By Scott Nesler, Jim Walts, Bernie Panone, and hopefully others
The Do Good Gauge is a prototype for a new form of community journalism. The current essays describe the problem or give direction to solution in the inefficiencies of political and social discourse. This community resource attempts to facilitate public authorship in pursuit of a new media motivating civic engagement. The interface you are viewing can be retrofitted for community research or public journalism projects. Please send an email message by clicking on the contact button above if you have a interest in creating your own public research project.
The idea for the title came from a pen name Benjamin Franklin used to trick his brother James into publishing essays. It is Franklin's collaborative discussion group called the Junto inspiring the development of this research proposal.
The Free Dictionary defines do good as to "improve the condition of "or to "be beneficial for". The two words joined hints at relativism suggesting a non financial form of betterment. The phrase do good gauge is an idiom. It expresses caution or warns one to examine personal action or belief. The word gauge describes an instrument for measurement.
The Problem Intended to be Solved
Low Visibility of Individual Thought
Unlike Benjamin Franklin, the average citizen's brother never founded a newspaper. Ben was able to deceive James into publishing his civil opinion. One or two individuals may be able to get away with this type of trickery, though a wider representation of the populace has a lotteries chance of acquiring higher visibility of thought.
The imperialistic nature of current media controls who, when, and where public dialogue is directed. The passion and articulance of an average individual has little chance to be published or acquire public visibility.
The inability to publish a thought restricts the search for others with a similar passion. Seclusion breeds bias and ignorance. It influences polarization which feeds anger and hate. Polarization is reduced by sharing points of view. Solution with broader consensus comes through collaboration.
Lack of Motivation in Public Solution
Developing solutions in the pursuit of betterment requires creativity. The state of the media stifles creativity. Solitude provides little motivation to articulate a thought requiring collaborative development.
The existing public communication model is directed from the few to the many. Those in control of thought have little incentive to stimulate feedback. In response to a public problem an individual not only has to craft a superior thought, they must be creative in getting attention, and timely in discussion. Articulating a rebuttal is impeded lacking a positive feedback system. Provided a suggestion box, the powers that be quickly abandon response from the public's inarticulate attempt to persuade the discussion. The public is capable of a coherent thought given the means to channel it. Understanding is stimulated through positive reinforcement. The existing media model does not provide an innovative feedback systems to energize the public to participate effectively. It does not provide an environment to foster solution and clarity in pursuit of consensus.
In many ways politics is a game. It's a competition. The republic of the United States has created a game where a citizen passively watches as a spectator. Allowing the public to compete will provide a motivational opportunity. A new game will require changes in the rules and the development of public arenas in the competition of civil discourse.
Tight control of the media pushes the discussion to extremes. Inorder to acquire higher profits, public chaos and mayhem are used to build sensation. Unknowingly, this system of communication has blinded the public to the personal responsibility in a democratic society. The communication system has captured the voice of a nation and handed it to an imperialistic method of sharing thought. An example is the cable news outlet called Fox News who not only steers the argument, they stack the deck with their selection of opposing points of view. Arguments are controlled when a media has a stake in the decision. Polarization occurs when a media uses fear, hate, and ignorance to persuade the audience to a single point of view.
Polarized arguments come from an adherence to moral absolutism. It comes from ignorance in the belief an argument has a single answer. Few political or social arguments are absolute. Each individual sees a problem from a different point of view. Polarization is reduced with respect for varying opinions.
Inefficiency in the Distribution of Problem to Solution
The world population currently stands at 6.976 billion. If you were to categorize all the potential unique problems known to man, the number would unlikely reach a million. A million compared to 6.976 billion is a small number. In a given year, the public and commercial media narrows down the focus of visible problems to a few hundred.
As technology and communication systems improve the weight of advancement should be measured. Some say better communication has helped many throughout the world. Yes, in many ways it has. Though in other ways it has thrust the problems of the few onto the many. Problems many have little interest in. The demographic balance of problem to solution should be measured. Does the existing model of communication provide a bi-directional channel of problem solving or does it dump the problems of the few onto the many?
Democracy can be a wonderful. Though a flaw in the system occurs when individuals with no direct stake in the problem can disrupt a path to solution based on greed, ignorance, and chaos. The granularity of most problems does not require the attention of the world. Most problems can be solved by the group which benefits in the solution. Acquiring a solution is difficult. It becomes more difficult when all the problems of man are thrown into a common bucket for public selection. Democracy was not intended to work this way. Groups like Alcoholic Anonymous work by focusing on a common problem for mutual benefit. A new system can channel problems to those having an interest to create and utilize the solution. Man's problems, which unlikely reaches a million, can be distributes with better efficiency among the 6.976 billion people.
