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Meta: building a Discourse-based community

Coincidentally I may be building a Discourse-based community that at least initially will be a closed group and I have been learning more about Discourse.

Some things I have on my task plan to build:

  • Site rules and behaviors (norms)
  • Site roles (I think Discourse comes with a default set)
  • Criteria for moderating (editing) a post, for moderating (ending) a thread, and for deleting a post or thread. (Example, if someone posts an email address or phone number, it would be removed.)

If anyone is interested in diving into Discourse (the platform) more, there is a Discourse about Discourse here:

I am excited to see where this community goes!


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Rob: I am very much interested in this, and have been working on what I call a ‘Planning Discourse Support System’ (see e.g. my papers on P D S S - R E V I S E D; Thorbjoern Mann)
I tried to look at the Discourse Meta site, got confused about the many posts: where to get into this? Is there some kind of overview page of the current or proposed state of things?
This OGM project desparately needs a better organized platform; so this is kind of urgent.

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That Discourse is more of a support community. Although your reaction in going there may be what new people are feeling coming to this site! (Maybe that is what you are alluding to in your post).

I think some sort of landing page of instructions. But I think communities are organic and will grow and spread and contract and redefine.

If there is anything in particular on your mind, I am happy to give my .02.

My experience with Discourse is as a user in a audiophile community for a software product called Roon:

Once you are registered, their base page looks like this:


@peterkaminski Is it possible to make the home page look like the screen shot above (from the Roon community)? The benefit i see is seeing a lot more individual threads on the right hand side and the color coding of the left side (if possible).

I think it is a tweaking of the Category page.

This site is coming along nicely!!

Thanks, Rob. I’ve gotten it part of the way there by changing “desktop category page style” to Categories with Feature Topics (aka classic) instead of Categories and Latest Topics.

Here’s a Discourse Meta topic on that feature: Redesigning the default category page - ux.

Still to do:

  • make each category have more than 3 topics
  • more colorful (hopefully “better”) category colors

I hear you. OGM has bootstrapped its discussion medium from nothing to Google Groups to this Discourse forum, and it still has a long way to go, probably through many less-than-optimal iterations.

I looked at “PDSS SYSTEM ∏: A PROPOSAL FOR A PLANNING DISCOURSE SUPPORT SYSTEM,” and have two quick comments:

  1. In my experience in building and running collaborative systems, they require a lot of iterative design and testing. So while I think you’ve got a good initial theory of a system, I believe a mature system will co-evolve in an agile fashion with a good user community, and may end up being different or significantly different from your original design.
  2. I think the system you’re envisioning would require thousands of hours of design and development work. How might that investment of time and energy come about? Are there small, incremental things that might move the project forward? How might you recruit people to help?

Peter Kaminski: Thanks. The item you looked at is an earlier version of the proposal: The latest on (in Academia .edu) is the P D S S - R E V I S E D one – it has an updated description of a ‘pilot’ system that could be run on FB with some minor adjustment effort. SInce then, I have been working on the evaluation aspect in the planning discourse – (draft segments on my blog for discussion, I am now trying to put them all together into a coherent overall piece) so I haven’t pursued the overall platform design as intensely. You are right, the whole thing would require a lot of work and experiments (I have tried some small ‘thought experiments’, and things like Gene’s ACM Kumu project last year gave some insights but didn’t encourage me to pursue Kumu as the final or ultimate platform. I see there have been some interesting new additions there.

All experiments so far did not include the evaluation component (that I consider my own best contributions to the problem.) The piece on the ‘Fog Island Tavern Experiment’ shows a crude application of that on a spreadsheet – but that isn’t linked to the rest of the discourse yet. My point is that there are various separate components that can be explored separately, but within an overall discussion that brings the experiences from each small effort into one coherent platform. I had hoped that OGM would become that framework, but the effort here is hampered, in my view, by the need to switch to all the various different places. (I have lost track of even where my post ended up (and can’t download all the new products for lack of space on my newer laptop and outdated browsers on my older one that can’t be updated…)

Your last question puts the finger on the sore spot: I had hoped that some software developer( perhaps even for the game sector – I have proposed to put a age version as an educational incentive on the internet) would take this on; I do not have the resources or the institutional support to do that, and am totally inept at marketing. So I just put the ideas out there for consideration and use by anybody who thinks something can be done with it. But I think I can make part-time contributions to the discussion and development if some institution, agency, company or group wants to use even parts of the ideas.

