituency consists of all those involved or related to the creation and intention behind the contribution and all those who interact with the contribution. (Where ‘contribution’ can be broken down into elements as granular as a word)

Premise 2) In its most elemental form, relationships within the constituency are governed by the following 3 laws of human systems:

I) The success of any effort to design, develop or improve any 'system' ...

- curriculum, classroom, school district, pedagogy, project, product, process, service, issue, etc.

- in terms of its systemic performance:

organizational efficiency, cost-effectiveness, optimal achievement of intent

depends on the volume, dimensional extent (scope) and granularity (detail) of the feedback it can gather and learn from.

II) The volume, scope and detail of feedback flow in a system is inversely related to how difficult it is for its constituents...

actual "customers"; learners, teachers, parents, administrators, curriculum providers, assessors, superintendents, board members, stakeholders, etc.,

to articulate their feedback in the moment and in the context of their interactions with the system.

III)  A system's ability to learn from the feedback it gathers is directly related to how well its "owners"...

- persons responsible for any one or all of the resources available in the system

- persons responsible for any one or all aspects of the implementation, mission or intent behind a system (above)

process and understand (in relation to their areas of responsibility and priorities) the feedback they receive.

Premise 3) Taken to its finest level of granularity,  the optimal ‘place’ from which to design a dialogical relationship between members of a constituency is the ‘stutter’. Stutter: A perturbation in the flow - an involuntary 'drop-out' or 'disconnect' in the flow of engaging or interacting.

Every "stutter" in the flow of an individual's interactions with any "resource" (contribution) intended to support or facilitate their learning, performing, participating, using or enjoying...

all or any aspects of: a product, process, service, i.e., a course, book, computer simulation game, etc.

is a great opportunity for both the individual and for all those involved in providing what he or she is interacting with. Each "stutter" represents the best possible source of information from which to become more intelligent and more effective (independently and in relationship with one another.)

For the individual interacting with a resource, each stutter is a internal feedback signal indicating that something is missing, needed or incomplete. It also provides, if reflected on and distilled (disambiguated), the best possible source of internal information from which to understand what is missing or needed and, given the available options, how to best proceed.

For the people and organizations that benefit, profit or are responsible for providing the "resources", the best possible source of information from which to intelligently evolve and cost-optimally improve them stems from understanding...

in precise relation the specific interaction locations they are responsible for

where and why people stutter.

Based on these premises (and others related to learning which can be found @ DDP’s design is oriented toward mediating a feedback-based dialogue at the level of ‘stutters’.  The design intent is two-fold: 

1) To reduce the barrier to constituent participation, by providing a context sensitive dialogue box that can be called in an instant and within which a constituent can see the patterns of previous constituent experience in relation to the exact context and situation they find themselves in.   Should they find that their experience is not unique they can follow the paths of the constituents before them or reinforce an opinion or articulation of need as yet unsupported by the system.  If there experience is unique then and only then do they spend any time articulating it (then time they spend is reduced dramatically because they don’t have to articulate any of the context normally necessary to understand it). 

2) To provide ‘owners’ / facilitators the means to see the aggregate patterns of constituent experience in relation to their areas of responsibility and to respond to them individually or in groups that dynamically constell around common interests or needs.  DDP’s visualization tools allow an owner to see the distribution of constituent needs as they cluster around the owner’s area(s) of responsibility.  Because the dialogue process on the other end allows constituents to reinforce previous experiences, the owner is spared the tedious work of wading through what would otherwise be redundant. The owner is always dealing with what is fresh or the patterns in what is known.

In this sense DDP is analogous to a context sensitive discussion group processor that can be embedded at any location within the content accessed by a constituency.

Current Implementation 

DDP is being implemented by the 2way corporation in Seattle, Wa., for use as an Intranet solution. It consists of 2 components: 1) An authoring tool which will allow a lay person to create the “seed crystal” scaffolding for facilitating a dialogue. As simple to use as an outlining word processor, the authoring tool enables ‘owners’ to create a branching ‘form’ that will enable their constituents to interact in the ways previously described and to embed that form (via a hyperlink) into any html document. 2) A server tool that will organize any SQL database to store the 2way dialogue scaffolding, that will push a Dialogue box and its context specific contents to a client browser  (requires javascript and frames) and that will generate html ‘reports’ about the patterns and contents of constituent experience relative to each interaction location. The tool set is scheduled for shipment in June of 97.

Proposed Use:

The internet is rapidly becoming the wide area network of the entire planet. Its ubiquitous nature and the inexpensive browsers now available to anyone with a computer, make it the ideal ‘place’ for facilitating Distributed Dialoguesä.  Perhaps the most significant venue for the application of the ideas behind DDP is in the development of alternative forms of representational government.

It is clear that a new form of politics must emerge. Its signature difference will be the level of participation possible (granularity and frequency). Its foundational assumption that radically enhancing the quality of participation will effect the dialogue in ways reframing and rehashing issues can’t address. The greater the level of participation possible (granularity and frequency) the less politicized  "representation" required  (though the greater the need for education regarding participation both how to and substantively about what).

Just as our current governmental systems are a form of technology - a crude form in which the issues of voting (in terms of the range of choice and the frequency of choosing) and representation, lawmaking and executing all reflect a distributed people mediation system (one designed for a kind of representation that was technically possible over 200 years ago [horseback and walking]) a new form of technologically mediating a political constituency is both possible and (as the recent election demonstrates) needed today.

As it is inevitable such a system will form it behooves us to consider its implications for both body politic and the ecology of the bodies & minds who will use it.  In essence I think that the underlying ETHIC of INTERFACE of such a system will be the "COMMON SENSE" and BILL OF RIGHTS of the next generation of government.

DDP can offer the evolution of emerging new political processes a dialogical infrastructure that can facilitate the new level of participation between and among its constituents.

For more on DDP click here to be taken to the download menu for the DDP booklet 

The role of Feedback in Learning Oriented Systems 

Miraculous Intersections - Learning to Learn

Self Esteem and Learning


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