A framework for enriched, controlled on-line discussion forums for e-government policy-making

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Citation: Adam Wyner, Tom van Engers (2010) A framework for enriched, controlled on-line discussion forums for e-government policy-making. eGov (RSS)

Download: http://wyner.info/research/Papers/WynerVanEngersForum2010.pdf

Tagged: Computer Science (RSS) e-government (RSS), argumentation (RSS), online argumentation (RSS), e-participation (RSS), controlled natural language (RSS), IMPACT Project (RSS)


This paper provides a requirements analysis and vision for improving structure in discussion forums, motivated by a need to both increase e-participation in government consultation and increase the ability to summarize the opinions solicited.

As they point out, in standard web2.0 tools, while discussion is easy, analysis is not: semantic relationships (such as "agreement, disagreement, introduction of a premise or exception, refinement, pronomial anaphora", etc.) must be inferred. The user must specify "whether a statement is a premise, an exception, a conclusion, or a contradiction with respect to some other statement." They would like a system that uses argumentation logic and supports natural language processing (e.g. with a controlled language or ontology).

Limitations of existing systems

  1. Participant must understand (and specify) the relationships between statements
  2. Statements cannot be context-dependent (e.g. where the conclusion of one argument is the premise of another argument)
  3. The architecture is not modular (e.g. to allow an administrator to add different relationships or debate components)
  4. "The linguistic content of the statements is unanalysed and unconstrained; that is, the statements are not parsed, or given a semantic interpretation, or required to be relevant and novel to the current discussion, or constrained in terms of terminology and length"
  5. There is no formally specified argumentation semantics, which would allow determination of sets of consistent statements.


The running example is derived from a BBC Have Your Say discussion ``Should people be paid to recycle?". They have derived the statements as follows:

(1) Every householder should pay tax for the garbage which the householder throws away. 
(2) No householder should pay tax for the garbage which the householder throws away. 
(3) Paying tax for garbage increases recycling. 
(4) Recycling more is good. 
(5) Paying tax for garbage is unfair. 
(6) Every householder should be charged equally. 
(7) Every householder who takes benefits does not recycle. 
(8) Every householder who does not take benefits pays for every householder who does take benefits. 
(9) Professor Resicke says that recycling reduces the need for new garbage dumps. 
(10) A reduction of the need for new garbage dumps is good. 
(11) Professor Resicke is not objective. 
(12) Professor Resicke owns a recycling company. 
(13) A person who owns a recycling company earns money from recycling. 
(14) Supermarkets create garbage. 
(15) Supermarkets should pay tax. 
(16) Supermarkets pass the taxes for the garbage to the consumer.

These are the underlying statements; but they are used differently in the discussion, where, for instance, (1) can be either a statement, or the conclusion of an argument starting with (4). Further, some relationships between statements are left implicit: for instance, that (16) attacks (15).


They assume that the argument is relatively well-structured, with participants willing to take the tradeoffs of certain constraints ("topic, expressivity, explicit marking of statement relationships") for certain benefits ("clarity and reasoning support").


They propose a discussion forum using controlled natural language, backed by an argumentation framework which would resolve the inconsistent statements in the discussion into sets of consistent statements. In addition to using Attempto Controlled English (ACE), they propose that users would specify the relationship between an existing statement and a new statement (e.g. "contradicts, "is premise of", or "is an exception to"), effectively constructing an argument graph. The system would also allow the use of domain-centric ontologies, which they view as creating a knowledge base.

Selected references