Short answer: A selected ‘real’ project/problem (not too big and not too burdened with prior links and references) could be run on a current platform like FB adapted along the lines proposed in my ‘pilot’ system might be a useful next step, besides deciding to keep the rest of the overall OGM discussion on ONE platform with a bit of more coherent organization. Still within the range of volunteer, i.e. unpaid, participation. For discussion, gathering experience until a more convincing proposal can be made for actual funding.

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I think this is a setting when you edit each Category, default is 3. I am not sure you can universally change the default (would be nice if you could!)

EDIT: on another Category note, sometimes I find the Categories here confusing – Big Questions vs. Design vs. etc. As more posts are made, do you think you will re-arrange or refine Categories?

Thanks, Rob! I had wondered if that was the case, I think you’re right. I’ll add it to a to-do list.

I think that’s a great idea, and basically, we can do it, if we get a small team of folks who can take responsibility for curating topics and shepherding posts and posters into them. We need a Gardening Guild. :slight_smile:


With all due respect: Cat (egory)'s getting our discourse? One key insight of Rittel’s issue based information system concept was that the structure of the discourse will emerge from the discussion – trying to anticipate the proper categories will get us lost in the many possible ways of cutting up the cake or whatever we are trying to find out about, and miss key improvement opportunities.
I attach a little condensed draft of how things are connected into the network of priorities that occupies my (currently virus-deflated) mind. I can also add the real Planning Discourse Support System paper (larger) but I sense a reluctance to engage in even selected issues about it?
PS Forget the attachment: the ‘link’ button wants me to insert a hyperlink – it’s just a presentation, not on any site. So much for easy communication

@peterkaminski sent me this tip when I was asking about uploading a mind-map.

If you attach it to a message (click the little landscape image button when editing a message, or drag and drop into the message), it’ll upload it to Discourse.

I think you can edit your post and add the presentation. I’d like to see it.

further detail…

the default setting is to upload Images only. @peterkaminski would have to allow other file types. I suspect PDF is included in the deault but not something like PPT. If you allow other document types, that little image icon changes to be a more general upload arrow.

@thor i am interested in your summary presentation too!

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Thanks, Rob! I thought it was set broader than images, but no, it wasn’t.

I’ve added .pdf .txt .md .yml .yaml .json

I didn’t add ppt/pptx/doc/docx because those can have potentially dangerous macros, and they’re not too hard to export to PDF or to GDocs. We could revisit that if need be.

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And now the little upload symbol turned to an up arrow instead of an image upload. Little touches in software!

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I’ll try to reformat it to something this platform accepts


A tentative strategy
For facing humanity’s challenges

Thorbjørn Mann, July 2020


An effort to explore, understand and convey some thoughts
about humanity’s current challenges and proposal for
what might be done about them
including how some of the issues I have been working on
might fit into that larger picture – for example:

  • a global participatory ‘planning discourse platform’
  • with better evaluation of discourse contributions
  • leading to better decisions / agreements
    based on the merit of discourse contributions
  • avoiding some obstacles to implementation and governance


  • Emerging awareness of crises and challenges to humanity survival, as expressed e.g. by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon call for “revolutionary thinking and action to ensure an economic model for survival” (World Economic Forum 2011);

  • A ~9000 post LinkedIn discussion (Systems Thinking World) page, challenging ‘Systems Thinkers’ to respond to the call;

  • The discussion did not lead to any single definitive answer or agreement, but offered many interesting insights and lessons;

  • Some of my writing on design and planning methods, assess-ment of planning arguments, the value of built environment as a function on ‘occasion’ and image seemed to relate to these issues and merge into a tentative strategy for discussion.


