I have a short paper appearing next month in the Journal of Public Deliberation. A preview is available here. Below is a precis.
In its first half, “Cultivating Deliberation for Democracy” discusses the failure of “deliberation technologies” to substantially improve public deliberation in either quantity or quality. To be sure, new technologies have made possible massive quantities of deliberation of a very public kind (e.g. in public forums such as comments in the New York Times). However those technologies are not specifically deliberation technologies. Nothing about them is specifically tailored to support deliberation as opposed to other forms of public conversation. Meanwhile, deliberation technologies properly so-called – including my own previous efforts – have notably failed to be adopted by the public at large. I explain this by pointing out the obvious: people don’t like to be “boxed in” by the kinds of constraints typically provided in deliberation technologies.
The second half gives an overview of the YourView project. YourView is a deliberation technology, but tries to take a rather different approach, aiming to cultivate rather than construct quality public deliberation. YourView provides a forum in which participants can vote and comment on major public issues. What makes YourView distinctive is that it attempts to determine the “collective wisdom” of the participants. It does this by calculating, for each participant, a “credibility” score, using data generated through their participant and others’ responses. In more philosophical terms, YourView attempts to determine the extent to which a participant is exhibiting various “epistemic virtues” such as open-mindedness. Credibility scores are useful in two ways. First, they enable YourView to calculate the collective wisdom by weighting contributions by credibility. Second, they drive more, and more thoughtful, engagement on the site, because high credibility translates to status and (in some ways) power in the YourView forum.