New debate format – the experiment continues

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October 26, 2013 by Adam Smith

Drawing board by jitze, flickr

Credit: jitze, flickr

If you came to our first sitting, you’ll probably remember feeling a little like a guinea pig. The whole evening was an experiment in how to debate. The central idea of bringing all sorts of people together and having them argue about a political topic with relevant scientists and researchers in the room worked. But some of the finer details didn’t, so I’ve gone back to the drawing board.

Thanks to everyone who came along and sent in their feedback afterwards, I’ve now refined the format for our next sitting. It’s still a bit of an experiment; it might take another sitting or two before our format settles (or maybe it should always evolve—debate that!).

Our new format is described on our Order of Proceedings page. Please post your thoughts below.

If you’re interested, here’s where our old format didn’t work and how it’ll be different next time:

1. Free-form debate. We had no structure to the discussion, and this meant that we kept coming back to the same issues time and again rather than settling them (or not) and moving on. Next time, we’ll use feelings and questions submitted at the beginning of the sitting to set a structure for the debate, bunching similar topics together. For eg, for our GM debate, these sub-topics would probably have been the environment, land rights, corporate control, economics and regulation.

2. Editing the title motion. In our first sitting, I wrote a title motion to start us off but the parliament was asked to edit this during the debate. The idea was to see whether we could craft a motion that everyone would feel comfortable with. But it didn’t quite work. It’s probably impossible to separate out proposed edits that seek to elicit a certain position from the voter and proposed edits that seek to craft a neutral and fair question. Next time, we’ll vote on three or four motions proposed by members on the night.

3. A big yes/no vote. It’s important that the Rational Parliament climaxes with a democratic moment. The principal of votes for everyone is profound and should be ubiquitous. However, reducing the Rational Parliament to a simple yes/no vote felt awkward at our first sitting, especially when aligned with the problems listed in #2 above. Unlike our real legislature or government, the Rational Parliament has no responsibility to make a final decision on the topics we debate. So next time we’ll build a nuanced picture of how we feel about the topic under discussion using the votes discussed above in #2 and with a ‘spectrum vote’, in which members will be invited to stand physically somewhere on a spectrum of ‘for or against’.

To see whether these changes work, come along to our next sitting on 26 November, when we’re debating shale gas and fracking:
Eventbrite - Debate: Should we extract shale gas by fracking?

Your clerk,


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