The Hypocrisy in the Advocacy of Civic Engagement
Some who advocate civil engagement go far beyond words by motivating people into public action. Wikipedia gives example of advocacy in civic engagement. One groups called The Center for Future Civic Media builds quality essays from a panel of MIT faculty and students with similar passion to Chomsky, Havel, and Habermas. Funding and concentration of intellectual thought may help develop internet products to facilitate civic engagement, though the success of such an effort should be questioned. Public engagement from the Center for Future Civic Media is restricted to MIT faculty and students. Public comments are frequently deleted from their website.
If someone wanted to springboard an idea with the Do Good Gauge process, the request would likely be met with hypocrisy in this early stage. As the technology advances, the hope is to be freed from this hypocrisy. A true tool for civic engagement must allow anyone to start an idea and acquire an audience to clarify a thought.
The sincerity of democracy should allow each citizen a chance for engagement. As a nation many who honor democracy are hypocrites. They honor democracy for personal benefit, but believe those less fortunate are not entitled to participate. Society sets up walls of protection to guard inner circles from the thoughts and scrutiny of external participation. The problem is in government. It's in corporations and jobs. It's in universities and public schools. It's in churches. It's illustrated through history. Even Benjamin Franklin's Junto is describe as a secret society. Democracy must reach beyond an inner circle. Advocacy must allow others to engage in public solution.
The Pubic Blog and Wiki Warlords
Blogs serve a great purpose with informal dialogue. Radio programs such as WBUR's On Point has a very active blog for each hour program. Though the conversations are typically polarizing, participation can become addicting. Mixed into the mindless chatter are many intellectual comments. The problem with a blog is the inability to channel thought in a productive manner. A blog does not direct the flow of suggestion to solution. When large volume of activity occurs, serious inquiry and suggestion are quickly funnelled to obscurity.
An analogy of a blog is taking a shower in a public bathroom. It's like watching that lone hair swirl until it adds to the other debris clogging the drain. It's hard to pick out value in the collection of a public mess.
Wikipedia is a very productive system for developing factual based content. As Ward Cunningham describe it, "blogs encourage divergence, perhaps to the point of dysfunction. Wikis encourage convergence, else edit wars produce dysfunction." Wikipedia fails at being a platform for developing ideas or opinion. As Ward describes, edit wars restrict the development of ideas. Wikipedia succeeds on historical or fact based concepts where consensus is the norm.
Solutions evolve from opinion. Most problems have hundreds of answers. For a democratic method of problem solving to work, an individual most have control of his or her thought. A new media should promote civic engagement in helping individuals develop community solutions. It should encourage civic solutions.
No Do Overs
The existing media model requires the politician and citizen to get their opinion correct the first time. There are no do overs. This may explain why elected representatives narrow the problem and stick to a script written by party linguist. The lack of a do over enables each argument to be framed in what George Orwell called double speak. Example include the Clean Air Act, No Child Left Behind, and trickle-down economics. Framing works when politicians are not accountable. When they are not given a second chance for explanation.
Double speak or framing an argument disguises the problem. It causes polarization which prevents a common solution from being reached. Frames like class warfare and taxing the rich disguise the real problem of public funding for social democracy and a representative government. It hides the disparity of tax between income and investment profits.
Few problems are solved the first time. Accountability is discounted when elected officials are given one chance. Problem solving is an iterative process where mistakes are many, where collateral understanding comes with time, where alternatives are examined, and the final solution will change. A new media must facilitate the do over.
The Cost of a Cause
It is difficult to determine how an issue acquires public attention. Interest in a problem can be broad. There can be many solutions. On January 30th, 2012 President Obama talked with Jennifer Wedel via a Google+ "Hangout" conversation. In this conversation Jennifer explained her husband's three year ordeal to find a job as a semi-conductor engineer. Jennifer went on to explain how the H-1B visa program outsourced job opportunities in her husband's field of expertise. President Obama stressed his concern and promised to help her husband acquire a job. The following day Jennifer expressed her appreciation and said her husband's job prospects where already improving. She also shared a concern with the presidents lack of focus on the H-1B visa program. Jennifer understood in a few weeks the president and the media would allow her H-1B concerns to die.
Sensation can make its way into the media, though money typically is the driving point for sustaining momentum to a solution. Advocacy does not require money, though for some reason few acquire the motivation to bring life to a cause. A new media should allow those concerned with a problem to sustain its life long enough to explore broader solutions. A new media should not require money for the life support of a thought.
The idea that to make a man work you've got to hold gold in front of his eyes is a growth, not an axiom. We've done that for so long that we've forgotten there's any other way. -- F. Scott Fitzgerald
Sometimes our own stories are the ones we can never tell. But if a story isn't told it becomes something else; forgotten. -- Sara' Key
What does genealogy typically find? In most cases facts are limited to date of birth/death, origin of birth/death, and a name. What if you wanted more from the father of your third maternal grandmother? You might have a better chance winning a lottery than finding a few words of his personal opinion. In the rare occurrence a relative may acquire fame documented in historical record. Far less common an individual will write an autobiography. The perspective of an individual is best captured through a personal journal or diary. A teenage girl may keep a secret diary of which she would destroy before allowing it to be read by others. Buckminster Fuller is remembered for his categorization and detail in a daily diary. The forgotten fail to master a system to share their perspective to a future generation.
