The Deliberative Interface

Beth Noveck of New York Law School argues for the development of a deliberative interface to “translate theoretical ideals about the goals of deliberation into…new media to enable individuals to participate in new and more effective social groups.” She presents a design heuristic to help ensure the values of deliberation are built into future interface designs – an excellent example of how values can be embedded in technology design.

Here are some stimulating passages from her keynote talk presented at the recent Stanford University Conference on Online Deliberation:

…as we move from face-to-face to on screen deliberative practices, we have not yet begun to understand this interplay between structures and action. We design our technologies based on outdated material assumptions about communicative practices. We define our communicative practices based on outdated assumptions about technology.

We tend to think about Human Computer Interaction (HCI) but not about the dynamic social interface for groups. In other words, deliberation is a group practice and we ought to be thinking about the impact of the technology on the group and its dynamics, rather than just on the individual. Instead of me and the screen, we need to understand us and the screen.

How does the screen change those implicit, normative, explicit and legal structures? What happens when we get together around the electronic hearth? How do we use the screen more effectively to enable the public exchange of reason?

I want to argue that we need to design the interface in ways that are:

More visual and designed in ways to strengthen the sense of the collective
More open to creating new groups with clear membership and culture
More oriented toward fostering participation in the group and making the opportunities for participation clear

By visual, I do not mean multimedia or video-based. While pictures can help, text, too, can strengthen the dynamics of collective action. What I am referring to is using the screen – and whatever tools we can invent – to make social structures manifest.

If we do not use the interface to become more self-reflexive and aware of group structures, we will continue to build community without building teams; we will create on-line spaces but not on-line deliberation.

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