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- Opastopia is an imaginary society that actively promotes and applies the open assessment method in its societal decision-making. The society has taken the role to actively remove hindrances preventing the use of open assessment, and also to study these hindrances.
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What are the hindrances of applying open assessment as a general method in societal decision-making? What are the actions the society can take to remove these hindrances? What are the structures and practices that can guide individuals and groups to more easily and effectively participate in open assessments?
Tragedies of commons and wolves
The tragedy of the commons is a situation where there is a general individual interest to exploit some common resource in such a way that the resource becomes overexploited and degrades. This causes harm to the society, and all individuals as well. The term was developed in an agricultural society where "commons", common farmlands, eroded because of too heavy pasture. Nowadays, the atmosphere is a commons where the individual interest to dump carbon dioxide overwhelms the carbon sink capacity of the atmosphere, thus causing harm to everyone in the form of climate change.
The tragedy of wolves is an opposite situation, where a common resource is underused (from the point of view of societal benefit) because of the fear of wolves eating cattle in the commons. The fear may be justified or imaginary, but nevertheless the individual interest of not using common resources leads to the dis-benefit to the society. The global economic depression that started in 2008 is a typical tragedy of wolves.
These examples show that there are situations where the individual interest and the societal interest are in conflict. It is clear that conflicting interests lead to a suboptimal division of resources. It is suboptimal from the point of view of both the individual and the society. The conclusion from this is that the society should actively identify and analyse these conflict situations, and seek solutions where the interest can be brought in line so that an individual has an interest to act to the benefit of the whole society.
Because the interest discrepancy is a major issue, open assessments should actively analyse situations with multiple decision-makers and their interests. These are called multi-player assessments, and they often have connections to the game theory. In open assessments, the players considered are often a) a random individual, and b) a public decision-making body. The public body (a municipality, a nation) should have real decision-making power related to the issue. In the assessment, it is assumed that the public body truly aims to benefit the society as a whole. (This assumption is needed because, unfortunately, there are examples where different parts of e.g. a municipality administration end up to the tragedy of commons among themselves. In some cases, it might be illuminating to make assessments where a part of public authority and the true societal interest are shown as separate players. The assessment could reveal discrepancies between these players.)
The conflict interest issue can also be viewed from the point of view of categorical imperative by Immanuel Kant. Kant says that an individual has the responsibility to act in a way that it is in line with societal interests. The practice has shown that not all individuals follow Kant's advice in their lives. Therefore, the society has the responsibility to change societal structures in the way that it makes it easier for an individual to fulfil the categorical imperative. Instead of putting all the moral responsibility to an individual, an opastopia changes the structures of the society in such a way that the selfish interests of an individual are in line with the moral norms of the society (and thus probably in line with the moral norms of the individual as well).
The practical experience so far has brought up two major reasons of scepticism about open assessment.
- The audience does not believe that the making of open assessments could gain large enough popularity, and thus the potential benefits from the mass collaboration do not materialise.
- The audience does not believe that the assessments performed could have such a large political impact on their own. Specifically, the possibly anarchist ideas selected by the assessments cannot be used as a basis of a policy that gets accepted and applied.
Workspace for collaborative knowledge creation
What would an optimal Opasnet look like, if it had all the functionalities that could be useful? What are the new critical things that we should develop for Opasnet to reach the optimal functionality?
Opasnet is a perfect tool to collective knowledge creation. It is based on shared information objects (see trialogue) that are developed together in open groups. Each piece of information has its own specific place thus minimizing redundancy in the system. Existing causal and informational links are truthfully and systematically described.
|Name of functionality||Description||Primary user||Place of application||Tools used||Current status||Development needs||Priority, urgency of further work (1-10)|
|Community togetherness||Social practices to develop the feeling of social togetherness and common purpose.||Group, society||Within groups and society||Annual Open assessment workshops (2007 2008 2009 2010)||Poorly developed.||We need people who are socially capable and good in motivating people. Lot of grass-root work.||1 This is very important and is lacking behind. More resources should be put to systematically work on this.|
|Group communication||Tools for sending messages within a group about practical issues like sharing tasks. Could be chats, RSS, Facebook...||Group||Assessment||Only separate tools exist (e.g. email)||Need has been identified, prioritisation of functionalities under way.||Apply some promising tools to see how they work||2 Quick drafting, idea throwing, and planning is needed.|
|Human-machine interface||A system that helps to convert information and understanding of humans into a (modelling) language understood by software. Also, tools to help explain model code.||Individual, computer||Network of information objects||Only <anacode> and <rcode> tags exist.||The need has been identified, but not very clear ideas yet.||Clarify the issue and make plans for development.||2 This is very important and needs thorough thinking quickly.|
|Object-oriented modelling||A modelling system that computes results for information objects based on the object description and the results of the parent objects.||Computer, individual||Network of information objects||Opasnet Base, Simupedia||Ideas and separate software (esp. Analytica) exist, integrated system is under planning.||Integration of Simupedia in Opasnet; integration of Simupedia and Opasnet Base||3 Major progress needed by end of 2010|
