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.
- For the purposes of this research, maps fall into three categories. A Dialogue Map is a direct representation of the consultation, showing the relationship between comments and any responses. An Argument Map takes the substance of the contributions and arranges it according to the issues being addressed. The third category is where the map simply holds a number of lists containing data on comments.
- Each map is composed of Nodes and connecting Arrows. The nodes are differentiated into types according to the icon they carry. Similarly, the arrows are colour coded. The nodes carry the most information, via the icon and text in the Node Label (featured beneath the icon). Additional information can be associated with the node by placing text in the Node Detail. Such text is made visible by double-clicking the node or right-clicking the node and selecting 'contents'. An asterisk in the top right-hand corner of the node indicates the presence of text in the node detail; rolling-over the asterisk reveals the first four lines of that text.
- A Stance node is one that contains the high order position towards an issue - one of YES, QUALIFIED ASSENT or NO.
- Four different icon sets have been used to represent the contributions: the first is that supplied with Compendium software: the other three have been created in order to introduce new ways of categorising comments. Argument Icons are used according to the role a comment plays within an argument structure; BBC Icons are used according to the response the comment makes to the consultation topics; and Discourse icons are used to represent the different dimensions of a contribution to an online consultation, as identified by Discourse Analysis techniques, for use by moderators.
- Nodes can be 'tagged'. Tags are node indicators that facilitate searches upon the data. A 'T' in the top right-hand corner of the node indicates that the node has been tagged, and rolling-over the 'T' reveals the nature of the tags. If the tags are suitably named they can also provide information, but this is not their primary function.
- Compendium has a facility referred to as Transclusive Linking of nodes. This facility makes it possible to place separate tokens of a single node throughout a series of maps. A change to one node will cause the same change in all nodes to which it is transclusively linked, thereby eliminating the need to edit each token manually, and the concomitant risk of omitting some from the update process.
- It is possible to place a map node within a map. Clicking upon these nodes gives access to a new map - an Embedded Map. The advantage of this practice is that it reduces overwhelming amounts of information on a single map by breaking it down into discrete categories. Whilst it is possible to embed maps to any depth (within technical limitations), it should be borne in mind that the gains from an organisational perspective should not outweigh the losses to the user, in terms of the ease with which they are able to locate themselves within the pattern of the debate.
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:
- Scottish Parliament - TETRA.
- Scottish Parliament - Antisocial Behaviour.
- Learning & Teaching Scotland - Education for Citizenship in Scotland.
- Highland Youth Voice - Should the voting age for the Scottish Parliament be lowered to 16?
- YouGov - BBC Green Paper: A Review of the BBC's Royal Charter.
- Wolverhampton e-Panel.
- Scottish Executive - Smoking in Public Places.
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.
'Terrestrial Trunked Radio Masts - TETRA'
Scottish Parliament: 18.9.03
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.
Scottish Parliament: 2.10.03
- Embedded maps to divide up the debate coverage into manageable, logically grouped sections.
- Hyperlinks to documents cited in the debate, and to relevant parts of the Official Report, to provide background information to the member's contribution.
- Rollover facility that reveals the contributor's name, their party and constituency.
- The use of particular argument layouts as images on the 'map' icons where embedded maps were used. When rolled-over, these images expand to give a preview of the layout accessible via that icon.
- A set of lists that group contributions by party and by MSP within party.
- A list of all queries and suggestions that met with no response.
Figure 1: Part of the Argument Visualisation of the TETRA Debate Showing Information Available in Rollovers
- E-engagement class: Information.
- Intended audience: The general public.
- Main objective: To present a clear picture of the issues raised in the debate.
- Current situation: Members of the public can attend the debate in person, view it online, or read the verbatim 'Official Report'.
- Background: 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.
- Future work: Maps tracing the formulation of policy through the committee stages.
- Comments: The visualisations are intended to supplement the existing records. Being time consuming, it is likely that only key debates or those linked to consultations will be covered (for instance, the TETRA debate for Community Council websites).
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.
- Embedded maps to present information in screen-sized portions.
- Hyperlinks to documents and websites.
- Lists of contributions by author, by peer ranking and by contribution that generated a response.
- Rollover information on the name and date of contribution, and the number of replies each contributor made.
- Node information indicating the number of responses to each question.
Figure 2: Part of the Argument Visualisation of the L & T S Consultation Showing Information Layout and Peer Reviewed Comment Lists
- E-engagement class: Consultation - policy based.
- Intended audience: Contributors/sponsors.
- Main objective: To provide a site that provides a closer (clickable) association between the consultation document and responses. One that provides overall information upon the consultation response.
- Current situation: Responses presented at one level only (i.e. without their replies) and questions separate at section level.
- Background: A closed consultation sponsored by Learning and Teaching Scotland upon 'Education for Citizenship in Scotland'. This is an issue that deeply affects the teaching profession, and though it had serious implications for the public the topic does not enjoy such a high profile as 'Smoking in Public Places', 'Antisocial Behaviour' or 'Congestion Charges' for example.
- Future work: Releasing a 'Visualised' version of the consultation alongside the other formats whilst the consultation is open.
- Comments: There may be issues concerning the presence of information deemed useful to the sponsor where the users could access it.
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.
- The contributions organised in chronological order, with 'seed' comments placed along the vertical axis and any responses arranged along the horizontal axis alongside the appropriate 'seed' comment.
- Responses that agree with the motion placed to the right of the 'spine'; those that disagree placed on the left. This affords a simplified view of the weight of opinion.
- Rollovers to show the content of the contribution.
