From CS 294-10 Visualization Sp10

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Group Members

  • Zev Winkelman


Many attempts have been made to produce effective visualizations for debates. None of these formats has become pervasively adopted. Nor are there a broadly accepted set of design heuristics when it comes to such visualizations. Furthermore, given the qualitative nature of many aspects of argumentation the existing literature on visualization techniques for quantitative data does directly apply to the task of effectively representing debates.

My goal in this project will be to use a case study from a current debate in public policy to review the existing methods of visualization, give a critical analysis of how effective they are given the tasks that various stake holders in the policy process (decision makers, analysts, advocates, voters) have, and suggest possible improvements to the existing methods.

Initial Problem Presentation

Description of Problem and Motivation:

Effective visualization of a debate can serve many purposes. In a public policy context, the effect should be observable in either the decision making process itself, or the outcome of the decision making process in order for it to be salient to the relevant stake holders. An example of a process effect could be a lower cost of additional information acquisition to the participants in the debate by leveraging the power of human visual perception to increasing the bandwidth of their ability to process information. An example of an outcome effect could be the resolution of a previously unresolved parties previously in disagreement to converge on a particular policy alternative, goal, or problem definition.

Either one of these types of effects would be an improvement on the existing process. Reviewing the current policy debate on the expiration of three Patriot Act provisions and the use of national security letters emphasizes this point by highlighting the shortcomings of the existing process. Though I focus on this particular policy issue for the case study, the same dynamics are present in nearly every contentious political decision, including health care, jobs, and taxes. Recently Congress debated several alternatives regarding Patriot Act authorities thereby providing ample debate information to visualize given existing techniques.

The content I will focus on includes testimony from 5 witnesses and 2 experts in a hearing held on September 23, 2009 - "Reauthorizing the USA Patriot Act: Ensuring Liberty and Security"

Witness Testimony:

  • The Honorable David Kris
  • The Honorable Glenn Fine
  • Suzanne Spaulding
  • Kenneth Wainstein
  • Lisa Graves

Member Statements:

  • The Honorable Patrick Leahy
  • The Honorable Russ Feingold

Related Work:

Key Technical Challenges:

The first major challenge will be pulling the information apart so that it can be represented in any one of these methods. This may involve subjective decisions, assumptions, and classifications which will be avoided at all costs, and cataloged as they occur.

The second major challenge will be actually plugging in the dissected data into the frameworks.

The third major challenge will be to develop criterion for evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the various frameworks.

The final challenge will be to implement a new framework, that addresses any shortcomings identified by the evaluation according to the predefined criterion.


As the only group member I will be performing all of the work.

Milestone I - extract all references to one issue or claim from all testimony in the set

Milestone II - represent the references in at least one framework

Milestone III - develop criteria to assess the effectiveness of an argument visualization for at least one actor in the policy system

Milestone IV - evaluate the representations produced in II, using the criterion in III

Milestone V - extract more issues or claims, produce representations in additional frameworks, develop additional criterion representing other actors in the policy system, perform more comparisons and evaluation - with any remaining time

Milestone VI - identify at least one major shortcoming of the existing designs and try to implement an improvement

Midpoint Design Discussion

requests for slides: zev d0t winkelman at gmail.com

Final Deliverables

requests for final slides, and paper: zev d0t winkelman at gmail.com

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