Debatewise Global Youth Panel: Waving on climate change

Thursday, January 14, 2010 | 4:54 PM


We asked David Crane, from, to write a post about how Google Wave was used by the Global Youth Panel to debate climate change in parallel with the Copenhagen conference last month. As they prepare for a second phase of the debates, here's what he had to say about waving with a large international group.

We at spent the last part of 2009 putting together a Global Youth Panel, a group of 1,000 young people from over 130 different countries, to debate issues arising from the Copenhagen climate change conference. We wanted to harness views from a wide range of people and thought Google Wave would be the very best tool for the job.

We had people sign up from Iraq, South Korea, Myanmar, Bhutan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Vietnam, 25 countries in Africa, 30-odd in Europe, many parts of Asia and both halves of the Americas. As you’ll imagine, not everyone was blessed with fast machines or equipped with deep technical expertise. Most don’t speak English as a first language. To cap it off, we came up with the idea just six weeks before the conference started.

So it’s fair to say we took on a challenge or two. The tight deadline meant we were using Google Wave out-of-the-box, we had to get quite a few people familiar with the new technology in a short space of time and as anyone who’s worked with large groups of people knows, working with large groups of people is hard.

To organize the debates, our structural approach was to create one index wave containing links to all the debates, each of which had its own set of sub-waves, one for each point making up the debate. The goal was to keep the discussion as manageable and as on-topic as possible.

So far, so straightforward. But the other thing we needed was for the debaters to continually form summaries of the discussion in the first blip. We tried asking and telling people to do this in our daily emails but what seemed to work best was modelling it by leaving little notes in a blip saying “Part of point added to the summary.” This rewarded people publicly, highlighted the type of conversation we wanted to see more of and demonstrated the action we hoped others would take.

This behavioural modelling is, I think, the trick to getting people used to a new environment. Happily, the ability to model behaviour is something Google Wave does brilliantly - from the subtle appearance of an icon in a blip to the real-time typing element and highly useful Playback feature. I’m a huge believer in collective intelligence and think these tools give Google Wave significant advantages over a traditional wiki for bringing new participants into the fold. As a result, we had healthy, live debates on a global scale, giving a voice to youth around the planet in an international forum, and have learned what to do next time.

We're looking forward to the second phase of our project, which starts on January 18th, when our panel will be asked to debate how decisions made in Copenhagen will impact them and their communities. We’ll also ask people to argue from the opposite position to the one they would normally adopt. For example, Bangladeshis might be asked to argue why they do not deserve 15% of any climate fund while the rest of the world argues why they do.

We are always looking for to include people who are passionate about these topics and debate so if you would like to get involved please contact us.