This effort should be seen as an exploration of the issues and their relationships, raising questions more than suggesting definitive answers  -- but considering the questions as urgent. 

Trying to distill the key elements of a tentative strategy for finding better answers and achieving the agreements needed for effective and coordinated global responses to the crises;

Encouraging a critical attitude to the comments – on every page there should be two brief reminders to consider:  “Wrong question, wrong way of looking at the problem?” And “Missing aspects?”, inviting readers to add their views on the issues.

A collection of examples, in no particular order:

Climate change Armed conflicts (war) Crime
Earthquakes Flooding Drought, Storms
Air, Groundwater, Oceans, Rivers, lakes Space
Forest fires Soil erosion Tsunamis
Shortages: Food Water Housing/Shelter Energy
Health care: Epidemics Drugs, Access, Insurance
Education Information Censorship
Financial system breakdowns Poverty Inflation
Inequality Corruption Political conflicts
Species extinction Racism Religious conflicts
Discrimination: Gender, Ethnic, economic background, Age
Unemployment Working conditions Wages
Industrial accidents Resources depletion
Political ideologies Fascism Authoritarianism

Insights and observations:

  • There is wide agreement that challenges – local and global – are real, serious and urgent; and that changes are called for;

  • Already, many proposed ideas, theories, models, experiments, initiatives, already are underway, to meet the challenges;

  • These ‘alternative’ initiatives are creative and diverse but sometimes based on contradictory premises and principles;

  • There is little cooperative communication between these efforts;

  • There is no emerging agreement about a definitive ‘model’ or a coherent strategy for implementation

  • Current governance models appear inappropriate / incapable for effective response to the crises.

Examples of suggested responses: (in no particular order):

  • ‘Unified’ acceptance of existing (improved?) positions;
  • Overthrowing the current system: introducing a ‘New System’
  • General adoption of new ‘thinking’ (e.g. ‘Systems Thinking’) and innovation practices;
  • Resisting Big Government, Returning to ‘Small Governance’, ‘Sociocracy’, ‘Holacarcy’, improved social democracy forms;
  • General adoption of ‘Commons’ economy;
  • Promotion of mental attitudes: “Awareness”; ‘We not Me”;
  • Returning / general adoption of religious / moral principles;
    religion-based governance;
  • Intensified adoption of technology; e.g. Artificial Intelligence;
    ‘renewable’ energy sources, recycling,
  • Intensified citizen participation in planning and governance;
  • Adoption of permaculture, regenerative agriculture practices;
  • Abandoning use of fossil fuel for energy generation;
  • Abandoning logging destruction of rainforests, desert reforestation
  • Basic Income Guarantees / Universal Basic Income;
  • and more…

My related work and suggestions

Work, teaching and writing on

  • Design methods and theories –e.g. the role of occasion opportunities and image of built environments; (related to built environment role in quality of life measures): Building Economics and Value of Built Environment as a function of occasion and image;

  • ‘Argumentative planning Information systems’ (after Rittel)

  • Structure and Evaluation of Planning Arguments

  • Development of a (potentially global) planning discourse support platform aiming at planning decisions based on the merit of discourse contributions;

  • Suggestions for encouraging experiments of ‘alternative’ innovative approaches, experiments in areas where existing systems have been destroyed by natural or man-made disasters.

Some common shortcomings of suggested ‘solutions’:

  • Many ‘single-aspect’ proposals;

  • ‘Consulting brand’ solutions aimed at ‘clients’ in competitive environments (rather than global cooperation);

  • Incompatible basic principles and theories;

  • Techniques for small groups of selected client employed participants;

  • ‘Remedial’ events led by outside (consultant) facilitators producing recommendations to actual decision-makers;

  • Suggestions ranging from specific situation remedies to general ‘awareness’, ‘holistic’ admonitions w/o implementation details;

  • Assuming ‘general goodwill’ as basis for cooperation; neglecting key ‘negative’ factors: competition, power, deteriorating distrust in current governance, desire for ‘making a difference’.

