Chatting over possible use cases for digress.it in a meeting at UKOLN yesterday, it struck me that there are at least three different roles we might expect a commentable document to play in a open discussion context:
- draft document – in which comments are solicited on different parts of a document, with a view to producing a revised version of the document that takes into account the various comments made on the commentable version of it. For example, the publication of draft standards (e.g. British Standards – commentable drafts) or draft policy documents (e.g. Leicester University social media policy). Users may be able to see the consequences of comments by comparing final versions of the document with the orginal commentable version, and the comments associated with it.
- consultation document – in which issues are discussed and a series of consultation questions asked, often embedded within the various sections of the body of the document. For example, HEFCE REF Consultation. If a summary of responses is provided around the consultation, along with a review of what actions were taken that relate back to the consulation questions, commenters will be able to judge whether or not their comments appeared to influence the direction of post consultation outcomes.
- guidance document – in which comments may be round around guidance either requesting or providing clarification of particular points, or collecting examples of how others have practically implemented guidance. For example, COI Guidance on open source software. This sort of document can act as a hub for aggregating practical advice implementing guidance. In contrast to the previous two document/comments, the comments thermselves can become a means of sharing practical advice around the guidelines, and may effectively deliver practical guidance themselves. The outcomes of requests for clarification may also be trackable, if for example they result in revisions to the original guidance, or indeed if they result in a futher comment that clarifies the matter; (in this case, we might see clarifying comments as providing a similar role as do comments on a draft document?).
Combining elements of all three types listed above, we might also consider an amplification, or discussion, document, such as documents published in support of a meeting (“meetings without borders”, or “semi-permeable meetings”; for example Using WriteToReply to Publish Committee Papers. Is an Active Role for WTR in Meetings Also Possible?). [Added: I guess that educational materials might also be regarded as discussion documents?] Rather than being the focus of a conversation, these documents are part of an ongoing process, or conversation, where comments raised may either be seen to be a continuation of a discussion held in a meeting, or as part of a conversation that may be continued in a folow on meeting. Feedback to commenters about how comments are received may be realised through mentions to matters raised in comments appearing in the minutes of later meetings (which may even reference back to the orginal comment).
Looking at these various document types, it seems to me that it is possible for commenters to look for evidence in later/follow-on documents about the extent to which their comments may or may not have directly influenced the content of those follow-on documents, as well as providing opportunities for direct links back to comments that influenced later documents from those later documents themselves.
If a consultation platform can start to highlight the impact comments may have on practice or policy development through appropriate feedback, such as “follow-on feedback” (i.e. the demonstration of how a comment on one document influenced the content of another), then it feels right to me that it is more likely that people will start to see it as a tool that supports “real” involvement in a process?
PS Seems like I’m too late to add this distinction in as feedback to the COI draft guidance on commentable docs.