Sun 2 Sep 2012

Concurrent Proposals

Richard D. Bartlett Public Seen by 110

Richard D. Bartlett Sun 2 Sep 2012

More feedback in the inbox, this one from Florian:

"I don't know what your immediate plans are, feature-wise, but
personally, what I am really missing is a type of proposal, where the user has the choice between multiple options, and not just essentially yes and no. (think: 'what color should our background be: red, green, yellow, blue')."

I know this has come up a few times lately. I have some opinions of my own on the danger of implementing this feature, but I'd be interested to hear what the crowd thinks before I go on a "polling is bad" rant :)


Joshua Vial Mon 3 Sep 2012

an essential next step in my opinion


Richard D. Bartlett Mon 3 Sep 2012

Basically I'm concerned that implementing this feature poorly will do serious damage to both the UX and the underlying philosophy of Loomio: i.e., as far as I'm concerned it is a tool for building shared understanding by collecting diverse perspectives into a cohesive outcome. Concurrent proposals (i.e. polls) can undermine that philosophy by degenerating into a combative 'majority-rules' approach.

Then you also have the problem of the UX: how do you prevent discussion from getting bifurcated? how you prevent the first proposal from getting more attention than all the others?

This seems like the perfect time to do a research check of what other platforms are doing with this e.g. discuss2decide (hint, it sucks). Perhaps @Varun will be able to weigh in.

I do agree that this feature is likely to be implemented in the future, I'm just cautious as it raises a bunch of red flags for me.

Talking to Jon about this, one suggested solution we were playing with is that there is only ever one Proposal that is in voting stage, but you can have any number of other pre-proposals on the table at the same time (I'm going to call them Options for the purposes of this discussion). An Option would be a brief description of a suggested course of action, a small block of text in the right hand panel, not open to voting per se and not time-limited. It would have some kind of "+1" feature for users to say "this is my preferred Option, it should be the Proposal we are deliberating".

Perhaps if someone wants to put a No or Block on a Proposal, they would be prompted to suggest an alternative course of action, which would become another Option.

Mmm this is a hard one eh. Keen to hear lots of input and paper-prototype some ideas before we go anywhere near the code on this feature.


Alanna Irving Mon 3 Sep 2012

I agree with Rich - we need to do this right if we do it at all. Otherwise, Loomio will degenerate into a polling app. We have to figure out a way to do this in a way that encourages consensus not competition, and that's going to take some real work. Personally, I feel like doing proposals consecutively is better for now. Right now, you can simple make a comment with different options laid out, and see what the group says, then raise a proposal for the one that seems best. What's wrong with that?


Paul Smith Mon 3 Sep 2012

I really think branching is the best way to achieve the outcome and still keep within the central philosophy.

Then a proposal can be branched off into sub proposals so in the example of "what colour should our background be"? You can first branch into "Do we need to change background colour" and branch the proposal into the 4 seperate option branches.

That way you're getting consensus on the premise "we need a colour" before moving onto deciding which colour which might be as simple as picking the one that most people agree on (maybe with no strong objections?).

It seems a bit over the top for this example but there was an actual discussion where this solution came up and it seems like a really solid approach.


Joshua Vial Mon 3 Sep 2012

agree with the points about doing this right and I definitely don't think we should just jump in and make polls. Instead I would suggest we model the process we use in physical facilitation + the preferential voting algorithm used in politics.

Put forward the question and request ideas in a discovery phase
Give everyone x votes that they can give to the ideas they like the most
Make a short list
Preferential voting (ie everyone makes an ordered list of the options and we use those lists to choose the outcome)

I think the algorithm for preferential voting is something like
Add up the 1st preferences of all votes
- choose the option with the least votes
- look for the next preference for all the people who voted for that option and redistribute those votes amongst the surviving candidates
rinse and repeat until a single option has the % of votes required to pass (50,75 etc.)

If we sat down for a couple of hours I think it would be pretty easy to come up with a process that worked the way we wanted it to - would be happy to facilitate a session if people want.


Billy Mon 3 Sep 2012

This is a messy question.

I agree that polls are an inelegant form for proposals to take.

One of the things in my notes so far was "is there a way to modify proposals and put them forward in the context of the debate?" In terms of collaboration that seems relevant to the process, but tricky to implement.

Or maybe there just needs to be an additional option: Yes, No, Abstain, Block, and Modify, where Modify indicates unhappiness with the current formulation of the proposal. If enough people indicate Modify then the proposal needs to go back for more discussion.

I like the branching idea, but in practice it requires massive clarity of language and conception in users, and could make the process quite painstaking.

Some kinds of decisions and proposals are of different kinds. Some are simple, some are hard and complex. Simple ones can generate simple proposals. Hard ones will be trickier to generate and word proposals for. (Using Loomio to debate hard questions will be an interesting proving ground for the software.)

