[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"
> 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
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.
More information about the p2presearch