Friday, 10 June 2016

General Discussion 001

Initial thoughts on anything from overall vision to suggestions for this site. New discussion threads to be generated as required to deal with topics arising. The conversation which gave rise to this forum is here. Anyone who hasn't read this thread should probably do so to get an idea of the the aims of the project. Examples of useful comments: how you view the scope and potential of the project, any areas you're particularly interested in, priorities, possible pitfalls, 'branding', recruitment, organisational structure, possible liason with the Labour Party, Leader's Office and Momentum, security, technical matters concerning IT and system design. Some of the issues mentioned so far, or which seem worth thinking about:
  1. An intranet or similar system to improve communication between Momentum branches
  2. A collaborative research and rapid rebuttal capability
  3. Generating reference materials for public information and use in campaigning (especially online campaigning)
  4. Creating small-scale, high-impact think tanks to provide a voice for left Labour views in public discourse, especially among the media
  5. General co-ordination and encouragement of activists on social media and elsewhere; encouraging supporters to be pro-active, for example seeking out and politely intervening in online discussions or (on a purely individual basis) contributing to Wikipedia
  6. Creating a directory of activists willing to offer their skills, interests, time, other resources, so that these can be matched with corresponding requirements
  7. Generating and propagating 'best practice' in making our case - this covers everything from a readily-searchable data base of well-researched facts and figures up to detailed recommendations for a 'party line' on specific issues
  8. Developing an organised route whereby individual anecdotes attested by Labour members can be 'harvested' and used for rhetorical purposes and possibly supplied as 'human interest' stories to the press

40 comments:

stevemanc1 said...

momentumunofficial.freeforums.net

stevemanc1 said...

Hello there Tim. I work on the embryonic

momentumunofficial.freeforums.net

forum specifically designed to enable generate community and communications between momentum attendees/ participants / members.

Currently communications are awful.

Glad to see you are trying something similar.

Steven

Tim Wilkinson said...

Great, thanks for making contact. We may be able to pool resources/ join forces/ otherwise collaborate at some point...

stevemanc1 said...

I've a very disciplined semantic and priority based methodology i want to build on momentumunofficial and wish to focus on that. I hope yours works well and will help in any way i can.

stevemanc1 said...

Please take a look at the entries so far on my site to get an idea of what i am trying to build.

David Pavett said...

I welcome this initiative. I have been thinking about something along these lines for some time so it is good to see Tim's initiative. I think that we should spend a little time considering different formats for debate. The trouble with blogs is their rather linear form leading to a jumble of different threads coming from one debate. Bulleting boards overcome this partially with nested threads. The Loomio platform offers a far more sophisticated solution and should be considered. A website which acts as a repository for substantial contributions is almost certainly required. Then we need to talk about how debate can be organised. Left Futures for example has many qualities but the appearance of materials on different issues is virtually random. Can we set debating themes and try to tackle issues collectively? Should be try to produce an on-line magazine? How should debate be moderated? What place, if any, should be given to theoretical issues along with practical ones? if at all? There is a lot to discuss and it is great that Time has opened such a discussion here?

Interesting to see from Stevemanc1 that there is an effort from within Momentum to get some political debate going because the absence of such debate has so far been a very notable feature of the organisation. I am going to look at what he is doing right now.

Almost certainly, as Tim suggest, we will need to pool resources arising from different attempts to get some serious political debate going on the left.

Chris MacMackin said...

I'm glad to see that David mentioned the Loomio platform, as it is something which I have come across and found interesting as well.

Here are some thoughts I had on a possible structure for a policy discussion system.

- Position papers put forward by experts, think tanks, groups of people directly involved with the issue etc.

- A discussion thread attached to each such paper. The purpose of these would be to provide material for a coherent Response, described below.

- A "response" edited in a Wikipedia-like fashion, expressing general reactions to the position paper. The comments could be used as a means to get material for and to discuss issues with the response.

- Perhaps some sort of meta-response page for each theme (education, strategy, theory, health, etc.) which would reflect people's overall feelings about policy on that theme. This would be drawn from individual response pages on the theme.

I feel as though something like a wiki structure might work best for this. From a technical standpoint, I'm not 100% certain how you'd go about coupling position papers to responses, but I'm sure it's possible.

It might also be useful to have another type of page which consists of hard background data. This would not be generally editable and only open to discussion if someone believes one of the facts to be wrong. Of course, it is often very difficult to pin down exactly what is true and get everyone to accept that, so I don't know whether this would work or not.