When a story is told, it is not forgotten. It becomes something else, a memory of who we were, the hope of what we can become. -- Sara's Key
More on Motivation - The Weight Factor
Please allow me to share a personal observation. I'm 5'10.5" and weigh 220 pounds. In the past 7 years my weight has fluctuated between 185 and 220 pounds. My exercise regiment has been declining for a few years. Three years ago I averaged five days a week at the gym and compiled over 1000 exercise miles a year. The method of quantifying mileage was not as fun and interesting as the technology available today. I need to get back into the regiment to reduce weight. I recently bought a pedometer to capture walking and aerobic statistics. Mileage, steps, time, duration, and calories are included in the statistics. Before the pedometer I was walking but not regularly. On the first day of use I walked 4.71 miles, with 8758 steps, in 1 hr 10 minutes, consuming 536 calories. As a software engineer I received a degree in computer science where math and statistics involved much of the coursework. On the first walk my thoughts involved the possibilities for the acquired data. Not only could the mileage, duration, # steps be tracked, but the data could be uploaded to the internet for comparison with others with a similar motivation. The data could be compared on yearly, monthly, daily, or hourly intervals. The community of such data provides a means to discover others with a common interest supplying an opportunity for sustained fitness. The motivation to exercise is greatly increased with statistical quantification.
Political discussion or civic engagement requires a similar motivation. Quantifying quality arguments can provide a motivation to participate in community affairs. This is what the Do Good Gauge suggest. Developing such quantitative tools requires the interest of others with a desire to facilitate better behavior which improves the productivity in civil discourse.
An individual has a thought. He or she informally drafts the thought into an essay thus becoming an author. The author provides hints describing the subject for the essay. The author publishes the informal draft of the essay for public viewership. The publication system automates the use of natural language processing technology, similar to Google, to provide further subject categorization of the essay. The publication system targets the demographic viewership for the new essay. Viewership recruits mentors or individuals with an interest in the thought. Feedback from the viewers motivate the author to refine the thought. Through iteration the author finds interested individuals trusted to further assist in developing the thought. At this point the author opens varying levels of ownership to trusted individuals or groups. Possibly the entirety of the essay for edit or maybe granting publication rights. The publication system provides revision control. Older version can be granted public viewership. The latest version is the only one marketed for demographic viewership. Through the compiled feedback, the author develops content for publication in a next revision. The release system increases in importance as others acquire the rights to edit an essay. The publication system provides varying methods to view content, one view will focus on higher quality content. This quality is acquired through a system of public percolation of thought. Incentives will be provided for the public to assist others to refine words making them worthy of higher demographics.
Viewer feedback will come in many forms. A reader will be able to provide words to an author either publicly or privately. If the author wishes, a public response can be pushed into a private zone for future reference away from public viewership. A reader also provides feedback by scoring the latest revision of the essay on an academic grading scale. Various tools of association will be available to a reader to tag an essay. The data for the tools of association will be provided from the public. Examples include: quotations, U.S. Constitution, Biblical, fallacy, and current event.
The idea in its current state is a research proposal. The functionality described in the website is minimally developed. The essays published on the website are in varying states of completion and quality. The ones deemed to provide better understanding are listed near the top of the sitemap. The statistical gauges per essay are functional. A reader can vote as many times as they wish, though the last vote is the only one scored per essay. Prior votes are maintained for statistical analysis. Public and privatized comments do work, though the email notification mechanism only contacts the author. The comments are not intended to be a blog. In its current form dialogue is typically performed through email or external communication.
The ideas described in the Do Good Gauge proposal are too large for a single individual to develop. The website in its current state is to market and develop the Do Good Gauge proposal. Some of the essays are political or semi-personal in nature. These essays serve the purpose of illustrating the potential for discourse to be publicly refined.
Here is Jim Walts quotation of the state of the Do Good Gauge, "Your presentation of the very tool you hope will help people present their ideas, well, needs your tool."
Funding is not a concern in the early stages of the proposal. The idea can only succeed through public interest. Democracy does not require a financial donation. It requires participation from the populace. When passion and interest comes from a large group of citizens the value of time exceeds the need for money. For those who say time is money, let them be reminded a system of government can be purchased by the highest bidder. Humanity requires a new motivation. Higher intelligence is suggested as a reward for the betterment of mankind. It is unknown at what point money will become a requirement for this effort. For now the focus is to recruit others passionate in the idea.
Time is the most valuable gift any of us has been given, other than good health, I tell my student, use it ... to help others. I try to do that.
I am grateful to you as a reader for taking your valuable time to follow this personal journey, which continues. I wish you well in your journey. -- Conclusion of Senator Paul Simon's Autobiography.