Supporting large groups in e-deliberation through online argumentation platforms

Over the course of the last thirty years researchers and practitioners have tried to develop technology able to support effectively large-groups in deliberation processes. These technologies employ mechanisms and devices that are typical of tools used in small-group face-to-face deliberation, whose individual effect is still not completely clear, but that combined have shown to promote some of the aspects of what we consider good deliberation. The problem is that, relying on small group face-to-face discussions implies that such structured processes are complex and expensive, both for the organizers and the participants, limiting their scalability and frequency of adoption to communities of a few hundreds. With the advent of Internet many hoped that asynchronous text based discussions could generate new venues of high quality deliberation that could easily scale up. But, according to the literature on the quality of online discussions, these new spaces rarely fulfill such promises. What would happen if an online venue of deliberation was specifically designed to promote the exchange of rational arguments? Is it possible to overcome the well-known problems of text based online deliberation? Is it possible to achieve good deliberation in large groups using online tools? We want to verify empirically whether it is possible to design online democratic tools able to support good deliberation processes in large-groups. In order to analyze the effect of two different structures of large group e-deliberation, we perform a pilot field experiment within an online democratic tool specifically designed to promote good deliberation. The field test was conducted in collaboration with a community of the Italian Democratic Party (Insieme per il PD) in a real life democratic situation, namely an Internal Deliberative Referendum (DOPARIA). The experiment was designed to compare the performance of a traditional forum with the performance of an argument mapping tool (the Deliberatorium) in order to show that it is possible to develop online tools able to support effectively large groups in deliberation processes. Overall we conclude that this pilot experiment shows that online democratic innovations can achieve good quality of deliberation if correctly designed, and that different structure of discussion promote different level of argumentation, without significantly alter the retention and level of activity of participants.

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Contributo in atti di convegno
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Paolo Spada
Mark Klein
Raffaele Calabretta
Luca Iandoli
Ivana Quinto
Workshop "Establishing an Oper Research and Action Community Network", The Open University, London Campus, UK, September 29-30
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Raffaele Calabretta's picture