|Data storage||Storage for numerical and text data about original data (observations) and variable results (modelled).||Individual, model software||information object (wiki page)||Opasnet Base||Basic functionality exists. Interfaces limited.||Easier interfaces for individuals. Automatic interfaces for software.||3 Must be improved by summer 2010|
|Project management||A tool for identifying important tasks, planning work with time, resource and other restrictions, distributing them among participants, and following the progress.||Project manager||Primarily Assessment objects and related variables.||Todo, watchlists, participant lists (self-organised assigning to tasks), tasks||Only first test ideas in place.||Improving traditional project management to reflect the specifics of information object work. Possibility for a self-selected contributor to sign up for a task.||3 Very useful to have something out quickly|
|Reward system||A system for evaluating contributions of participants and distributing merit based on that.||Group||The interface of contributors and information objects||Respect theory, respect currency, onor, peer rating, acknowledgements||Ideas need more development, but some tools are already functional.||Development of cultural practices to use the tools.||4 Word should be spread much more intensively|
|Performance evaluation||A system for evaluating information objects based on their use purpose.||Group||Information objects in their use context||Performance||Theory is well developed, practices and tools not.||Cultural practices needed to even identify the importance of performance.||4 Pilot groups should start testing these.|
|VOI estimation||A system that calculates value of information for a group of variables given a decision and outcome. Links VOI to project management.||Group, project manager||Assessment||VOI. An Analytica model exists.||Is a separate add-on||Should be integrated into the system. Change in practices to start thinking of and using VOI.||5 Very important but progresses better if VOI is constantly kept in discussions rather than intensive development work|
|Protection and encryption||A system for protecting data from outside eyes. What is "outside" must be definable by the user. The two basic solutions are the use of outside databases and encryption of content in an open database.||Group, individual||Result attribute of objects||Opasnet Base is used somehow.||No functionalities exist.||Basic functionality needs should be identified and theoretical solutions developed. Only then it is possible to develop practical tools. Ideas are developed in Data protection in Opasnet.||5 Will be very important for attracting users with sensitive information.|
|Publishing forum||A place to publish scientific materials, get them evaluated, and gain merit.||Group||Study objects.||Opasnet Journal, Peer review||Exists in theory (outlines about how it should work) but not in practice||Further develop practices. Collect acceptability to the idea. Change cultural practices to use it.||6 Important but not in particular hurry|
|Discussion forum||A forum for organising discussions and user contributions||Group||Talk pages of information objects||Discussion, pragma-dialectics several discussion templates||System works but is not user-friendly for a beginner.||Better guidance for discussions. Some automatic tools to sort and analyse arguments?||8 Current status is reasonable. No urgent needs.|
|Commenting forum||A simple tool to send comments without deeper involvement in a discussion.||Individual||information object (wiki page)||Comment button.||Good||No needs. It is good enough.||10 No needs.|
|Learning interface||Reading (text), viewing (figures, videos), and playing with (such as in Many Eyes) the information||Individual||Information object (wiki page)||Mediawiki||Good||Improved categorisation to help finding info.||10 Low|
|Contribution interface||Editing (text), uploading (figures, videos), and visualising the information||Individual||information object (wiki page)||Mediawiki||Good||User help for editing. (Rich text editor?)||10 Low|
Culture promoting collaboration
Open assessment is social activity, and people who know about social life should be activated to promote collaboration within their community. As an example, THL/Environmental Health could look its work from the user perspective: what are the information products we produce, and who are the people that use them? Can we produce something more useful or in a more efficient way? This work is about understanding the work, understanding the information, and understanding the social situation of the info producer and the user at the same time. In addition, the work contains motivating and guidance for changing social practices toward sharing information.
This requires explicit commitment to the principles of open assessment, and a promise to utilise the results of assessments. Otherwise stakeholders do not participate and bring their information into the assessments.
For performing open assessments, see the main article: Open assessment.
An opastopia must remove the hindrances of performing open assessments and of applying the selected policies. This can be done with the following policies:
- Those who participate in open assessments and bring up important new ideas should be explicitly and materially rewarded. The benefit of a social innovation is easily hundred times larger to the society than was the cost to the inventor. It is a good investment for the society to give a good reward to the inventor and thus stimulate social inventions.
- The conclusions of the assessments should be actively developed into real policies. This is of course easier, if the assessments are originally designed to evaluate potential policy options. Then, the assessment itself gives answers to the question, how the problems assessed should be solved. One straightforward way for policy-making is to estimate external costs of activities, and then internalise these external costs by applying taxes (such as environmental protection taxes) that are as large as the external costs. When all the external costs are paid as taxes, the activity becomes a value-neutral issue to the society, and then it is the market forces that determine whether the activity prevails or not.
- An opastopia should actively promote the use of open assessment in international policy-making. In addition, it should offer the policies and practices developed to be further used and developed in other countries.
- An opastopia should have a research project that actively studies the performance of open assessments and policies developed based on them. The new information is used to develop better ways to utilise open assessment.
An opastopia should have a foundation or an institute that takes care that open assessments are performed, that contributors get their rightful rewards, and that further research about open assessment is continuously performed. This organisation should provide Opasnet services in several languages in aim to expand its use to and in other societies.