Providing argument support for e-participation

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Citation: Ann Macintosh, Thomas F. Gordon, Alastair Renton (2009) Providing argument support for e-participation. Journal of Information Technology & Politics (RSS)

Tagged: Computer Science (RSS) argumentation (RSS), e-participation (RSS), deliberation (RSS), persuasion (RSS)


This paper discusses argumentation in the context of political e-participation, for consultation and especially deliberation. Written by cross-disciplinary team of scholars (argumentation and e-participation), it will be especially useful for getting an overview of the part of the area one doesn't know.

They assert that deliberation in current e-participation projects is insufficient, because the groupware systems used do not provide specific argumentation support. They refer to Bex et al's characterisation of argumentation support tools (citing Towards a formal account of reasoning with evidence: Argumentation schemes and generalizations) into reasoning tools using domain-specific knowledge and sense-making tools for structuring and visualizing a problem.

The article covers

  1. Theory of argumentation
  2. Formal, computational models of argumentation
  3. How e-participation can benefit from argumentation systems
  4. Constraints and limitations of argumentation systems for e-participation

Theory of Argumentation

  • Defeasible reasoning as what is acceptable, not what is true. Conclusions are plausible but may be revised and defeated by further counter-arguments or by finding premises that don't hold.
  • Argument classification, especially into schemes, and indicating the critical questions
  • Validity of arguments: "An argument is 'valid' if and only if it furthers the goals of the dialogue in which it is put forward". Once a topic has been removed from discussion, for instance, arguments about it are no longer valid: they do not advance the discussion"
  • Dialogue types. Dialogues can be classified based on the purpose or goal, participants' roles, the speech acts available, ending conditions, a process model, and a protocol. See Fundamentals of critical argumentation, p183.
  • For e-participation two types are particularly useful:
    • Persuasion
    • Deliberation
  • Dialogue may be of mixed type and can shift from one kind of dialogue to another.

Computational Models of Argumentation

  1. logical layer - applying argumentation schemes to make effective arguments ("rather than dissipating an attack by using poorly expressed objections")
  2. dialectical layer - structuring, evaluating, and comparing arguments, supporting moderation
  3. rhetorical layer - helping participants select and present arguments. Argument visualization is the main work here at present.

Argumentation Tools

The argumentation tools section presents QuestMap (superseded by Compendium), Zeno (later Dito and Diaglo in the DEMOS project), Compendium, Hermes, Parmenides, and Carneades.


This gIBIS-based organisational memory tool used icons to represent Issues, Positions, and Arguments in a spatial hypertext system.

See gIBIS: A hypertext tool for exploratory policy discussion and Facilitated hypertext for collective sensemaking:15 years on from gIBIS.


This Web-based discussion forum was based on IBIS, extended to semantically labelled graphs. Discussions were moderated, and through automatic archiving and online information, the public had more access to information. Authors indicate that it may be useful for consultation on controversial projects due to the effort government departments would need to make for this.

See Zeno: Groupware for discourses on the Internet and Discourse support systems for deliberative democracy.


Used in case studies for provision of information, support for consultation, support for deliberation, and support for the analysis of a discussion forum. See Computer supported argument maps as a policy memory and The tool works best when used by facilitators and face-to-face. A further case study, Computer supported argument visualization: Modelling in consultative democracy around wicked problems, covered consultation.


Based on argumentation frameworks (like Zeno), Hermes is aimed at online group facilitation of government agencies. Issues, alternatives, positions, and constrains See Computer-supported G2G collaboration for public policy and decision making.


A survey-based system, Parmenides is based on the argumentation theoretic notion of critical questions. Parmenides leads the use through a series of questions, often asking for approval or disapproval, to help users systematically address critical questions. Argumentation can thus be hidden behind a familiar interface. See Value-based argumentation for democratic decision support and PARMENIDES: Facilitating democratic debate.


An open source system, Carneades supports argumentation at the logical, dialectical, and rhetorical levels. Users can construct arguments from formal models of legal concepts, rules, and cases, and can compare and evaluate proof standards. The system can help determine acceptability.

Challenges for integrating argumentation into e-participation

See also Demo-Net deliverable D5.2.2: Argumentation support systems for eParticipation.

  1. Balance between structured and unstructured information: structured is easier for organisers, unstructured free text fields are less intimidating and more useful for individuals
  2. User interface of systems: "what features are necessary for an interface if the system is to attract participants and encourage them to provide deliberated input"?
  3. Need to classify user groups, to find more specific requirements for various groups
  4. Need a protocol for dialogue within online consultation practice, to guide the user's interactions

Related projects

  • DEMOS (Zeno)
  • GeoMed (Zeno)
  • ICTE-PAN (Hermes)
  • Estrealla (Carneades)

Selected references

Theoretical and practical relevance:

Using argumentation in e-participation could increase engagement (by making participants' voices heard and showing how decisions are impacted) and provide more input for government decision-mkaing.