My core question here is: “How do I envision an OrganizedInquiry working?”
(I think it’s important to note motivations and assumptions. That way, we’re on the same page. And if something goes wrong, we can look back in the chain of thinking, and see what assumptions were false.)
At root, I am motivated by the idea that CollectiveIntelligence, aggregated into the GlobalBrain, can dramatically speed developments in democracy, science, technology, to help us develop the human spirit, to save the planet, help us transcend it, and even to transcend our modern limitations. (Yadda yadda.)
One avenue I think will work for this, is OrganizedInquiry– a SoftTechnology, inspired by OpenSource, for groups to perform research analysis together, and to find answers to their own questions, and to publish reports.
There are, of course, already several groups on the Internet that publish reports. (For example, PINR, Power & Interest News Reporting.) But Internet groups that publish reports are not a celebrated fact of open culture. There’s not much in the way of social infrastructure around the concept. People wish that there was such a thing, but it’s not really out there. There is no established, basic model, like there is in the Free Liber / Open Source Software (FL/OSS) world. Wikipedia and OpenContent are close, but Wikipedia forbids original research, and OpenContent isn’t consciously about asking questions or doing research.
The question of “How do I envision OrganizedInquiry working?”, against this backdrop, then suggests to me some qualities.
We want something that…
We want it to be lightweight, because it needs to spread rapidly. If you have to attend classes to figure out how to do it, the idea is not going to spread. If it has to be taught person to person, it’s not going to go far. We want something like OpenSource, where there are a lot of ways to do it, a few general ideas, and you can figure out how to do it by just mimicing other people who do it.
It should have answering a question as an aim. It should be original research. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the discovery of something new, but if that’s what is required to answer a question, then that should be clearly part of the program. Research studies are valuable too.
It should output something that other people can use usefully. If we’re not getting out things that others can use usefully, we’re not really contributing to a GlobalBrain. FreeSoftware is amazing because you can accumulate the software written by hundreds of thousands of other people. If you could only pull the software from one person, and it could not be combined and aggregated, then where is the value? So it is important that OrganizedInquiry make rapid communication of discovered results a high priority. It should be “Open Source” in the Intelligence sense, as well- your process should be transparent, people should be able to check your work, and so on.
So it should be something like “Science and Research and Humanities and Review for Ordinary People.” Something like that.
To my knowledge, we do not yet have established methods for doing this. We have people wanting to do things like this, and wondering how to do it, and starting to work together. But we do not yet have established methods for doing this, in any sort of organized way. We have people collectively asking questions, but we do not yet have anything as powerful and clearly visible as the Open Source movement. We will be taking cues from the Open Source world, then, which most of us have at least some familiarity with.
I’m less interested in talking about details of procedure: I think that people will figure out what works for them, on their own, with what they have. This is similar to how in OpenSource projects, people pull the repository software, governance system, ticketing software, collaboration medium, and so on, by the particulars of their situation.
So, here is my list:
That’s a lot of stuff, so I’ll try to be brief, (and fail,) going item to item.
Goal Directed – By this, I mean, “The group should be trying to do something,” rather than just talking, and occasionally updating a report here and there, as people remember. Rather, the group should be saying, “This is our question, this is what we want to do,” and labor to meet that goal.
Framing the Inquiry – That is, the group should, from the very beginning, have some idea about what’s going to come out the other end. It is like the rough frame of a house. The frame might be like: “We’ll make a 10 page report. We’ll make a map of ideas. We’ll diagram how the conversation went. We’ll make a glossary of terms. We’ll make a language of tags, for use when tagging web pages about these different ideas. We’ll make an executable version of our thoughts on the system (a simulation.) We’ll publish a 1-page list of remaining major questions. We’ll publish a bibliography of relevant URLs.” Regardless of what the frame looks like, or how it changed during the process, there should be some expectation, from the very beginning, of what will come out. Compare in OSS: the idea of having it working from the very beginning, so that it can be improved incrementally.  And the Art of Harvesting, advocated by the Art of Hosting crowd.
Chaordic, Semi-Procedural – I am not envisioning something like Delphi. Delphi is, very clearly, an inquiry process, and Delphi is, very clearly, organized. It’s also very clearly very good.  But I am skeptical that it is lightweight, and for regular use by ordinary people. Thus, I am not calling it OrganizedInquiry, for this purpose. But I am not envisioning something as loose as, “Let’s just talk in a discussion forum,” either. Rather, I am envisioning something like OpenSource. Perhaps not “releases” and “milestones” and “code freeze,” but something that has some order more appropriate to running an inquiry.
