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How the discuto consensus meter works


A well know danger of partipatory decision making is the "design by committee phenomen", a term "used to refer to suboptimal traits that such a process may produce as a result of having to compromise between the requirements and viewpoints of the participants, particularly in the presence of poor leadership or poor technical knowledge, such as needless complexity, internal inconsistency, logical flaws, banality, and the lack of a unifying vision." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Design_by_committee).

To prevent this dilution of a concept laid down in a document discuto employs a patented method to indicate which paragraphs to change and which to better leave as they are.

Let me briefly explain the logic of this method based on an example. After  participants have voted on the first version of a document one will most probably end up with some disagreeing votes. In some cases one might be able to get rid of all of these through modifications that accomodate comments. However, this becomes more unlikely the higher the number of participants and paragraphs and it also might well be that one ends up with an increased number of negative votes as in the case of conflicting viewpoints changes made to accomodate dissenters might not be acceptable to consenters of the original version.

In such cases it makes sense to concentrate the efforts on those paragraphs where there is a significant number of disagreements. A simple strategy would be to change those paragraphs where the number of negative votes exceeds the number of positive votes in any case and to modify the other paragraphs only if one is confident that the new formulation is also acceptable to initial consenters. With discuto, one can easily spot these paragraphs via the red-green bar besides the paragraph text, and discuto also automatically notifies the participants that voted on a changed paragraph that a new version is ready for evaluation.

However, this strategy also has its drawbacks. Consider the example discussion given in Table 1. Here, a document comprised of 8 paragraphs P1 to P8 has been discussed by participants E1 to E9. A cell in the resulting voting matrix contains the respective voting, where 1 stands for consent, -1 for a negative vote and 0 for the case when the participant did not vote for the respective paragraph.

Table 1: First Voting Matrix

Paragraph

Participant

P1

P2

P3

P4

P5

P6

P7

P8

Neg. Votes

Neu. Votes

E1

-1

1

1

1

1

1

0

0

1

2

E2

-1

0

0

1

0

0

0

-1

2

5

E3

0

1

0

1

1

1

0

-1

1

3

E4

-1

1

1

0

0

0

-1

0

2

4

E5

0

0

0

1

1

0

-1

-1

2

4

E6

1

-1

-1

-1

0

-1

1

1

4

1

E7

1

0

-1

-1

-1

-1

1

0

4

2

E8

1

-1

-1

-1

0

-1

1

1

4

1

E9

1

-1

-1

0

-1

-1

0

1

4

2

Sum

1

0

-2

1

1

-2

1

0

24

24

In this example, paragraphs P3 and P6 have more negative votes than positive ones and therefore should be changed according to our strategy. If the initially consenting participants E1-E4 disagree with the new version while the initially dissenting ones E5-E9 agree to it the voting matrix given in table 2 arises.

Table 2: Expected Voting Matrix after Modifying C3 and C6

Paragraph

Participant

P1

P2

P3

P4

P5

P6

P7

P8

Neg. Votes

Neu. Votes

E1

-1

1

-1

1

1

-1

0

0

3

2

E2

-1

0

0

1

0

0

0

-1

2

5

E3

0

1

0

1

1

-1

0

-1

2

3

E4

-1

1

-1

0

0

0

-1

0

3

4

E5

0

0

0

1

1

0

-1

-1

2

4

E6

1

-1

1

-1

0

1

1

1

2

1

E7

1

0

1

-1

-1

1

1

0

2

2

E8

1

-1

1

-1

0

1

1

1

2

1

E9

1

-1

1

0

-1

1

0

1

2

2

Sum

1

0

2

1

1

2

1

0

20

24

Is this new version of the document an improvement over the old one in terms of agreement by the participants? Cleary, the total number of negative votes has descreased from 24 to 20. Also, the distribution of disagreements has become more evenly. In the original version participants E1 and E3 only had one paragraph they did not like, while E5 to E9 had problems with half of the content. Now all participants object to at least two paragraphs, and E1 and E4 to three. If a compromise with median acceptance is your goal this is fine. However, contentwise such a strategy often leads to a dilution of your original idea, as exemplified by the opening proverb “A camel is a horse designed by committee”. In many cases, it is therefore better to intentionally ignore comments by participants who are critical of a larger number of paragraphs and to incorporate only those changes that are proposed by participants who are overal positive. In our example, for instance, changing paragaphs P1, P7, and P8 can leed to the total satisfaction of participants E1 to E5.

Table 3: Voting Matrix  after Modifying P1, P7 and P8

Paragraph

Participant

P1

P2

P3

P4

P5

P6

P7

P8

Neg. Votes

Neu. Votes

E1

1

1

1

1

1

1

0

0

0

2

E2

1

0

0

1

0

0

0

1

0

5

E3

0

1

0

1

1

1

0

1

0

3

E4

1

1

1

0

0

0

1

0

0

4

E5

0

0

0

1

1

0

1

1

0

4

E6

-1

-1

-1

-1

0

-1

-1

-1

7

1

E7

-1

0

-1

-1

-1

-1

-1

0

6

2

E8

-1

-1

-1

-1

0

-1

-1

-1

7

1

E9

-1

-1

-1

0

-1

-1

0

-1

6

2

Sum

-1

0

-2

1

1

-2

-1

0

26

24

The discuto consensus meter automates such analyses. Discuto assigns a higher weight to possible reductions of negative votes / increases of positive votes of participants with a lower number of disgreements. In our example, for instance, discuto weights a change that can reduce the number of negative votes of participant E1 three times higher than a change that consents participant E9. The ratio of the sum of weights of participants that dissented to the sum of weights of participants who consented is then used to rate the paragraphs. Change is strongly recommended for paragraphs where this ratio is equal or larger than 1, while change is not recommened if the ratio is 0. Values between these extremes indicate the strength of the change recommendation for the respective paragraph.

Figure 1: Number of Disagreements in national research strategy discussion


As can be seen from the number of disagreements per participant in a discussion af a national research strategy in figure 1 this differentiation among the participants becomes more profound the larger the number of paragraphs and participants is. The discuto consensus meter is especially valuable in such cases, as here the sheer size of the feedback obtained necessitates a clear focus on the most valuable improvement opportunities.


About the author :

Alfred Taudes

Alfred Taudes is Professor for Business Administration and Business Informatics at the Vienna University of Economics and Business. His fields of expertise include strategy, knowledge management, process management, information systems and innovation. He has published over 100 articles in international professional journals and holds various scientific awards. He has supervised many international large-scale science projects and held professorships in Germany and Japan. Promoting new ideas through third party funded projects, scientific advice and the support of spin-offs has always been a core aspect of his work.


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