conducted by: Daniel Keim, Miriam Butt

In the last decade, the implementation of large-scale public projects repeatedly has created conflicts between governments and the public sphere. These conflicts demonstrate that the realization of large-scale public projects such as the construction of transport facilities, securing power supply or building disposal facilities, has become a critical zone between citizens participation and the legislative representatives of the (local) government. On the one hand, the realization of such large-scale public projects is legitimized by the current state of representative democracy. On the other hand, these projects are frequently opposed by local residents, which do not often decelerate and modify the realization of these projects — they even collapse them. Realizing large-scale public projects has therefore become an unpredictable risk for political decision makers and it is no longer sufficient to involve local residents only within the regular stages of statutory consultation procedures.


As a consequence, representative democracy has become a subject of debate — both within politics and science. Representative democracy seems to be in the midst of a particular shift decreasing the traditional divide between citizens and governments. On the politics side, many different civic experiments have been attempted to guarantee citizens’ participation. Since the early 1990s, not only consultation procedures have been adapted to formally allow citizens’ participation, but also rather informal procedures have been implemented that are designed to achieve political consensus within public discourse. For the realization of large-scale public project, most often informal procedures such as round tables, mediations, or civic dialogues were deployed. These procedures were proliferating rapidly in stable democracies around the world. However, the experiences made were rather diverse which in turn poses the question of why and when these procedures fail or succeed.


Within the joint project “VisArgue – Why and when do arguments win?” which brings together political scientists, linguists and computer scientists, we aim to analyze communication and argumentation within deliberative procedures. This allows for an empirical test of the theory of deliberation. The main objective is to develop an automated framework that measures the quality of deliberation. This framework is based on a deep and detailed linguistic processing of discourse relations (Asher et al. 2004) and informational structures (Choi 1996; Butt/King 1996). Using the Lexical-Functional Grammar theory (Bresnan 1982), political discourse is transferred to an abstract level of communication representation. This representation will then be visualized with statistical approaches to detect common patterns of argumentation in political negotiations. Most of these approaches rely on methods developed in the field of data- or text-mining, e.g. graph based visualizations (Brandes/Corman 2003) and conceptual recurrence plots (Angus et al. 2011).


external website of the project