Opasnet

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Opasnet [1] is a website and workspace for a mass collaboration project that aims to improve societal decision-making. The original motivation was to improve environmental health assessments and thus decisions related to environment and health. However, as the methods have developed and the project has grown, the scope has been widened to policy-making in any field. One of the major topics in Opasnet is climate change, which is clearly a multi-disciplinary field. Opasnet is based on open participation by anyone interested, free distribution of information, and strict application of the scientific method.

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Basic idea of Opasnet

Opasnet is based on the idea that assessments should no longer be done in closed expert groups that produce some static reports that may or may not answer the questions a decision-maker actually has, and that are only as credible as the expert group is. Instead, two improvements are needed. First, an assessment should be built on an explicit information need that is defined by an open deliberation between experts, decision-makers, and stakeholders. Second, everything in the assessment - including premises, data sources, modelling, and conclusions - is open to scientific criticism. To be able to perform such assessments in practice, several things must be available. The Opasnet aims to provide these things that are briefly described below (with links to more extensive pages).

We need a common platform or workspace where all these interested people may meet and work together. In practice, the core of the system must be based on an Internet workspace, although all traditional methods of group work (such as stakeholder meetings) should still be used and are available. But the products from traditional methods should be incorporated into the core system so that anyone not present at a meeting can still read about the conclusions. This wiki-based website works as the core platform for this mass collaboration effort.
We need a systematic information structure for all the parts of an assessment. A crucial problem currently is that the information useful for the assessment is widely dispersed. The major task of performing the assessment is to collect up the relevant pieces of information and to synthesise them. Also, many stakeholder involvement projects have ended up in failure, either because a large amount of feedback was so unstructured that there were not enough resources to make anything useful out of it, or because people guessed that this would happen and did not give any feedback in the first place. Therefore, the assessment must have a clear but flexible structure where the right location of ANY relevant piece of information can be found fairly easily. This way, it will become possible to save resources in organising information. All contributors should find the right locations for their comments themselves. Although it is extra work for the contributor, he or she can see the importance of the contribution more easily. One of our slogans is: "There is no such thing as a general comment."
The systematic information structure is performed using standardised information objects. The most important ones are called variables (descriptions of real-world phenomena), assessments (descriptions of the questions and conclusions of a particular policy need), and methods (descriptions of how to actually perform a work that is needed for an assessment). Importantly, an assessment consists of variables and the causal connections between them.
We need a systematic way for discussion and dealing with disputes. For this, we use the approaches of pragma-dialectics, a scientific theory of argumentation that looks at argumentation as a speech act. In this view, argumentation contains both the argumenting (act) and the argument (content). The argumentation is operationalised as Talk pages (see the 'discussion' tab on the top of each page) with some practical tools to help on-line discussions. Of course, other methods for discussion are allowed, but the main contents should be transformed into the core system after the discussion, so that others can see the results.
We need systematic methods for doing assessments. This can be a guidebook about how assessments are done in general, and methods about particular pieces of work. We are collecting work descriptions to this website (for examples, see a category for methods. We are also collecting software tools for pieces of work that are either difficult to do without existing tools, or that repeat from one assessment to another in a very similar way, thus enabling standardisation of the work. For examples, see a tool category and a category for Analytica tools.
We need an information source that contains results from previous assessments. This information can then be utilised in other assessments either as such, or after adjustments for new situations. In any case, the more information assessors provide for others, the easier it will become to perform new assessments. The information can be either assessment models, or model results. Both types of information is provided on this website.

Preliminary versions of all of these methods, websites, tools, and information sources already exist on this website, and they are available to anyone. The Open Assessors' Network invites you to participate in making assessments and improving the system for the benefit of future decision-making and the future world.

How are Opasnet and open assessment better?

How are Opasnet and open assessment better than traditional methods of making science or policy analysis?