Open Discussion, Open Reflection – I am not envisioning something that is strict over conversation. Conversation does need to be “reigned in” now and then, (as in most ordinary conversation in daily life,) but I am not imagining somethingin which speech acts are highly disciplined. This is in keeping with the idea that ordinary people should be able to do this, on a massive scale. There is value in making speech conform to code, and I imagine that at least some inquiries will explore with that, once the movement gains way and starts to explore its possibilities more deeply. But I envision that, initially, it will be fairly basic. “This is the part where we talk, pretty freely and openly.” Speech may be restructured, diagrammed, graphically facilitated, archived, visualized, whatever, after it’s been spoken, as part of the practice. But the actual speech itself will be, by and large, open and free.
Status Report, & Networked – I am envisioning that groups that are doing long-running inquires would give “status reports.” “Here’s how we’re doing, here’s what we have so far, here’s where we’re going.” And beyond that (and perhaps more importantly,) the inquiries would be networked. That is, they would register themselves, and their peers, and so on. This is like the Free Software world, which reports almost universally on FreshMeat?. In UNIX, there is a command, “Process List (ps).” You type in “ps”, and it tells you what all the pieces of software are busy doing, that are alive on your computer. Similarly, we would envision typing “ps,” and seeing all the running inquiries that are ongoing. There would be an ethic, like in the Free Software world, not to reinvent, unless there is an important valid reason for the reinvention. “Is someone else already doing this inquiry?” “If they are, are the assumptions of their inquiry compatible with mine?” There are reasons for running duplicate inquiries, but the ethic of checking is important. Also, like the WikiNode, you would want to note inquiries that were similar or related, and you would want to link to them. Ideally, we could even envision a TensionMap of inquiries, that spans the Internet. The inquiry is a first-class member of the ProjectSpaceNetwork, just like OpenSource projects, OpenContent development efforts, and so on.
Summarization, Aggregation – Inquiries should not be published as enormous long reams of text. Rather, before presentation, transcripts should be carefully analyzed for essential ideas, structured, and presented intelligently. Lists, tables, diagrams, charts, summaries, and so on, are essential. That said, …
Transparent – the Inquiries should also be transparent. It should be possible to see the “source code” of the Inquiry. If you can reasonably include and link in the original conversations, by all means– do so! Include everything! All the little conversations, so that people can reconstruct later on, “What led these people to say these things?” Or: “Wow, that’s a funny conclusion, how did that come out?” We should be able to check. “Just how certain were they about that thing?” The whole thing should strive for transparency. Just like OpenSource software. People may even want to relive the inquiry one day, in order to understand it, and discover alternatives..!
Semi-Permeable Community Boundary – Many people doing inquiries today have closed community boundaries. You have to send an email to so and so, and then be reviewed, and then maybe they’ll talk with you. Yikes; This really drops contribution. The goal is to get the one-line “hey I’m doing X, and it’s related,” which can be pure gold, while not spending too much time on difficult people. It is a tension, but it’s a valuable one. I envision these efforts being semi-permeable. There is little doubt in my mind that having to deal with the occasional difficult person is worth being semi-open. Establish CommunityExpectations, figure out a system for interacting with new people, and so on. It’s hard work, I think, because we don’t know how to do it well, and people are intrinsicly dangerous, but I (personally) think it’s worth it.
Explicit Responsibilities – this is part of being Goal directed. I envision that people would have explicit responsibilities. Such as: “Your job, Sam, is to make sure that question Q3 gets answered, and that the different ideas that people have, and the questions that develop out from it, are all reported, in the final report.” This is just like in OpenSource, where people are responsible for different parts of the project.
Disclosed Identity, not Anonymous – This may seem exactly wrong, because there’s so much literature out there on how creativity and idea-construction and so on work so much better when people are anonymous, appeasing egos is not important, and so on. But then I look at our constraints: “lightweight system,” “ordinary people,” and I don’t see how it’s going to work. Part of the reason that OpenSource projects work is because there are all of these human dramas. So-and-so wants to impress so-and-so, someone wants to be recognized for their work on Y, someone wants to have friends, so-and-so wants to hear what so-and-so has to say, and so on. There are all these things that draw people together. They may make the inquiries worse, but: How many people want to be anonymous nodes, collaborating with other anonymous nodes, over long periods of time, on a meaningful question? Probably a few, but not many. This needs to work for many. As for disclosing identity, my observation is that UseRealNames does work. It works really really well. The more you can bind the real person to the inquiry, the more “real” the inquiry gets. I suspect many projects will disagree, but I’m just describing my vision of how this will work, not how it actually will.