We would need to consider how position papers would be commissioned under such a system. Perhaps have an open submission process (with some basic quality control) but also have some sort of administrative council which could seek out position papers on specific topics?

Chris MacMackin said...

Oh one other thing which I forgot. People contributing to the response papers would need to be members of this site. Perhaps to register they would need to prove membership of Momentum, or something. Momentum's database would have to give everyone a unique identifier. If they could find that out and enter it in when registering, along with the email or postcode they used with Momentum, then their membership could be verified. This would likely require coordination with Momentum in order to happen, unfortunately, and god knows whether we'd be able to get them to actually respond. In any case, members of the site would also have profiles indicating interests, skills, potentially their branch, etc., which would make up a searchable database. We could allow members to option not to show up in the publicly searchable database and/or not to use their real name if they want to protect their privacy.

Tim Wilkinson said...

Yes this is very much a temporary quick fix for getting initial discussion, brainstorming, sanity testing etc started, rather than colonising Left Futures threads for the purpose.

Since our discussions & indeed thoughts are bound to be somewhat rambling, patchy and disorganised to begin with, there's no platform (yet) that can turn them into an elegant, systematic discourse!

I'm happy to act as a facilitator/summariser and subject to an unexpected explosion in volume of comments can commit to getting things up to date at least every two days or so - not trying to turn this into a personal feifdom, but I'm willing to do it & can easily be challenged if anyone thinks I'm doing anything wrong.

Having one person with responsibility for 'curating' the discussions seems a sensible way - for the moment - to avoid total chaos.

One model that occurs to me is that we iterate versions of topic threads (as distinct from this thread which is a free-for-all). I (or whoever) can periodically try to incorporate all the comments - including consensus, controversy and open questions - into a new numbered version of the thread - rather as minutes and agenda from one meeting feed into the next. Or indeed, for those who like that kind of thing, like the Hegelian thesis-antithesis - systhesis model writ small. Sopmething like this seems the best way, at this stage, of making progress and gradually refining a shared position. (Of course we need to move beyond online 'meetings' pretty quickly).

Any thoughts on this in particular would be helpful.

Anyway, I happily grant that some Blogger site certainly isn't the kind of thing we would want to base any of our operational systems on, once we (again: rapidly, I hope) move beyond discussion and onto action!

But I am very conscious that we have to find a balance between quick and dirty solutions in the interest of getting things moving, and more considered and future-proof design for key operational systems. This site is very much the former; stevemanc1's it appears the latter. It was, btw, primarily in the area of ensuring future interoperability that I was thinking (and still do think) some collaboration/ communication between our projects could be useful now.

But if anyone with expertise wants to take a look & subject to its being basically sound & useful, discuss this with stevemanc1 & reassure him we're not going to sideline him or mess up his methodology, it does seem sensible that we should join forces if possible, to avoid duplication of systems and to increase the chances of our achieving the critical mass required to win recognition from Momentum/Labour.

---------------

Re: issues and questions raised by David, I'll have to think about how best to categorise them, and will incorporate them (+ possibly some ideas from my owen existing backlog of proposals & discussion topics, + any further comments here) into one or more new top-level posts in the next few days, if that's OK

---------------

I agree with Chris that security - and some interaction with Labour and/or Momentum - is certainly going to be important. I'll put up the thread on that shortly, unless anyone lets me know that they would rather replace this set-up immediately, migrate comments etc.

In particular, we need to avoid the possibility of unreliable elements getting stroppy and taking over control, shutting everyone else out, as I think recently happened in Red Labour and some Momentum FB pages. Frankly, I suspect the small group we have going here (and perhaps in general the kind of person likely to be willing to contribute to a relatively unglamorous backroom-ish operation like this) is sufficiently level-headed, intelligent and focussed on the larger goal for that not to be an issue in the short term, but it obviously needs to be addressed.

Tim Wilkinson said...

---------------

Agree too that the Wiki format is going to be very useful if we are to set up collaborative systems. Also agree that the issue of security will be especially important - I'll leave further comment on these topics for dedicated threads. (Except to leave a note to self that an answer to such issues evaluating 'hardness' of facts as mentionedf by Chris may involve some kind of scoring system, both of contributors/scorers themselves and contributions/sources...)

Maybe a general 'collaborative working methods' thread? Not sure this has sufficient focus but any thoughts welcome, as ever. If no-one had any particular preference, I'll use my judgement and probably use Chris's comment above as the main post or bais thereof.