For hard proposals I think the key will be introducing a stage after discussion to identify proposals - sort of like what Joshua put forward, which sounds like it would involve an additional or different process from the usual discussion > proposal process, which would be unnecessary in simple proposals.

Ideally it would be integrated into the software. e.g. adding a flag that defines it as a hard proposal and adds a step of getting consensus over the proposal and its wording. This could take the form of a poll over what is the proposal to be put forward.

(Here too we just generally run into the limitations of online discussion and keeping it neat and tidy. Already in this comment I am replying to several people and ideas and raising new ones.)


Alanna Irving Tue 4 Sep 2012

If a user thinks a proposal is not as good as it could be, and wants to agree to modified version instead, we already have the functionality for that - say no or block the current proposal, and when it closes, open a new one with modifications.

We already have the features to guide a group through navigating multiple ideas. It just comes down to good facilitation. We don't need to make a bunch of complex features, we need to help the tool organically teach groups how to effectively self-facilitate.


Billy Tue 4 Sep 2012

I agree the tool needs to organically teach groups how to self-facilitate, but how does the software facilitate that, vs having trained facilitators and competent communicators using the tool to communicate? I don't currently see anything inherent in the software that implements the description "Clear proposals emerge from the discussion".


vivien maidaborn Tue 4 Sep 2012

Great conversation, I would like to have a play session on this, actually approach some comex issues with multiple options and track the 'hard' process then see how we can convert it to soft . We might come out thinking it is a facilitation issue, or we might see a way to add features, either way we will learn valuable stuff. I would be up for organizing the session if others wanted it.


Danyl Strype Tue 4 Sep 2012

I have said quite a bit on this in other threads. I still strongly support the idea of re-ordering 'positions' so that a 'block' is at the top, by the pie chart, followed by 'no', 'abstain', then 'yes'. This highlights the aspects that need further discussion to reach full consensus. Also, if you're going to have a 'block', it should turn the whole pie chart red, right?

I have definitely had experiences in Loomio where the decision proposal on the table falls progressively behind where the discussion is going. @Alanna is right that you can hack around that by closing the 'current proposal', and putting up a reworded one as a new 'current proposal'. As a UX it's kinda jerky though, like being the passenger of a learner drive who isn't confident with changing gears ;)

I agree that we don't want people to agree to one proposal, and then find its majorly changed by the time it closes. I also agree we don't want it to turn into a poll, or a confusing UI. What about having different levels of proposal? This model builds on the idea suggested by @Richard and @Jon of concurrent 'options' which can be edited but not 'voted' on.

I would call the more flexible level 'suggestions', which can then be promoted to 'decisions' once they have been crafted a bit in response to discussion. Users can indicate a position on a 'suggestion', but any group member can also edit a 'suggestion'. Editing resets any positions taken by group members to '?', but it leaves their last position comment to be read, at least until they position again. This could also allow 'proposals' to be demoted to 'suggestions' if they are made a bit hastily, rather than being "closed".

I have also had experiences where a very general discussion topic organically produces a number of more specific discussions, which really need a proposal each. You can hack around this by dealing with multiple proposals one-by-one. But this forces users to be consider them in series, when their outcomes might be interconnected.

An example in the TBANZ group is one thread in which the 'seed' comment proposes a bunch of potential agenda items, each of which really needs its own discussion/decision thread. I really think the solution to this is allowing discussions to be "forked" so a set of more specific discussions/ decisions can be nested under the general discussion - represented by being tabbed in under the parent discussion on the main page.

One more idea. The current UI has a discussion thread whose small box encourages brief comments (not essays or rants). This is good. It also has a tool for a brief, to-the-point summary of a proposed consensus. This is good too, although I'm not convinced that "Current proposal" is the right wording. Maybe "Emerging Consensus" or "Current Offer" or even "Current Decision"?

Anyway, there are times when essays and rants might really help a group to drill deep into a tricky subject. Sure we can use a blog, or Google Docs or whatever, but I think it would be good to have an integrated space for this on Loomio itself, which can be easily referenced from the main UI. This novel of a comment would be an example of something which belongs in a 'rantspace', and would have been much easier to write and edit in a bigger text box ;)


Alanna Irving Tue 4 Sep 2012

I think the "options/suggestions" idea could be handled very well by the context panel. As the discussion progresses, the current options or the working best idea could be put in the context panel, so it will have made more progress and be clearer by the time it reaches proposal time. Once the context panel is in place, I think we should try using it this way and see how it goes, before considering adding more features.

Forking/branching discussions is a very interesting and important topic, but one that will take a lot of thinking and testing to get right.


Matthew Bartlett Wed 5 Sep 2012

Live chat could be helpful here. People could test out ideas on other group members without cluttering up the written-down discussion.

Earlier discussed slightly here: https://www.yammer.com/loomio/#/Threads/show?threadId=191119537


Billy Wed 5 Sep 2012

Is there a tagging/metadata function for discussions? Just re: Strypey's comments, as there are many threads to read through which could conceivably have his other comments in them. And I imagine many groups would like an easy way to refer to previous discussions within discussions...