What to do?

  • No general agreement on overall policy / action in sight
    but a strong sense that ‘Something must be done’: calling for
    a preparatory tentative strategy?

  • Encourage / support the continued development of many small / local experiments, initiatives, ideas, ‘models for survival’ –
    on condition of
    sharing experiences (successes, obstacles, failures)
    (not just promotional material)
    in a common, potentially global

  • Development of a ‘Planning Discourse Support Platform’
    systematic analysis, discussion, evaluation of proposals
    and common ‘rules of the road’ decisions / agreements
    based on measures of merit of discourse contributions.

Supporting ‘alternative’ efforts / ideas

  • Constructive use of creativity, better knowledge of local conditions, tested effectiveness of small group cooperation and decision-making practices as well as people’s desire to ‘make a difference’ – ‘their’ solutions;

  • Tolerating apparently incompatible principles, theories, (on condition of mutual non-obstruction) in exchange for gaining knowledge of ‘what works, what doesn’t work’;

  • Insisting on honest sharing of experience, information, tools, techniques; and cooperation on needed common ‘rules of the road’ agreements;

  • E.g. encouraging ‘alternative’ experiments: “Innovation Zones” n areas destroyed by natural or man-made disasters (using ‘disaster aid’ for innovation instead of reconstruction of old, possibly obsolete infrastructure).

Development of a Planning Discourse Support Platform

Purpose (for both small-scale, local as well as ‘global’ use):

  • Sharing proposals and information, experiences, for analysis, discussion, evaluation and possible general adoption;

  • Encourage wide participation of affected parties (rewarding discourse contributions according to their merit & originality);

  • Developing measures of discourse contribution merit;

  • Developing decision modes based on the merit of discourse contributions (rather than mere possibly poorly informed or partisan votes, corruption, or authoritarian power);

  • Developing better tools to combat obstacles to effective responses: corruption, power abuse, violence, influence of money, lack of valid information, training, competence.

Desirable platform features:

  • Easy access, incentives for participation, cooperation;

  • Acceptance of all frames of reference (mental models) as starting points for discourse (no dominant ‘thinking’ brand);

  • Translation: both natural language to natural language, and scientific / technical ‘jargon’ to conversational language;

  • Acceptance of all contributions but only ‘first’ (original) entries to be rewarded and shown in overview and decision displays;

  • Governance, funding, operation as independent from powerful economic / financial or (competitive, power-or dominance motivated) nationalist influence as possible;

  • Flexible, open to continuous innovation and local adaptation, avoiding aging into obsolete bureaucratic ‘fossil’ structure.

Key aspects of evaluation in the discourse:

  • Evaluation / judgments present and needed in all phases of the decision-making process (usually not well coordinated)

  • Evaluation tasks:

    • Assessment of ‘problem’ situation: ‘IS-state’
      As compared to desired / expected ‘OUGHT-state
    • Assessment of expected effectiveness of plan / policy
    • Evaluation of merit of discourse contributions: problems,
      information (data), proposals, tools / approach, questions, arguments pro/con, evaluation judgments
    • Assessment of adequacy of evidence and support for claims, proposals (depth, breadth validity), judgment basis;
    • Assessment of adequacy of ‘aggregation’ tools
      both individual partial to overall judgments and individual to ‘group judgment’ statistics
    • Assessment of degree of agreements of different parties’ evaluation results;
    • Assessment of role of feelings, non-quantifiable aspects
      Platform Structure: Components
  • Public information component (announcing discourse issues)

  • Portal for public entries via different media;

  • Display of proposed issue ‘candidates’ for discussion

  • Display of procedural agreements (‘rules of order’)

  • Selection / decision for acceptance on platform agenda

  • Record of entries (‘Verbatim’) file

  • Entry reward mechanism (basic participation reward
    to be evaluated later);

  • Display of Proposals being discussed (“On Agenda”)

  • Support provisions: Data search, AI analysis, ‘Tool kit’;

  • Sorting / directing entries into appropriate topic;

  • Preparation of Evaluation worksheets

  • Collection, calculation and display of assessment results;

  • Displays of discourse status and results (Overview)
    Modification of participants’ contribution merit rewards, as
    derived from overall group evaluation scores;

  • Record / log of procedure, decision results: Archive.
    Platform: Discourse Process / Procedure

  • ‘Raising issues’

  • Displaying discussion ‘issue candidates’

  • Preliminary (unstructured) comments: these determine

  • Acceptance/rejection on agenda for
    systematic discussion and evaluation

  • Display of accepted ‘Topics’ / Proposals, Issues.

