[p2p-research] The National Assembly

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Mon Nov 16 14:27:02 CET 2009

Smári McCarthy wrote:
> An article my friend Sam Knight wrote about the National Assembly in
> Iceland yesterday, which he describes quite aptly as the "first attempt
> to crowdsource a socio-economic-political manifesto in history"
> http://ohmygov.com/blogs/general_news/archive/2009/11/13/in-iceland-trying-to-reprogram-government.aspx
> The results are in. A brief English distillation is at
> http://thjodfundur2009.is/english/ but the Icelandic datasets are
> fantastic: http://thjodfundur2009.is/
> I hope (and expect) there will be more translation of them in the coming
> days.

That's all great news.

 From the first link it says: "It is a nationwide calamity that will affect 
Iceland for generations."

I don't see that. :-) We're maybe twenty years to a complete reordering of 
the core principles of global society, if for no other reason than increased 
robotics and improved materials.

Is it coincidental that student protests are happening at the same time?

Or is this all part of a larger global trend -- both as "capitalism hits the 
fan" and as people also have at least unconscious hopes for something much 
better from all the technology and information we have built up?

I look at that picture at the first link of the room with all the computer 
screens presumably connected to the internet, and 2D printers, and I can't 
be anything but hopeful. :-)

Anyway, on how to proceed using all those computers, the article says:
At the assembly itself, the masses will be broken down into groups of nine. 
With the help of discussion facilitators who have been trained to ensure the 
roundtable discussions are healthy, participants will  discuss what values 
defines them as a nation. To ascertain exactly how these groups of nine will 
arrive at a larger consensus, when each participant comes up with a proposed 
value – Mr. Gudjonsson expects 20,000 ideas to be proposed – it will be 
“tagged” by that group electronically, like on a blog.
   Tags will be monitored by a backroom staff who will ascertain which 
values were deemed important most frequently. The top nine will be 
considered Iceland's moral pillars for the purposes of the National 
Assembly. From there, slightly larger groups will discuss how to build 
social frameworks — economic, educational, justice, and health care systems 
— based on these core values. For each value, the assembled groups will come 
up with nine ideas on how to improve society (nine, according to Mr. 
Gudjonsson, is an ideal number for group work.)
   Mining the data for a consensus in this section will be relatively more 
qualitative, but at the end of the day participants will have drafted a 
manifesto that will give the country a better idea of what sort of future 
society it would like to build. Not bad for a Saturday’s work.

That sounds like a fantastic start.

If you want to continue improving on that, my wife (Cynthia Kurtz) has 
written extensively on using stories (narrative) to help with that sort of 
thing. Here is a free online book she wrote about that:
When you work with stories, you can ask people to tell stories about their 
experiences related to some subject of importance to you (and usually to 
them), and you can also ask them to answer some questions about those 
stories. When you do these things, you can find out things and make things 
happen that wouldn't be possible otherwise. You can:
     * find things out,
     * catch emerging trends,
     * make decisions,
     * get new ideas,
     * resolve conflicts,
     * connect people,
     * help people learn, and
     * enlighten people.
This online book is an informational resource for people who want to get 
started working with stories on a small scale in their communities and 

When you get people telling stories to each other (essentially, p2p done 
with stories), the whole interaction often changes, and people will often 
talk about things in different ways than "focus groups" or another approach 
that just focuses on collecting ideas. One thing that stories often convey 
is the emotional context for the ideas and situations described.

For example, I look at this list:
   "9 themes: Here are some of the main results from each of the categories 
and while the ideas are nice, they lack the emotional connection that 
stories can bring. Stories help people to go from the specific to the 
general. So, for example, to pick one result at random, consider:
   "Formulate non-partisan comprehensive policy with emphasis on sustainable 
utilization, nature conservation and education"
That sounds nice, but connecting that with stories about it will be more 
persuasive and illuminating. So, what is a story about when some part of 
this did happen? Or what was a consequence of a situation when it did not?

