I’ve been conversing about conversations with Alberto Cottica, Gaia Marcus at the RSA and Ben Vickers. Based on his analysis of the Edgeryders online discussions, Alberto has a blog post (How online conversations scale, and why this matters for public policies) well worth reading, talking about how we can make online conversations more productive by finding evidence of what works in a given community, rather than just guessing. I think of it as using a medicine cabinet for online conversation rather than a herbarium.

The road I am exploring is to take advantage of the social Internet to connect citizens among themselves and with government institutions to assess governance problems, design solutions and implement them – all in a decentralized fashion. I wrote a book to show it has been done, and to argue for it to be done more.

But it remains a tough sell. Many decision makers remain skeptical: why should online conversations converge onto evidence-based consensus? A few people who share a common work method can make an effective group, but a large number of very diverse and self-selected citizens – what I have been arguing for – is likely to collapse under the weight of trolling, controversy and sheer information overload. We have examples in which this did not happen: but we don’t have a theory to guide us in designing conversation environment which produce the desired results. Not good enough.

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