Egalitarian, within the group – Honestly, I don’t think that this needs to be said. Most groups of voluntarily interacting people are fairly egalitarian. But it’s a big part of the vision, I think, and part of it’s appeal. This does not mean everyone’s time is worth the same, or that everyone holds the same responsibility, and so on.
Bias & Assumptions – BIASED! Yes, absolutely! An inquiry is about something that some group thinks it’s important. Just the fact that the people think a given question is important, is bias. And then the question– every question includes at least one statement. And the words of those statements, the meanings of those words– root those statements in a world, that is envisioned to work a particular way– there is statement & assumption in every single question. When we type “robot” into Google, we are saying, “I am interested in robot. I think that the web has something to say about robot. I think I can engage with you, Google, about robot.” We can hardly formulate a question without assumption. Assumption and bias have a bad reputation, because we see how failures came out of bad assumptions and bad biases. But really, are we not encouraged to make mistakes? Can we make steps without making mistakes? We should be eager to list our assumptions and biases, and to conduct an inquiry from our biases and assumptions. We may question some, at some point, and that is surely a learning thing. But I cannot imagine this working without assumptions and biases, and I see it working far better if assumptions and biases are listed.
Studied – the Inquiry makes efforts to resesarch and study to find answers to questions, in addition to answering from apriori ideas, and original reasoning.
Multi-Interest, Multi-Disciplinary – I envision that the groups of people that engage in OrganizedInquiry will capitalize on the diverse backgrounds, talents, and disciplines that the membership brings to the table.
Whole Systems based – I envision that the inquiries would not only research their question, but also inquire into the reason why they are engaged into that particular inquiry, the environment that led to that inquiry, and how the inquiry fits into the greater systems around the particular system. It’s not spoken of much, in these terms, but it happens in OpenSource, as well: People have to consider the whole ecology of tools around the environment that there tool will work.
Incomplete – The inquiry does not aim to be complete, in many cases. It says, “Here are some questions we still have,” when it’s done. Or, “We believe we have answered the question Q to satisfaction. However, we have discovered that the following questions are essential, and we suggest these for further development: Q-A, Q-B, and Q-C.” It should also report on where inquiry was spotty, where it thinks others can fill in, and also: “We simply didn’t have time and expertise to consider Q-X.” “Please let us know if someone performs an inquiry that answers Q-X.”
Signed, Positioned within the Society – After an inquiry is complete, I envision that it would be signed by the people who participated in it. And I think if the inquiry is valued by community, it might be signed by the greater community, as well. “This inquiry, which I did not participate in, none-the-less, I find value in.” Like reputation, for the inquiry, showing that: “This is a mark of my culture,” or something like that.
PlainTalk – I envision that inquiries will be written in plain language, without unnecessary obtuse jargon. It is not marketing speech, it is laboring to communicate clearly. It may be ComplexPlainTalk, because we often need to invent words to develop ideas; But it should not be unnecessary, and it should labor towards clarity, and broad readability, without sacrificing content. Everything can be expressed more clearly. This is about striving for clarity, so that the efforts can build on one another, and make something really special, for everybody.
VisualLanguage, in the Output – VisualLanguage is shockingly capable. Many people reject this notion, and will only publish in text, I suspect. But as people see more and more examples of VisualLanguage that clearly work, and as our visualization APIs and platforms develop, and as more executable simulations of situations come into being, and as the youth generation that adores webcomics and does not feel locked into text comes to recognize it’s questions and interests in the world, – I cannot imagine that we will not be inquiring in a brilliantly visual environment.  TensionMap, AggregatedVisualDisplay, VisualLanguage, PortableExplanation, DevelopersVirtualWorld; all kinds of beautiful things in explanation. The world of idea will manifestly come alive, and dance with us, and us with it, as we inquire into the world and ourselves.
This is, then, a basic outline of my vision of OrganizedInquiry.
(none yet; likely to appear on [[Discussion on OrganizedInquiry]])
Sam, I put this here, because it was so big. I predict that you will agree that this is the right thing to do. I defer if you think otherwise. – LionKimbro
Define external redirect: FreshMeat