It is easier to combine information from different disciplines.
In Opasnet, information is organised in a clever way. Whatever the topic, information is always organised into pieces with a standard structure. There are always the same rules to manage and develop these pieces.
The potential group of participants is larger - everyone.
There are no gatekeepers. Anyone is allowed to contribute.
A cacophony is prevented by dealing with specific questions.
The specificity makes it easy to identify and remove irrelevant contributions. Fuzzy things are broken down into details until they are clear and specific.
Information is collected quicker.
You don't need to get elected before you can contribute to a policy. You don't need to pass a peer review before you can contribute to science. You just find a proper page in Opasnet (or create one), and write down your information. Evaluation comes after contributions, as it should.
The monopolies of scientists and politicians are broken down.
Even if a politician has been elected for a position to make particular decisions, others are also allowed to develop or evaluate the particular policies. Similarly, although a scientist is an expert in his/her field, others are allowed to evaluate, criticise, and produce scientific information and conclusions. We are all responsible for improving the world. We must not wait for the professionals to do it.
All good, existing practices can still be used.
Open assessment does not force to abandon any good practices. It offers an alternative to some, such as publishing peer-reviewed articles. "Publish first, review later" kind of wiki pages can live in harmony with traditional articles.
There are explicit rules for dealing with disputes.
Pragma-dialectics give rules for performing argumentation. The rules are fairly straightforward, making it possible to identify and remove contributions that are against them. However, it is like chess: although it is easy to learn the rules, it is not easy to win a game.
The role of the scientific method is emphasised.
The scientific method means that research questions are identified, and potential answers are created. Then, the answers are critically attacked and poor ones removed. This method is a major reason why science has been so successful. Opasnet offers a workspace to apply this in both science and policy in an enhanced mode.
The work focuses better on main issues.
The "enhanced mode" means that many tasks and work phases are simply left out because they are not needed in Opasnet. For example, in a complex policy issue it is common to set up several committees to look at particular issues. In Opasnet, we can simply set up new pages on the new topics, and anyone can work on any topic at any time. No need to wait for the final report from a committee.

Comparison of Wikipedia and Opasnet

Property Wikipedia Opasnet
Slogan Wikipedia - Encyclopedia that anyone can edit. Opasnet - Where anyone can solve common problems.
Five pillars of Wikipedia
Purpose Wikipedia is an encyclopedia incorporating elements of general encyclopedias, specialized encyclopedias, and almanacs. The purpose is to produce information that is of general interest. The purpose is to produce information that is directly relevant for societal decision-making, often targeted for a specific decision process.
All articles must follow our no original research policy, and strive for verifiable accuracy: unreferenced material may be removed, so please provide references. Same, except that original research is allowed.
Neutral point of view (NPOV) Wikipedia has a neutral point of view, which means we strive for articles that advocate no single point of view. Sometimes this requires representing multiple points of view, presenting each point of view accurately, providing context for any given point of view, and presenting no one point of view as the truth or the best view. Same. However, the scopes of most Opasnet articles are much more precise than in Wikipedia. Therefore, more detailed argumentation is possible and often required. The text on the main page must faithfully follow the resolutions of the argumentation presented. However, neutrality is not required in the argumentation itself. One purpose of Opasnet is to resolve disputes, not just report about resolutions.
Copyright Wikipedia is free content that anyone may edit. All text is available under the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) Same.
Code of conduct Wikipedia has a code of conduct: Respect your fellow Wikipedians even when you may not agree with them. Be civil. Avoid conflicts of interest, personal attacks or sweeping generalizations. Assume good faith. Same.
No firm rules beyond the five pillars. Wikipedia does not have firm rules besides the five general principles presented here. Be bold in editing, moving, and modifying articles. Although it should be aimed for, perfection is not required. Do not worry about making mistakes. Same, except that rules derived from the open assessment method apply as well. However, the Wikipedia approach is a good start. Be bold and provide your knowledge for common good even if you are not sure about all conventions. When disputes arise, the open assessment method is the ultimate rule. Remember that it is much easier to proceed with good information in a wrong format than with the right format but no information.
Other aspects
Main contents Encyclopedia articles. Assessments, divided into variables. Also, method articles for performing assessments, and encyclopedia articles of specific topics.
Page subtitles Based on need and conventions related to the topic: e.g. General, History, References, External links. Based on open assessment method: Scope, Definition, Result. Also voluntary subtitles based on need: e.g. See also, References.
Resolving disputes Discussions on the Talk pages. Guidance for dispute resolution. Same, In addition, formal argumentation is used to organize and resolve discussions on the Talk pages.
Page protection Most pages can be edited continuously. Some system pages are protected. Same. However, there are also Nugget pages that have distinct authors and cannot be edited by others.