Also, the emotional aspects of stories may help you prioritize which of 
these issues to focus on first. Is that issue more important to most people 
than, say, another item from that page:
    "research and innovation to create strong alternative industries"?
People can tell stories and then you can ask them to rate them on things 
like "emotional intensity". Then you can analyze the results statistically 
in various ways and look for trends.

And how do the two issues interlink, assuming most people deeply care about 
them? Sometimes stories can have themes that show how different issues 
overlap, like if both involved an archetype (theme) of "the innovator" or 
perhaps "the conservationist" for example. You can do that in other ways, 
but an emphasis on the narrative (story) aspect, can often help in making 
sense of all that. If you have you stories tagged with themes or archetypes 
that have emerged out of group sensemaking exercises, then you can use that 
information to look for more patterns and connections.

You may already have a lot of stories in what you have collected, so you may 
just be able to connect them up even with what you have, either as is, or 
with some more group exercises (perhaps on smaller or larger scales). She 
has these pages that might help, based around the idea of "Look, Think, Talk":

My wife has done dozens of projects of this nature for governments, 
corporations, and non-profits, and the techniques can help people make sense 
of what they feel and believe as a community. A key aspect of what she 
understands is how the people in a community can themselves come to better 
insights through an interactive process as a community (through various 
semi-structured exercises), rather than just use the community to collect 
data and mine it later by someone else.

But, like anything, there are tricks to doing this well depending on the 
situation. Here is a chart about what methods work best in different 
situations, base on her experience:
   "Summary of method recommendations"

For example, in many settings, it is generally best not to ask directly for 
stories in many settings for various reasons, so in some settings if you 
asked, "Please tell a story about Kreppa babies?" people might not think of 
something they want to say, but if you use "eliciting questions" you can 
often get people talking about stories anyway, like "So, you found out your 
friend was pregnant, and then what happened?" Examples of how to do that, 
depending on the context:

(Hopefully I'm not mangling her work too much in my explanation of it or 
made up on-the-spot examples. :-)

So, if you do this again as another iteration, a focus on stories may help 
with continuing to improve your data analysis and collection, even though it 
seems like you have done amazing stuff already. You may be asking for 
stories already, of course. But most people don't. It's a slowly growing 
area of expertise, and there are not that many people in the world who focus 
on this yet, relative to the vast number of information collection projects. 
Many information gathering projects have a goal to extract something from 
the community for use by a center of power and profit-making, and so 
information collecting techniques have been shaped by that perspective; 
these narrative techniques are also often used for that, sadly, but they 
have the potential to help communities in other ways, and that bigger 
picture has been my wife's aspirations for them. Most work on stories is 
also about storytelling (often as propaganda), not story listening 
(understanding and insight), so it's not that common a perspective, even for 
people who know a lot about stories in other ways. And, as above, you may 
find you already have a lot of stories that you could do something new with, 
including present them back to the Icelandic community and have people rate 
them on things like "emotional intensity" or "estimated frequency of 
occurrence" or lots of other things. So, a story-based approach could be a 
next step to build on the data you have already collected and use it so the 
Icelandic community can get even more useful information.

As one caveat, her methods have generally been tuned for small groups and 
divisions in companies. I'm not sure how they would apply on even the scale 
of Iceland. You could talk to her about that.

If someone in Iceland (you, Sam, or someone who trains those facilitators) 
wanted to talk to her about this in more detail, feel free to contact me (or 
her) directly to set up a phone call or Skype chat with her.

She also has some free and open source software for small groups to share 
their stories with each other, but it is still in beta:
"Rakontu is a free and open source web application that small groups of 
people can use together to share and work with stories. It's for people in 
neighborhoods, families, interest groups, support groups, work groups: any 
group of people with stories to share. Rakontu members build shared "story 
museums" that they can draw upon to achieve common goals. "

She designed it to be easy to modify to support other languages, so by 
editing a few template files, someone might even have an Icelandic version 
in not that much time. :-)

But, you can use these sorts of methods even without any specific software.

--Paul Fernhout

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