Harnessing the Tools of Collaboration, “Section B”

– Creating Collaborative Law, Part III, Section B

NOTE: Due to the length and technical nature of this post, there are two sections: This is Section B (a technical discussion of a proposed solution as a thought experiment).

In Section A of this post, we proposed to use Lewes, DE as small town representation for a thought experiment. Our experiment proposed to implement collaborative technologies to enhance the way America might begin to initiate a stronger focus on bringing us to Center-based solutions and avoid edge-driven approaches. This experiment provides the basis for a response to the question we posed: “How can technology impact our potential to collaborate?”

To keep the description of these tools simplified, we’ll revisit the Wattpad application we mentioned in Part I of this series, as an example of an approach we could use. After what might be called an open online “solicitation for legislation” provided by the City, we could turn to something like Wattpad. As we learned before, this application allows multiple authors to co-create novels, articles and almost anything suitable for publication in a very public way that proposes drafts, refinements and ultimately “finished” products.

Citizens affected by the proposed legislation, in groups or even as individuals could respond to the solicitation using Wattpad in an online environment. The results could offer a reasonable starting point to address the initial solicitation for the required legislation. This should sound a bit like the discussion on emergence from the last blog post.

Once we have a fairly robust starting document that encompasses a variety of insights (likely divergent in both the social and political senses), we could turn to the development of a model accompanied by a collaborative visualization tool that allows the public to interact, pose questions and do online “what-if analysis” that can be recorded and played-back. [1]

One of the main the kinds of modeling technologies we have in mind include the agent-based modeling simulation and analysis environment. This modeling environment allows for encoding a variety of factors, including:

  • Rules of behavior (of both actual and virtual entities such as people, property, traffic flow or existing law)
  • Assumptions about future growth and behavior
  • Virtual operating and interaction environment (that allows users to constrain or loosen actions to real-world conditions)
  • Rules for conducting “what-if” analysis of new evidence or possible outcomes
  • Real-world sensors; new sensor-based simulation capabilities even allow modelers to capture and reflect human emotion and a broad range of behaviors (both rational and otherwise) that can increase the fidelity of these virtual interactions

Another requirement for community-based collaboration is a visualization tool that allows the community users to interact over the same presentation of assumptions, modeling results and geographic information systems (GIS) data that helps orient us to the “real-world.” One low-cost GIS tool that has found initial success is in use by Texas A&M University’s Sea Grant Texas, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Delaware-supported Cape Henlopen Regional Plan to conduct community-based collaborative planning for better understanding coastal watersheds and sea-level changes. The implementation details for an example of this sort of tool, weTable, are worth reading but beyond the scope of this blog post. The figure below depicts the weTable.

The "weTable" in use during a Texas Sea Grant project. Picture credit to NOAA and the Texas Sea Grant Project.

The “weTable” in use during a Texas Sea Grant project. Picture credit to NOAA and the Texas Sea Grant Project.

These are the kinds of technologies and tools that allow us to come together as a community rather than keep us apart in our separate, “idealized” political environments that seem to split communities. Users would thus collaborate to produce not only proposed legislation, but also empirical evidence of the proposal’s ability to address requirements (both originally projected requirements as well as those generated in the modeling environment).

Whether any of this scales from a community like Lewes to a state or national-level “community” requires experimentation, but this is worth doing to improve the likelihood of success in collaborative law and policy.

There are some distinct advantages to these kinds of experiments. Such a system could allow users to:

  • Control for bias and undue influence (e.g. model edge-driven media attempts at “public persuasion” and politically-driven campaign contributions)
  • Provide filters for information overloaded concepts and terms
  • Reduce waste of precious financial resources through low-cost highly-collaborative experimentation
  • Better cope with disparate backgrounds and emotions
  • Generate better and increasingly novel questions about assumptions and outcomes

We’ll talk in more detail more about these new kinds of decision-support tools in future posts and how they can help generate better and more objective lines of inquiry. Maximum objectivity is a fundamental key to Fulfilling the American Promise in the Connected Age.

We also think that asking the “right questions” and seeking objective results and outcomes are the basis for better collaboration and interaction to produce policy and law that help us understand the increasingly complex world in which we live. Objective inquiry can help us overcome human bias and prejudice, a factor we must explore in addressing the second question posed in Section A: “Why are we reluctant to embrace new opportunities to collaborate (politically)?”

In proposing an answer to that second question, we’ll talk about how much power, influence and access to money sway those who resist using these tools and how much they would have to give up in a political or organizational setting. That’s for next time…

Originally posted by Carl and Chuck Hunt, 4/18/2014.

[1] A recent, though early example of this sort of approach actually did take place in the Lewes, DE area, as described in the Cape Gazette article, “Technology, talk allow towns to tackle ‘wicked problem’,” of 3/18/2014. This article describes some of the planning objectives, collaboration processes and technologies involved.

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