- Tags set up to show consistency of opinion (pro or contra lowering the voting age).
- List nodes containing contributions by individual; each comment is prefixed by a 'Y' or 'N' to indicate whether that comment is pro or contra. Thus any list that shows both 'Y' and 'N' will indicate an inconsistency.
- List nodes to indicate 'Aye' and 'Noe' comments, with a numerical indication of how many are in each list.
Figure 3: Part of the Argument Visualisation of the HYV Debate Showing the Possibility of Detecting Inconsistency
- E-engagement class: Consultation - issue-based.
- Intended audience: Sponsors.
- Main objective: To provide an efficient means of checking the degree of consistency with which the contributors make their comments.
- Current situation: No attempt is made to assess the comments for evidence of deliberation.
- Background: The consultation was run upon the Highland youth Voice website, concerning the issue of lowering the voting age to 16, and included a representative from the 'Electoral Commission Scotland' as an expert witness. Clearly, as the contributors were mostly drawn from schools, the possibility of their being able to vote at 16 would have mean that pupils would be able to vote two years sooner than at present: an issue of some significance to the budding citizens.
- Future work: The development of further checks upon deliberative rigour, such as detecting fallacies.
- Comments: Evidence of inconsistency is not necessarily a bad thing. It may indicate points in a debate where an especially convincing argument is introduced. Where an individual frequently changes their mind, it might indicate that the consultation sponsor is providing insufficient background information. However, there are times when inconsistency is a serious concern, such as within parliamentary debates.
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.
- Dialogue maps of the contributions.
- Argument maps at high and low levels.
- Customised icons for greater clarity.
Figure 4: Part of the Argument Map of the YouGov Consultation Showing Customised Icons to Depict Parts of an Argument
- E-engagement class: Consultation - policy-based.
- Intended audience: Sponsors.
- Main objective: To extend the range of icons to display the structure of arguments.
- Current situation: There is a standard set of icons available, as well as the facility for creating user-defined sets of icons.
- Background: This consultation was conducted by the OII with a view not only to canvas opinion on changes to the BBC, but also to experiment with group size and presence/absence of a mediator. When posting a comment, participants were asked to consider the following questions:
- Do you think that the Government is right to continue public funding for the BBC?
- Is the BBC sufficiently accountable to the public? If not, how could it be made more accountable?
- Is the Government right to say that the BBC should lead the 'digital revolution' in Britain? If so, what measures should it be pursuing?
- How could the BBC be improved as a public-service broadcaster?
- What message would you want to give the Government about its Green Paper on the future of the BBC?
- Future work: Using the 'value' icons to enhance work on evaluating the comments for consistency.
- Comments: It is rather difficult to guess what values the contributors are committed to from the comments that they make.
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)
- Icons to represent content of contributions, as identified by Discourse Analysis of Online Consultations: Rationality (Facts, Beliefs, Sources and Topic relevance); Interactivity (Seed, Reply and Request/Response); Anecdote.
- Icons to represent where 'Values' play a role in justifying an assertion.
- Icons to represent 'Predictions' as a class of beliefs that carry weight in arguments but require particular attention to determine the soundness of their content.
- E-engagement class: Consultation - issue-based.
- Intended audience: Consultation Moderators/sponsors
- Main objective: To extend the icon range to represent contributions as they would be coded according to Discourse Analysis techniques. The resulting maps should enable moderators to provide a clearer picture of the discussion to date for the benefit of people just joining the debate, as well as summaries for sponsors once the consultation has closed.
- Current situation: Moderators provide a text-based report.
- Background: The 16 discussions were taken from the Wolverhampton e-Panel from the point of its beginning - 13th January 2005 - to 18th July 2006.
- Future work: Including further Discourse Analysis elements and exploring the possibility of making them available to the public.
- Comments: This work was presented at the Demo-net workshop on Argumentation.
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
- Embedded maps to present information in screen-sized portions, or according to the questionnaire entry.
- Hyperlinks to documents and websites.
- Rollovers to display information on contributor's name.
- Node information indicating the number of contributors holding a particular viewpoint upon a question.
- Provision of a meta-map, created from the points raised by the consultation, but structured logically to assist the user in seeing the consequences of their views.
Figure 5: Part of the Meta-level Map of the 'Smoking in Public Places' Consultation
- E-engagement class: Consultation - issue-based.
- Intended audience: The general public.
- Main objective: To provide a map of the issues based upon an aggregation of the responses.
- Current situation: Each response published separately on the Scottish Executive website.
- Background: A closed consultation sponsored by the Scottish Executive on the issue of regulating 'Smoking in Public Places'. The responses from fifty-eight institutions were published on the Scottish Executive website. 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.
- Future work: The possibility of using CSAV in 'active participation' exercises, where a government official is also able to contribute to the map.
- Comments: The vast number of responses (over 53,000) poses pertinent questions about the practical limitations of mapping. Admittedly, this question exists for any processing of responses, and there is a reasonable belief that fifty-three thousand people are not going to make unique points about an issue.
Links on this website
Each publication is linked to its reference
- Providing Argument Support for E-Participation
- Computer Supported Argument Maps as a Policy Memory
- Demo-Net D5.2.2: Argumentation Support Systems for eParticipation
- Seeing the point of politics: exploring the use of CSAV techniques as aids to understanding the content of political debates in the Scottish Parliament
- Continuing the Dialogue on Radioactive Waste Management
- E-Consultation, Controversy and Youth
- Exploiting Argument Mapping Techniques to Support Policy-Making
- Argument Visualisation to support democratic decision-making