One thing I'd mention is that we want to use the most generic, uncomplicated, interoperable and cross-platform systems consistent with our requirements, and decisions taken at eth early stages must reflect this. I defer to those who know more about this as I'm very much located at the conceptual/analytic end of IT, having drifted into relational database design from a philosophy ('analytic' variety) degree.

-------

Which reminds me - while we are a cadre (battle-hardened keyboard warriors one and all) and not a social club, it might nonetheless be an idea to have a thread where we can briefly introduce ourselves.

I don't know, not really bothered about that kind of thing except where the information is practically useful, but from a people-management perspective (esp. for new arrivals), and perhaps as a basic quasi-vetting process it might be useful I suppose.

I won't bother unless others think we should. Seems sensible to avoid cluttering the place with unnecessary threads, especially ones which may act as an invitation for waffle-mongers to hold forth. They (the threads) will proliferate rapidly enough as it is.

---------------

Another random note, primarily to self - I'd particularly like to see a manageably concise yet definitive history of UK politics since say 1970, with all the funny business left in - 'history uncut'. It's not impossible that actual credentialled historians might be tempted to participate in such a process in some way. While what's sometimes called 'parapolitics' is a bit of a career-killer as a specialism (except in bowdlerised form, or to an extent & primarily with a FP focus, in wierdo esoteric fora such as Chatham House), historians might be willing to enter into a - perhaps adversarial but still useful - discussion of such topics on an extra-mural basis. (Further note - get in touch with the execellent John Simpkin on this.)

Chris MacMackin said...

Leo Panitch is another person who would be able to make a good contribution to British left political history. He was a student of Ralph Miliband in the 70s and a friend of Tony Benn. He's written and talked about this sort of stuff before. Whether he'd be willing to write such a thing, I have no idea.

Chris MacMackin said...

The unofficial Momentum forum may well be useful, but doesn't really have the structure of the kind of thing we're discussing here, which is more wiki-like.

On the technical front, I should say right now that I have almost no experience with web development. I've built some websites with HTML and CSS before, but haven't worked with the sort of sophisticated web frameworks a wiki uses. I was doing some reading on the Django framework today and it looks fairly easy to use, but any system with any degree of sophistication would still take time to develop. It does come with some prebuilt apps though, which might make thins easier.

My default inclination for something like this is to try to use multiple very small and simple tools which are extensible or can interact. However, I don't think that will work in this case, unfortunately. Perhaps if I knew JavaScript better then I'd be able to do it, but I really don't want to have to learn a whole new language.

Anyway, just some rather fragmented thoughts on this issues.

stevemanc1 said...

"The trouble with blogs is their rather linear form leading to a jumble of different threads coming from one debate."

Absolutely.

My board aims to build

1) Full nesting
2) FUll prioritisation
3) FUll disambiguation

and several other features into it.

Could be a while befor eim done. But its where we are heading.

stevemanc1 said...

Please define the functional components of what you mean by "wikilike".

Thanks.

Chris MacMackin said...

A wiki is defined by collaborative editing. While a message board such as yours is a vital piece of infrastructure, it does not offer this feature, at least not as far as I know. By the looks of it, I take it you're using the BBForum software?

Unknown said...

I was one of the thousands of people who used Facebook to help get Jeremy Corbyn elected. It's a very powerful tool when used effectively. It's also very easy to use, and easily accessible. I feel it'd be far easier to use than a separate web site.

unknown said...

... strange suggestion to use Facebook.
Looking at the EU ref 'debate' in the mainstream media and it mirrors the fix Labour Party activists are in - unable to engage in meaningful policy debates. Of course, FB is (because of dominance) the platform of choice for instant low-level communications, but only between people who comment, not all. But using FB for developing communications tools or developing thinking about policy ...
Hopefully, at some stage, we can have a conversation about how cultural-neoliberalism (readily observable in FB) is the root of the fix we're in.

John Walsh (assuming that the Google id I'm using can't provide name data)

unknown said...

Can I suggest some ideas for getting going ...

1. Loomio - DP mentioned this above. I've not used it but just from looking at the website and the video below, it could be a starting point. It doesn't look like a place for complex policy discussion (but may be it is?) but we could get some multiple threads up and running and see what we want to do.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZipyebSY2Lo

2. I could host a 'community forum' (such as Vanilla Forums, phpBB and other free stuff) - I have access to a local Momentum group web hosting package, so this could happen straight away. (http://www.momentumrushcliffe.org.uk/ - nothing there at the moment - the hosting package has been paid for but nothing is happening with it yet)

3. I'm completely flexible with whatever people want to do. Just think it would be good to start with to have what Tim calls above 'topic threads' (as Tim suggests, one could be introducing ourselves). Loomio would just need someone to sign up to it ... any takers?