  • Entering questions, information, arguments

  • Displays of evolving discourse in structured format,
    interim decisions, evaluation;

  • Motion for determining ‘Next Step’: e.g.:

    • Back for more information, modification of proposal;
    • Proceed to structured evaluation;
    • Proceed to application of ‘special technique’ (in ‘toolkit’)
      (Return to ‘Next step’ after each of these activities)
    • Proceed to decision
    • Drop issue (without decision)
    • Stop / Close discourse: prepare summary / log entry.
      Use of discourse ‘by-products’ – e.g. ‘merit points’:
  • Each discourse contribution entry earns a ‘basic contribution’ acknowledgement token;

  • If the item is a ‘first’, original (not duplicated or repeated) content, the basic, ‘empty’ point will be increased or decreased according to the group’s plausibility or quality/significance assessment during the proposal evaluation;

  • Participants will build up a merit points ‘account’ (itself an incentive for participation);

  • The account can be used as part of a person’s qualification record for public office (or private employment);

  • A person in position empowered to make decisions that can’t wait for public discussion outcome ‘pay’ for each decision with an amount of merit points, according to the decision’s significance: ‘Paying for power’. Investing reputation, not $, for returns according to success;

  • Citizens may transfer some of their own merit points to an official as support for the official’s power to make specific decisions. This makes supporters equally ‘accountable’ for those decisions.

  • If the account is depleted, the person cannot make any more decisions: a partial form of control of power.
    What’s missing?

The global platform must be online, of course.
But it must also convey life:
We need real places for the local experience of that discourse

Places where people get together

To discuss their problems, needs, and strife

Where the singer, the poet, the storyteller

Can give form and color to their vision and dreams

Where moments of joy to remember can happen:

“That’s where WE made Our Future.  Our life.”

And those places, too, must be designed.
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This jpg was supposed to be part of the previous piece

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@RobOK, thanks. I finally went through all the top-level categories and set the number of topics on the home page to 10 (from the default 3). It looks a lot better. :slight_smile:

As you say, I also do not think there is a universal setting for it.

As I wrote about it here

I am pleased to see that both OGM and at both use discourse .

I would like to make
interoperate with with both forums using discourse and

At the beginning my goal is to implement the IndieWeb idea of

So that

  • anything that edge-users do on TrailMarks (or any open alike interoperable system) in their own workspaces or communities could get posted on say Discourse.
  • any part of that conversation there could also be annotated
  • these annotations could act as portals to further related network of thoughts
  • and act as anchors for cross-discourse conversations that emerge through the interaction going on in other places and be contiguous with edge-users own Personal Knowledge Hubs as supported by TrailMarks

I’ve already done the simple plumbing needed to do

I am responding to @saiiam 's call to invent a system that

would enable conversations (discourse) to be continuous without being synchronous while at the same time being contiguous with one’s own Personal Networked Thoughts based Knowledge Work and Externalization of one’s Intellect (Extellect) that is connected to the Collective Extellect as edge-users can act in their own personal networks as hubs, connect to others to form emergent communities (guilds).


Thanks for the post and associated graphic @thor. Do you have links to PDFs or other documents I can read related to the topics you mentioned in your post? The reason I’m asking is because I’ve slowly come around to the realization that knowledge and information in virtual spaces without an effective coordination mechanism among real world participants isn’t much use and that seems to me to be the main issue that hampers most of these efforts. So I’m mostly just curious about how others have thought about bridging the gap between online and offline spaces.