Bryan Wilcutt : Curious Internet Bryan Wilcutt's Curious Internet

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Technology of Democracy

This paper discusses the concepts presented in the paper, “New Agora: New Geometry of Languaging And New Technology of Democracy: The Structured Design Dialogue Process” by Vigdor Schreibman and Alexander N. Christakis, specifically with respect to the Structured Design Dialog Process.

 Structured Design Dialog Process is the ontology of complex description.  The SDD process describes the language used to annotate complex ideas and deciding these ideas based on a democratic process.  Only by changing the language of how we describe problems (the “talk”) can we implement efficient resolutions (the “walk”).   V. Schreibman suggests the use of a graphical ontology for this purpose:

(Schreibman and Christakis 2007)

This system naturally lends itself to software application where, through a query process, data can be collected from the group for representation using the system above.   An outline representation helps the group not only isolate the democratically acceptable resolution, but also the “wisest” resolution among those proposed.

The SDD Process is divided into seven modules which include (Schreibman and Christakis 2007):

  1. 6 Consensus Methods: (1) Nominal Group Technique (NGT), (2) Interpretive Strutural Modeling (ISM), (3) DELPHI, (4) Options Field, (5) Options Profile, and (6) Trade-off Analysis (Years 1972-1982);
  2. 7 Language Patterns: (1) Elemental observations; (3) Problématique, (3) Influence tree-pattern, (4) Options field pattern, (5) Options profile/scenario pattern, (6) Superposition pattern, and (7) Action plan pattern (Years 1970-1980);
  3. 3 Application Time Phases: (1) Discovery, (2) Designing, and (3) Action (Years 1989-2001;
  4. 3 Key Role Responsibilities: (1) Context-Inquiry Design Team, (2) Content-Stakeholders/Designers, and (3) Process-Facilitation Team (Years 1982-2002);
  5. 4 Stages of Interactive Inquiry: (1) Definition or Anticipation, (2) Design of Alternatives, (3) Decision, and (4) Action Planning (Years 1989-1995);
  6. Collaborative Software and Facility (Years 1981-1995); and
  7. 6 Dialogue Laws: (1) Requisite Variety (Ashby), (2) Parsimony (Miller), (3) Saliency (Boulding), (4) Meaning and Wisdom (Peirce), (5) Authenticity and Autonomy (Tsivacou), and (6) Evolutionary Learning (Dye) (Years 2001-2003).
The Structure Design Process (SDP) is the activity of gathering, validating, and authenticating information from stakeholders and does not necessary outline a method of description through symbology.   In particular, SDP attempt to (Christakis and Bausch 2006):

  • Authenticates every stakeholder/participant;
  • Elicits ideas and points of view from all stakeholders;
  • Moves toward effective and meaningful consensus;
  • Elicits and deals with the different priorities of stakeholder/participants;
  • Equalizes power relations among the stakeholders; and
  • Goes beyond identifying factors that are important, to specifying those that are most influential in addressing the social system-designing situation.

The SDDP system often utilizes the Delphi inquiry method, which is a method of SDP.  There are several descriptions of Delphi as well as several variations.  The method commonly used in Software Engineering is called Convergence Delphi.  The Convergence method attempts to elicit information from stakeholders on an individual basis which is thought to reduce the disruptive ideological background noise of other group members.  The standard form of Delphi, however, brings the group together in an SDP decision making format as described above.

Experience in this area over the years has shown several unexpected consequences.  Specifically, the audience of Delphi can be critical in its outcome.  Delphi describes the importance of stakeholder acceptance but does not necessarily describe the specific makeup of the stakeholder audience.   In my experience involving the wrong stakeholder can often lead to poor outcomes.  This issue is not directly discussed in SDDP nor is it directly addressed in its ontology.  Selecting stakeholder resources must be a careful process that focuses on representing a cross section of stakeholders who have an equal interest in the issue at hand.

Another issue that may be a more serious drawback to SDDP is the entire encompassing process.  Although it lends well to software, it requires a number of processes to collect and analyze data.  In my experience process stifles innovation; with too much process, more time could be wasted on the ontology and not the issue at hand.


Christakis, A. and K. C. Bausch (2006). How People Harness Their Collective Wisdom and Power. Greenwich, Information Age Publishing.

Schreibman, V. and A. N. Christakis (2007). " New Agora: New Geometry of Languaging And New Technology of Democracy:   The Structured Design Dialogue Process. " Retrieved  from