John Walsh (john.walsh at designforpurpose.co.uk)

unknown said...

One other thought - once we're a little clearer about what we want to do, there is an untapped pool of like-minded members in my constituency. It's a leafy part of Nottingham (Ken Clarke will notch up 50 years as our MP in 2020) with lots of new members (over 600) many of whom have, for example, University-gained professional skills they are willing to apply (that's my back-story too). We got things going last winter but have since been trampled on and ousted (temporarily - the most active 10 have been suspended on trumped up charges) by the Bitterites). The point being that others will quite likely want to join in once we get going. (Please don't worry about the suspensions - we're all honest, law-abiding citizens who simply want to pursue socialist change.)

stevemanc1 said...

What matters is that we catalogue and prioritise the functionality we wish to see and then slowly build it.

My forum offers a board to discuss that,

"Momentumunofficial board technology developments
Catalogue and prioritisation thread."

here:-

http://momentumunofficial.freeforums.net/thread/53/catalogue-prioritisation-thread

Ive included collabrative editing in the thread.

stevemanc1 said...

Ten suspended? Yuk. How does one fight that? Take them to court, i guess?

Steven

stevemanc1 said...

Well

1) take the NEC by voting for the CLPD slate,
2) introduce a formal compliance method that prevents people being suspended on flimsy grounds.
3) Control BLPs
4) Control CLPs
5) deselect MPs who support austerity and oppose social justice.
6) Win the election

We have 4 years.

stevemanc1 said...

I think the NEC is the most important element cos they control compliance. Compliance should provide due process even before suspension.

Chris MacMackin said...

Agreed, we already have a BBForum so no need to make another one. I'm not very familiar with the software (from an administrative side, at any rate) so I don't know how far it can be leveraged for our goals. I should say right now that I don't know any PHP so I won't be able to offer any assistance with managing it or extending its capabilities. To be honest, I'm not a huge fan of the BBForum platform, as it strikes me as rather heavy and inflexible.

Chris MacMackin said...

That said, if the consensus is that it's what we should use then I will, of course, go along and offer to help however I can.

Chris MacMackin said...

Loomio is a very cool project and I think it could be very useful for us deciding how to move forwards. I'm not sure how well it would scale, though. It looks great for groups of up to a few dozen, but beyond that I'd think it could easily become unmanageable. It could be a very useful tool for collaboration in groups drafting policy resolutions and the like, though.

stevemanc1 said...

Ive been assured theres huge customisability, plugin dev capability and programmability at momentum.freeforums.net

I looked into it a while back.

Naturally if we hit a brick wall with something we decide is vital, well move to another platform.

stevemanc1 said...

Further, if someone finds a forum with superior programmability, or manages to demonstrate a functionality somwhere else wed like, then a prototype tech on freeforums would be tested and then implemented on momentumunofficial.

The key thing is that we make it a visibly brilliant discussion platform and end these debates that endlessly repeat and go round in circles.

A semantic, unambiguous organisational mechanism to help people see where things they think are already discussed.

And where to go to find the people entirely in agreement with them.

unknown said...

.. I wish it were that straightforward. The CLPD (CLGA really) slate is for just 6 of the over 30 members of the NEC. The General Secretary has day-to-day powers (and he's definitely not a Corbyn man and is very comfortable working with the Head of the Constitutional Unit). We spoke with Dianne Abbott at the CPD AGM - her immediate response was that we have to understand that Jeremy does not control the Party. She is right to say so. Further, as many members have found, the Rule Book means nothing where suspensions are concerned.

Anyway, that's all negative and what we're trying to do here is a positive that is worth focusing on
...

JW

David Pavett said...

The Loomio people say, I think, that there platform is suitable for debate between up to around 1000 people. If we had 20% of that of serious-minded people wanting to provide analyses and policies to support Labour's potential turn to the left (it hasn't changed much yet) then that would be an impressive achievement. Even if we started with just 20 or so if we produced good stuff that would soon attract others. But that's the thin, we have to produce good stuff. Also we have to be tough in excluding all forms of sectarianism and work in a friendly way even when we strongly disagree (and we will).

Chris MacMackin said...

True, for some time we will have a number of contributors that is manageably on Loomio. When they say 1000, does that mean suitable from a technical perspective (it can support that many users without its performance degrading) or from a practical perspective? I find it difficult to believe that a debate between 1000 people would be doable.

Chris MacMackin said...

