Consensual Debating for all levels of governance

The solution, which we are proposing has been developed to facilitate complex debates. It is particularly well suited to the area of politics and governance where there is a great need to reduce, or eliminate altogether, adversarial politics and replace it with consensual relations among politicians. One of the consequences of prolonged, adversarial debates is that we have ineffective and expensive way of governing a country by a very slow process of introducing a new legislation. Even with the best of intentions, debates at the committee stage where discussions can be less heated and factual, they may take many months or even years before a draft legislation is put to a debate and voted by the whole parliament.

At a national level, polarization of societies so evident today is also the consequence of adversarial relations, underpinned by the system of voting and the conduct of debates on the radio, TV, and the parliament. We are only asked a question “Are you ‘for’ or ‘against’”, with no room for a compromise, mainly because there are no easy means to facilitate the selection of a third option. That fossilizes the division between the winners and the losers which has gradually led to the expansion of populist politics and a further deterioration of democratic principles.

But that may change significantly with the arrival of what is termed as ‘a digital democracy’. We need to embrace new technological solutions if they enable more consensual politics. It is in this area where Sustensis has been working for several years. Recently, we have combined our concept of Digitized Structured Content, with POLIS digitized debates, creating Consensual Debating. It takes the advantage of these new capabilities, which together with other innovations, such as Citizens’ Assemblies may contribute to long overdue deep reform of democracy. Consensual Debating can be used for debating complex political, social, scientific or economic problems on digital platforms such as websites or Facebook. It allows even tens of thousands of participants to debate thousands of topics simultaneously and come to an agreement in a consensual way in a few days rather than in months.

Consensual Debating can be used in parliaments, especially debating pending legislation at a committee stage. This might be anonymous pre-voting, as a kind of conscience vote, to see what the MPs would have voted had they represented just themselves. It can also be used at a local level, e.g. in the Planning Departments or whenever, long-term, wide-ranging policies are to be debated. In each such case a typical white paper, which sometimes may extend to hundreds of pages, can be quickly converted into a dedicated website, where its content would be structured in a similar way as on this website (see below). This will allow a debate to be split across several committees. Once pending legislation has been debated and voted for at a committee stage, the results can be very quickly re-assembled into articles of a legal document for the final voting in a parliament or a local council. Therefore, incorporating Consensual Debating in such debates can deliver immediate benefits at every level of democratic governance. have now applied Consensual Debating to the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) by creating this dedicated Euro Agora website, which is entirely separate from the CoFE’s digital platform. It can serve as an example of how it can be used in similar less complex debates. There are over 90 structured Ideas (topics) related to improving the European Democracy which are debated on the Euro Agora website. They are logically grouped into 9 main topics: Consensual Debating, Values and Responsibilities, Consensual Democracy, Citizens Assemblies, Federalism, Constitution, Parliament, Elections and President. 

There are two components of Consensual Debating. The first one relates to the Content (the subject matter of a debate) and which on the Euro Agora website has its own second level tab called INFO. The entire website content and the Conversations (topics) are based on Tony Czarnecki’s book Democracy for a Human Federation‘, which proposes a new style of democracy called Consensual Presidential Democracy, and which we are using as just a starting point, to stimulate a debate on the future of Europe and the need to reform democracy . The second component is POLIS, which is also the second level tab grouping about 10 sub-topics. They become the POLIS Conversations as illustrated below.

Euro Agora Consensual Debating

A participant can himself make an anonymous comment (a Statement) of up to a maximum of 140 characters and send it for other participants to vote. He can potentially cut and paste a sentence from the text above the voting section, into a POLIS field as illustrated below:

Using sentences from INFO for making your own Statements

These individual views and votes are then grouped together using the POLIS system, which shows initial views of the participants. The objective is to identify a group of more than 60% of participants who agree with certain motions or policies listed under the graph

Consensual Debating Majority Grouping

As the debate progress over days or months, the subsequent views of the participants change, which is reflected in the final majority grouping as in this example:

Arriving at a final majority over time

However, we are inviting AI professionals to volunteer to work with us on even a more advanced Artificial Intelligence solution. It will most likely be based on the latest capabilities of Open AI’s GPT-3, IBM’s Political Debater or a similar Natural Language Processing AI agent. In our design, a humanoid AI Agent will be one of the debating participants. It will introduce in plain language the subject matter (derived mostly from Euro Agora website, with additional access to specialist areas), present key issues with pros and cons for each one, and then participate in the debating process as an anonymous participant. When the debate is over, it will calculate the results and produce a draft report. Here is what it may look like by the end of 2022:

AI-assisted Consensual Debating

Consensual Debating may play an important role in a new style of democracy, such as Consensual Presidential Democracy, since it allows for blending of a representative and a direct democracy. However, for such debates to have a real impact on a country’s politics, it needs to be accompanied by a legally binding procedure, as it has been done in Taiwan or Canada, so that a parliament discusses the initial proposal or a petition and then implements a legislation.

Overall, Consensual Debating could solve several problems in modern democracies, such as:

  1. It can significantly raise the participation in politics giving people real influence on the outcome of a proposed legislation, through Citizens Assemblies are legally binding petitions.
  2. It achieves consensus on a proposed legislation by continuously redefining the initial wording of a proposed new law by the participants. This allows them to adapt gradually their views to the views of the largest group and therefore, achieving much broader political consent through a better understanding of the issue, since the initial wording of the proposed legislation changes to reflect the views of a growing majority.
  3. It is the best antidote against fake news. People learn from each other, and if they find themselves in a really small minority, they can then gather more information to understand the issues better and perhaps change their mind.
  4. It can replace referenda by referring important decisions, such as on Brexit or the European Federation, to Citizens’ Assemblies where they can be thoroughly and much faster debated achieving a far wider consensus.

You can find more detailed instructions in the Euro Agora presentations on the sidebar, especially by watching a video presentation on Consensual Debating.

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