Likewise, is there a spec or definition of the context panel somewhere?


Jon Lemmon Wed 5 Sep 2012

I'm totally stoked with all the great brainstorming going on in here. I think the group is starting to collectively grasp a solid process/potential-solution to this problem.

I agree with Alanna that we should wait until the context panel arrives before making any decisions on this (for those who don't know, the "context panel" is basically just going to be a discussion wiki/description that people involved in the discussion can edit). Discussion wikis are actually just a couple days away from being implemented, and I think that the emergent processes that come out of using them will inform a lot of our thinking around all of this. Using the discussion wikis will help us to observe the processes involved in online brainstorming. We will learn a lot about how to effectively collect into one location all of the unique ideas coming out of a discussion.

But yeah, I just want to say that I'm really excited about all of the suggestions brought up here. I think that implementing the particular process that we are all referring to is really going to take Loomio to the next level. If you imagine a discussion has the following phases:

  1. brainstorming and generating ideas
  2. narrowing down to just a few ideas
  3. collectively agreeing upon a single idea

... you can see that currently Loomio only really focuses on the last part of that process. This was by design (we wanted to start small and #3 was our biggest need when we first built Loomio). But now we've got the opportunity and experience to really hone in on the earlier parts of that process. And personally, I can't wait to see what happens once we do that. I think that's where we will really start tapping into the goldmine of collective wisdom.


Benjamin Knight Sat 8 Sep 2012

Really glad to see so much agreement with the idea that simple polling isn't the way to go!

I've been thinking a bit about a sort of 'temperature check' function to gauge how the group feels about multiple options under consideration - i.e. the options are laid out, and people can move a slider on each (from red to green maybe?) to give a rough indication of how they feel about each one - I'm thinking each person's temperature rating would influence the aggregate group rating for each option, and give the facilitator (or whoever) a good idea of which option the group is happiest to turn into a proposal.

In many ways the functionality is similar to polling, but the cultural context around it is totally different - giving an informal indication rather than a binding majority-rules poll. This would nicely mirror the informal temperature check often used in real-life facilitation (sparkle fingers!).

This would be a fair bit of coding work, but seems like a task that could be neatly bundled and passed to a keen volunteer.



Richard D. Bartlett Sat 8 Sep 2012

I need to see some mockups to make sense of this conversation ...after Oct1 :P


Aaron Thornton Mon 10 Sep 2012

I would love to mock up some of these ideas. I think some of these ideas could add hugely to the usability and go along way to solve the issues of editing proposals, polling and facilitating the creation of good proposals. Maybe after the storm around pre-release.


Danyl Strype Tue 11 Sep 2012

I like the idea of implementing jazz hands in Loomio! :P

Maybe your temp guage could be a replacement for the infernal 'Like' button?


Paul Smith Wed 12 Sep 2012

Once we've got a context panel and tags it might be simple to gauge the feeling of the group just by filtering on some common tags over time and putting the result in the context panel.

I feel like for each group there's going to be a custom way they want to gauge feeling, and sometimes if the feeling consensus of a group is all "red" that discussion might be more productive in reaching a solid outcome than an all "green" discussion.

Whereas if we leave it open and gauge based on custom tags (maybe with some preset ones) it's completely up to the group to show what they're feeling at any given time or about anyone's comment in a discussion.

Eg/ I could tag the discussion at this point as being #productive in the context panel and tag Strypey's comment as #jazzhands rather than having to hit like or useful or drag a mood slider.

Back to the original topic we could tag a new idea we want to discuss as #option-polls or #option-branch then filter based on those to boil down a discussion to any given point or points.

It might be complicated to explain UX wise, but the advantage is it's leveraging features we've already been talking about and it's flexible enough to work in most group dynamics.


Richard D. Bartlett Wed 12 Sep 2012

Totally agree that tags could deliver pretty close to 100% of the functionality we're after Paul. Main challenge is communicating this to new users. Want to run a poll? Easy, just tag your comment as a #poll-option.

I would love to do it this way but the UX and comms around it is a bit of a thorny one eh.


Varun Adibhatla Wed 12 Sep 2012

On the research aspect - I am in the process of categorizing all similar groupware tools in terms of common features and identify faeture-areas where discussion could really benefit from a sort of "killer feature" - something that really enables self expression without undermining the entire discussion and keeping the UI minimalistic [easier said than done I know!]. I really think this space is the perfect opportunity to innovate with Loomio. Im yet to go through the entirety of this discussion but I will say that gingerhq.com has some of that functionality already built in.

Also I must say, I almost missed this discussion entirely. So feature request - Rich mentioned me in this discussion 9 days back and for me this adds priority in terms of responding to this thread earlier. I would like to add to the notifications when (a member of a group) is "mentioned" in the discussion.


Alanna Irving Wed 12 Sep 2012

@mentions are coming soon Varun!