Something which I've been thinking about, which will be an issue regardless of the platform(s) we use, is how to hold the administrators/moderators to account. This isn't an immediate issue but it could become one down the road, so I think it is good to try to address this from thee start. We want to ensure that admins aren't in some way giving preference to those they agree with and also that admins aren't in some way directing the discussions.

There are various suggestions I can make to ensure that users' views are represented. This can include electing moderators and having the chief authority be a council selected by sortition. It would be good to have mechanisms in place in the software which allow for changes to these roles, including recall, to happen automatically.

Another issue is that of the sysadmin-type roles. These are by there nature technical and are thus not something that just anyone can do. This is a role which probably would not be suitable for election. However, it is also the single most powerful position, as the sysadmin can reprogram the entire system if they want. As I see it, the best way to handle something like this would be to keep the configurations and source files open source such that, if the sysadmin were to go rogue, someone else could immediately copy the website and start it up where it left off.

Chris MacMackin said...

Incidentally, I took a look at Loomio and created a group for us there, in case anyone wants to try it out. You can access it at https://www.loomio.org/invitations/9d29d860dbed6a843a85

If anyone wants to open a topic there, feel free.

stevemanc1 said...

Thanks.

I'd happily see a modification or, alternatively, move the entire community to a collaborative editing platform.

I assume Loomio has that?

I dont know which software the current forum uses, I've not gone into the development that far yet.

I'm still in the development and discussion stage and given current demands on my time, i suspect ill remain there for a few weeks at least.

stevemanc1 said...

Congratulations on being one of the heroes who got Corbyn elected. I dislike facebook. but would love to understand what you mean by "used effectively".

Join us over at the loomio group and or the momentumunofficial.freeforums.net boards.

I also have a fringe meeting at the Manchester Jeremy Corbyn appearance this coming saturday 18th June in central Manchester at 12:30pm, after the Corbyn rally at 10:30pm.

Please feel free to visit.

stevemanc1 said...

The most positive people doing work today are surgeons. They make lives unimaginably better for the people they work on.

They do this by focussing relentlessly on NEGaTVE PROBLEMS which need to be resolved.

FOCUSSING on resolving NEGATIVE problems is a POSITIVE thing.

And if the General secretary is not a corbyn man, then the question becomes: "how is the general secretary chosen?, and when?"

How can a person imagine that leaving huge problems in the Labour party permits a democratisation revolution?

The General Secretary should and must be accountable to memebrs. The question is: how?

With 6 corbynite CLP members, and many corbynite NEC trade union members, the figures quickly mean the NEC will be a corbynite body, so focussing on this upcoming NEC election becomes even more critical.

I want to know how the General secretary is chosen , please. is he elected by the NEC?

Chris MacMackin said...

I don't know that Loomio does have that. This is part of the reason why I'm not sure it will be our ultimate solution.

The reason I have expressed scepticism about the forum software is that's all it is. You can build extra features into it but it is essentially a piece of software to run a forum. While I think a forum is useful, I'm not sure it should be the only thing we're using. Given that, my preference is to use a more neutral platform which allows us to integrate existing pieces of software to provide a forum, a wiki, mailing lists, etc. and would allow us to design our own tools from scratch if need be. This is primarily a reflection of how I've learned to program and it may well be that this approach would involve too much reinventing the wheel. The other potential issue I have with phpBB is that PHP, as a platform, seems to be gradually making its way out. Mind you, I'm not a web developer, so I'm willing to be corrected on that impression. I feel like we'd be able to make our system more future-proof by using a platform based on Python or Ruby (although I only know the former, so that would be my preference).

David Pavett said...

Not sure what the Loomia answers to your questions are. It's just a point I remember reading somewhere in their material.

Is a debate between 1000 people, or even 100 come to that, doable? My guess is that it is but that it would need a level of careful planning, presentation and coordination (some form of on line chairing) well beyond anything we have yet seen. It would probably take a fair amount of experimentation to get there.

What I am sure of is that it will only work if each debate is around and initial high quality document or documents. Everyone chipping in their little bit can never be a substitute for the hard research work of putting a coherent case together which others can then extend, criticise and modify.

David Pavett said...

I share your dislike of facebook. I do not see it as a medium for in depth debate

David Pavett said...

At this stage I think the problem is to design a structure for online debate which is able to help us to produce good quality policy materials and good quality political education materials (God knows the Labour Party needs them!). That needs to be worked first. Implementation, including platforms and programming should after that when we have a clearvidea what we would like to achieve and how, in general terms, would like to achieve it. We need a paper or two on this to take this discussion to the next stage.