Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Architecture of Debate

Tonight marks the second presidential debate in election 2012. Many people are thinking about who will perform and who won't, but how many are talking about the architecture of this week's debate? Sounds a bit strange doesn't it; but believe it or not one can apply the principles of Architecture to just about everything and Debate is no exception. What this statement implies is that there is in fact an organized structure behind every debate (despite whatever performances are turned in by the candidates), and several structures if you really think about it:
  1. The structure of the debate event itself; the rules under which the participants agree to follow (or not as was the case in this year's first presidential debate).
  2. The structure of each participants core positions or arguments.
  3. The structure of the attacks by each participant on the others positions or arguments. 
What Keywords will you catch in tonight's debate?
As we stated in a previous post, Politics are based primarily around information and communication; so it stands to reason that a debate in some sense resembles an information architecture. The determination as to who wins a debate is a fairly subjective exercise; what can be measured perhaps is how "well-architected" their approach (and delivery is). So what does that mean? If we look back at the three main components of Debate Architecture listed above then we might provide some subjective measures based upon:
  • Whether the candidate / participant was able to work effectively within the rules; e.g. were they able to provide arguments and responses within the allotted time-frames or did they constantly run over time. Were they able to get their point across within their own sections or did they feel it necessary to interrupt the opponent/s during theirs?
  • Did the participants' arguments make sense; either in the context of their political ideology, their platform or the precise questions being posed during the debate (and hopefully across all of these contexts).
  • Were the participants able to respond or defuse their opponents' arguments or did the participants simply talk past those - perhaps repeating key phrases or slogans that address the topic generally but not the specific arguments made during that debate.
How did they do last week? It depends on how you measure it...
These are just some of the ways we attempt to assess the outcomes of debates. If we were to take it a step further, perhaps we could even diagram some of this out. For example, we might consider that each argument or political theme has multiple dimensions; for example a political one, an economic one and a personal one.
  • The Political Dimension – This represents how people view their government as well as political values & philosophies.
  • The Economic Dimension – This dimension represents how people view economic policy and philosophy.
  • The Personal Dimension – This dimensions captures the personal expectations of constituents as well as a general sense of what the “individual” represents within a society.
Not every argument or issue will span all three of dimensions but surprisingly most of them do. For example, one might think that a social issue ought to reside primarily in the personal dimension but what if part of the argument addresses government regulation of that social issue and another directly affects national or state budgets?

An Ontology can provide an organizing framework for all information associated with a domain
Arguments can be built using Dimensions at a high level, but what about at the the detail level? That's where having an organized approach to managing a large set of complex and inter-related knowledge comes in very handy. One of the best ways to do that is through use of Ontology (see the illustration above). Who knows whether either candidate will bring their A game tonight - but perhaps the real question is - do they have a game plan?

Copyright 2012, Semantech Inc. All rights Reserved 


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