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Computer Supported Argument Visualisation

The benefits of visualising information are most readily appreciated when one compares the experience of using a map as opposed to relying upon a set of instructions in prose. Argument maps use icons and arrows to represent the structure of a series of related viewpoints, reducing the amount of text necessary to convey the ideas, thereby clarifying the issue under consideration. They have been used extensively in education and in commerce, not only to convey information but also to help address 'wicked problems'. The overarching aim of this research is to see whether such techniques can be applied to the field of e-participation.

The research falls into two related parts: the visualisation of reports, such as documents and verbatim reports of political debates: the visualisation of online and offline consultations. The aim is to encourage participation in political activity by making the thinking behind the politicians clearer to the public, and making the public's views via consultation clearer to the politicians/executive. The maps are intended for use as a supplement to the information they depict and not as a substitute.

All maps have been created using 'Compendium' software. See Compendium for Public Policy Deliberation on the Compendium Institute website.

Glossary

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The following provides an outline view of the research to date in the following format: a description of the main features of the technique being examined; which e-engagement class the source material falls within; who are the intended beneficiaries of the technique; the motivation behind the experiment; background information; an indication of what direction future work may take; and some concluding comments. Each experiment incorporates where appropriate the techniques used in earlier trials.

Experiments in mapping techniques have been conducted using the following as source material:

Political Debates:

  1. Scottish Parliament - TETRA.
  2. Scottish Parliament - Antisocial Behaviour.

Online Consultations:

  1. Learning & Teaching Scotland - Education for Citizenship in Scotland.
  2. Highland Youth Voice - Should the voting age for the Scottish Parliament be lowered to 16?
  3. YouGov - BBC Green Paper: A Review of the BBC's Royal Charter.
  4. Wolverhampton e-Panel.

Offline Consultations:

  1. Scottish Executive - Smoking in Public Places.

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Political Debates

Scottish Parliamentary Debates

In 1998 the 'Scotland Act' was passed, making provision for a Parliament for Scotland, with powers to pass legislation on a range of matters, such as Education, Health, Agriculture, and Justice. Part of the process of transforming policy into law is where policy proposals are debated by the MSPs.

Two debates were selected from the 'Autumn 2003' programme of the Scottish Parliament. One concerned the introduction of TETRA - a new communication system for the emergency services; the other discussed the problem of Antisocial Behaviour. TETRA was chosen as an instance of a reasonably technical, focussed issue, that lacked a high profile but which had important implications for the nation. The Antisocial Behaviour debate was chosen as an instance of a lengthy debate that had caught the public's attention, and which covered many diverse topics. These debates fall into the 'Information' class of E-engagement categories.

TETRA:

'Terrestrial Trunked Radio Masts - TETRA'
Scottish Parliament: 18.9.03

Example map:

TETRA argument map (opens in a new window).
Navigation is managed using the vertical and horizontal scroll bars.
Placing the cursor on the blue asterisks in the top right hand corner of ions reveals information about the politician(s) associated with the text.
Left-clicking the mouse key when the cursor changes from an arrow reveals further information.

Antisocial Behaviour:

'Antisocial Behaviour'
Scottish Parliament: 2.10.03

Features
Part of the Argument Visualisation of the TETRA Debate Showing Information Available in Rollovers

Figure 1: Part of the Argument Visualisation of the TETRA Debate Showing Information Available in Rollovers

Online Consultations

Learning & Teaching Scotland:

Learning and Teaching Scotland are an executive non-departmental public body sponsored by the Scottish Executive Education Department. Their function is to help review, assess and support developments in learning and education, as well as to promote the professional development of staff involved in education.

In 2000, they sponsored a consultation that ran from 15th December to the 16th March 2001, canvassing opinions upon 'Education for Citizenship in Scotland'. This is an issue that deeply affects the teaching profession, and though it has serious implications for the public the topic does not enjoy such a high profile as 'Smoking in Public Places' or 'Antisocial Behaviour' for example. It falls into the 'Consultation - policy-based' class of E-engagement.

