+Spaces (dubbed Positive Spaces) is an EC-funded research project aiming at real-world-policy – making in popular online communities. The project uses existing social media spaces like Facebook and Twitter alongside virtual worlds like Open Wonderland as the societal sandbox for modelling real world behaviour. One of the project’s principal drivers is to engage citizens from different online communities by utilizing these virtual spaces for assisting policy makers in reaching out and gaining insight from the citizens about their opinions and potential acceptance of new policies.
Traditional Government models that measure public opinion with the purpose to enact and understand societal reactions and trends lag behind in dynamicity. Proper societal modelling for identifying the target groups that will effectively represent the society is usually a fault-prone procedure, while the compilation of the feedback acquisition process is itself slow and monolithic – usually through polls.
The focus is moving towards engaging citizens in the policy modelling process using new and innovative ICTs which will allow people to share the democratic process by giving their opinion about a specific initiative.
ICT is able to contribute to the efficient monitoring and improved prediction of the impact of government proposals, decisions and legislation in society on a large scale, aggregating and analyzing information through information systems. Artificial environments are needed, for enabling, or engendering mass participation under various contexts and for simulating specific aspects of human society and behaviour.
+Spaces responds to these challenges as it achieves mass participation collecting large amount of data to assist model policies within existing virtual spaces infrastructure (3D virtual worlds and 2D web social networking services). The project develops the tools and methods needed to apply legislation and measures the ensuing reactions. The idea is to simulate specific aspects of human behaviour in virtual spaces which can then be used by governments to extrapolate conclusions for the real society about how populations will receive the changes that come along with a new policy.
+Spaces aims to provide tools that will allow the exploitation of virtual spaces for assessing public reaction, and build a service oriented platform that will support these tools by exploiting virtual worlds as knowledge containers, and by allowing added value services to be incorporated. A principal goal of +Spaces is to support policy makers in their decision making process enabling them to policies by virtual spaces users and measure public-in world reaction.
What we mean by virtual spaces
+Spaces regards virtual spaces as places where people interact online, environments that allow users to socialize under a technological frame that implements a specific context. These environments may be classified into two types: 1) 3D Online VWs, and 2) Online Social Networking platforms.
3D Online Virtual Worlds are spaces where a scenery and various objects are depicted in 3D on a computer screen. A person can navigate and interact within this space using a virtual image, called avatar. Examples are Second Life and World of Warcraft, to name just two.
Online Social Networking platforms are spaces where people can socialize online mainly by exchanging messages, pictures and other items. Examples are Facebook, Twitter and Blogspots.
In many ways, social networks such as Facebook, Twitter or the virtual world Open Wonderland have certain parallels to the real world . Yet, by existing online, they offer valuable input and the flexibility needed to introduce even radically new ideas without causing an actual disruption in society. +Spaces will implement the “interoperability” between these virtual spaces and build the platform where policy makers can define their desired simulation in one place and have it later run in multiple online societies.
What we mean by Policy Making
Policy Making is the process legislators go through when creating a new policy. This process starts from the point where the idea for a policy starts to take shape using existing legal frameworks, policies, recommendations and needs, to reach to the formulation of a draft legal element and finally to the approved legal element that is to be integrated into the existing legislation framework.
+Spaces provides policy makers with an easy-to-use user interface in which they may define sessions such as a poll, a debate, or a role-playing simulation around a policy. As soon as the policy makers define the session and click “deploy”,,the +Spaces platform creates the relevant sessions in multiple virtual spaces at once (such as Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, and the 3D virtual world Open Wonderland). As a result, information about the different views of participants is gathered and fed to services such as data analysis and visualization, recommendation, and reputation.
What we mean by Policy Simulation
+Spaces envisions three steps that would enable policy simulation and its utilization:
- Create and deploy applications in virtual spaces, which provide information about the policy and solicit the public to react to it in various ways. We plan to iterate in three steps: in the first, we will implement Polls, in the second we will implement Debates, and in the third and last we will implement Role Playing Simulation, in which the citizens are invited to take upon themselves a role different than their own, and express thoughts and opinions under than role, reaching new insights and understanding, all three implemented in virtual spaces with the intention to give policy-makers insight into the public´s views.
- Analyze users’ online behaviour – interaction with the application and with other users
- Interpret users’ behaviour to make meaningful policy conclusions