How do 70 opinionated people from around the world make up their collective minds?
Easy. They use an opinion spectrometer.
After a day-long brainstorming meeting about human rights issues online and a two-day conference, the Citizen Media Summitt, we’re now spending two more days discussing the future of our collective project. That means passionate, difficult conversations about big issues, like whether Global Voices editors and authors should be permitted to express strong personal opinions in their articles on the site.
We were introduced to the opinion spectrometer by Allen Gunn of Aspiration, though our deployment of the technique may be slightly different. If you’re interested in deploying the technology, we offer the technical description below:
With line segment AB, bisect the opinion plane equidistantly.
(Take a roll of toilet paper and unroll it down the center of the room.)
Designate A as representing the extreme of the opinion spectrum and B as te opposite extreme.
(People who really think GV should pay correspondents on one side of the room, while folks who favor volunteerism on the other side. More neutral positions in the middle of the room.)
Line C bisects segment AB perpendicularly, creating a two-dimensional plane. The C axis operates in terms of inverse absolute value, reflecting intensity of opinion.
(If you feel really strongly that GV should have a physical office, stand real close to the toilet paper. If you don’t care that much or could be swayed easily, stand towards the edge of the room.)
Interrogate points on the plane with regard to their two dimensional position. All other points are free to replot in response to interrogation. Iterate through a subset of the set of points.
(Pass around a microphone so people can explain their views. People will move around in response if their opinions are swayed.)
The resulting graph is a reflection of community opinion… which may reflect polarization, agreement or indifference.
It’s amazing how well this technique works. There’s a tendency in group discussions to attempt to come to a single conclusion. It’s actually way more helpful to know how strong feelings are about an issue, how polarizing that issue is, or whether an issue is truly unsettled for most speakers. It requires good moderation to make sure no one dominates the debate… but in a high-functioning community, people who find themselves at an extreme of the graph get visual feedback that they’re in a minority… and real-time feedback on whether an argument is persuasive.
A good method for running a meeting? The Global Voices folks are tightly clustered on the affirmative end of the toilet paper.