'Education for Citizenship in Scotland'
Learning and Teaching Scotland: 15.12.00 - 16.3.01.

Features:
Figure 2: Part of the Argument Visualisation of the L & T S Consultation Showing Information Layout and Peer Reviewed Comment Lists

Figure 2: Part of the Argument Visualisation of the L & T S Consultation Showing Information Layout and Peer Reviewed Comment Lists

Highland Youth Voice

Highland Youth Voice is a Parliament of about 90 democratically elected young people living in the Highland Region of Scotland, representing the views and concerns of the young in that area. It frequently conducts online debates through its website, on such topics as health, antisocial behaviour, education and politics.

Material for the argument map was taken from the consultation 'Should the voting age for the Scottish Parliament be lowered to 16?' that ran from 28th May to the 25th July 2004. It included a representative from the 'Electoral Commission Scotland' as an expert witness. It constitutes another instance of the 'Consultation - issue-based' class of E-engagement.

'Should the voting age for the Scottish Parliament be lowered to 16?'
Highland Youth Voice: 28.5.04 - 19.7.04.

Features:
Figure 3: Part of the Argument Visualisation of the HYV Debate Showing the Possibility of Detecting Inconsistency

Figure 3: Part of the Argument Visualisation of the HYV Debate Showing the Possibility of Detecting Inconsistency

Oxford Internet Institute - BBC Green Paper:

The Oxford Internet Institute (OII) was established in 2001 as a multi-disciplinary academic centre, concerned with the economic, political, legal and technical forces that affect the growth of the Internet, and the implications this growth has for society.

As part of its research into online consultation, OII undertook a survey of the public's response to the government's Green Paper - 'A Review of the BBC's Royal Charter'. OII invited around a thousand people to participate in this online discussion. In order to research the impact of group size and moderation upon consultation results, the participants were allocated to one of the four following group types: large moderated, large unmoderated, small moderated and small unmoderated. A 'large' group consisted of fifty people, and a 'small' group consisted of ten. There were ten large groups, only half of which were moderated, and fifty small groups, again only half of which were moderated. The discussion began on Friday 11th March and concluded midday Tuesday 15th March. As such it falls within the 'Consultation - policy-based' class of E-engagement.

Features:
Figure 4: Part of the Argument Map of the YouGov Consultation Showing Customised Icons to Depict Parts of an Argument

Figure 4: Part of the Argument Map of the YouGov Consultation Showing Customised Icons to Depict Parts of an Argument

Wolverhampton e-Panel

Wolverhampton e-Panel is part of Wolverhampton City Council's 'Local Strategic Partnership', whose overall aim is to bring together the resources within organisations, groups and communities to improve the quality of life for local people. The e-Panel is a forum for those aged 16 and above to contribute to discussions based upon local issues, with officers from the Partnership being available to answer questions and respond to comments. The forum was set-up in 2005 as part of the ODPM local e-democracy project, with the intention of improving services in Wolverhampton (for an evaluation of this project, see eDemocracy from the Top Down, Whyte, Renton & Macintosh 2005, pp 71-84)

Features:

Offline Consultations

Scottish Executive Consultation

The Scottish Executive is the devolved government of Scotland, established in 1999 following the first elections to the Scottish Parliament, with responsibility for all devolved matters.

It runs a number of consultations, one of which was prompted by a review of Executive policy upon passive smoking. The consultation, 'Smoking in Public Places', ran from 7th June to the 30th September 2004. The issue was one that had serious implications for the health of the population and their economic livelihood - where it appears impossible to satisfy the requirements of both - and represented an issue that had caught the public's attention. The responses from fifty-eight institutions were published on the Scottish Executive website. It is an example of the 'Consultation - issue-based' class of E-engagement.

Smoking in Public Places

Scottish Executive: 7.6.04 - 30.9.04

Features:
Figure 5: Part of the Meta-level Map of the 'Smoking in Public Places' Consultation

Figure 5: Part of the Meta-level Map of the 'Smoking in Public Places' Consultation

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Links on this website

Publications:

Each publication is linked to its reference

News:

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