While participating in group meetings and mailing list discussions about, among other things, software related topics, I made two observations:
- The probability of frustrating discussion processes rises with
- the number of active participants,
- the complexity of the topic,
- the heterogeneity of previous knowledge,
- the duration of the discussion.
- The process of decisions-making often has flaws. It
- is likely to leave behind discontented people,
- sometimes produces strange compromises,
- seems questionable after a while.
On the other hand, the quite complex problems we have to deal with and the principles of participation and division of labor (e.g. in Free Software Projects) make it unavoidable to discuss in larger heterogeneous groups remotely over quite some time and then somehow make a decision. This process should not drain the energy and the willingness to commit out of the group or project and it should in no way make people to leave.
Both problems (frustrating discussions and flawed decisions) could be solved by perfectly behaving people, with unlimited time and effort resources. Both assumptions are not realistic. To solve or at least mitigate these problems under more realistic assumptions, suitable tools could contribute significantly. To investigate this hypothesis I implemented and deployed two prototype implementations by myself:
sober- A web app, that organizes discussions by theses and (nested) pro/contra-arguments.
moodpoll- A low barrier web app that allows to quickly survey the mood about a topic inside a group.
Both tools are spare-time projects and not yet ready for productive use. It is unclear if they ever will be. Currently their existence serves to experiment with concepts and gain insight how to solve the mentioned problems.
Additionally, I think, constructive discussions always will require good will and quite some effort from all participants (→ more thoughts on this). Nevertheless, I think, something in the direction of the proposed tools might be helpful to many groups, not only inside the developer community. Thus, I welcome any feedback on the ideas and implementation.