To our knowledge, Opasnet is a unique website in its aims and methods. However, in many ways it is also very similar to Wikipedia, which is a well-known concept. It might therefore be useful to compare Opasnet and Wikipedia.

  1. The purpose of Wikipedia is to provide information in general. The purpose of Opasnet is to give guidance to decision-making related to environment and health.
  2. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. Opasnet is more like a decision support system (although the structure is quite different than in typical decision support systems). However, Opasnet also has some encyclopedia-like contents.
  3. Both Wikipedia and Opasnet are running on Mediawiki software.
  4. Wikipedia rejects information that is not established. Opasnet collects also controversial information but with a certain structure that reveals the controversies. There are also rules that try to solve or at least diminish these controversies.
  5. Wikipedia describes everything from neutral point of view. Opasnet does the same for the scientific content, but it also collects values where neutrality is not required. However, respect to other people's values and relevance to the topic are always required.
  6. In Wikipedia, the content is structured as articles. In Opasnet, there are also encyclopedia-like pages, but the major content is a structured collection of real-world measurable quantities. We call them variables. A synthesis of these variables forms an analysis of a particular decision situation and gives guidance and information for the decision.
  7. Wikipedia collects existing information. Opasnet creates also new information by combining existing information into novel syntheses.
  8. A Wikipedia page has links to other pages whenever associations exist. A Opasnet page has the same, but in addition, there are special kinds of links that describe causal connections between things. There are special rules about how to describe these connectioins.
  9. Wikipedia has Talk pages for discussions about the content. Opasnet has them also, but the discussions have more specific rules. Discussions are used especially for formal argumentation about defined topics.
  10. Anyone can edit Wikipedia. Opasnet also has an open policy for contributions, but we require that editors use their real names. In addition, many pages are protected in such a way that only a draft page can be edited, and the contents are regularly moved to the actual page by the administrators (in a similar way as in Citizendium). This is because the pages have more complicated technical requirements than in Wikipedia, and unskilled authors could disrupt the structure.

Contributing to Opasnet

Contributing to Opasnet describes how you can bring your knowledge to the Opasnet system. If you have contributed to Wikipedia, you already know a lot about Opasnet. However, Opasnet is NOT the same as Wikipedia, and it has its own objectives and some own rules and page types. For details, see the table above. General help for contributing to Wiki systems can be found from Contributing to Wikipedia (concepts) and Editing help in Wikipedia (technical).

Different contents should be written to different kinds of pages. Go through this flow chart to see where your contribution should be located.

  • Does an article with the same topic as your contribution already exist in Wikipedia or Opasnet?
    • Yes: Add new information from your contribution to the existing article.
    • No: Continue.
  • Is the contribution an encyclopedia-type article of general interest (such as Methylmercury)?
    • Yes: Put it to Wikipedia as a new article.
    • No: Continue.
  • Is the contribution an encyclopedia-type article of only specific interest or too large for a general encylopedia (such as Effects of methylmercury in children)?
    • Yes: Put it to Opasnet as an encyclopedia article. Use the {{Encyclopedia}} template.
    • No: Continue.
  • Is the contribution a structured answer to a research question (Methylmercury concentration in Finnish children, or Chemical analysis method for measuring methylmercury from blood).
    • Yes: Make a variable or a method page. Use {{variable}} and {{method}} templates, respectively.
    • No: Continue.
  • Is the contribution a description of a research study or a particular piece of data (Methylmercury concentrations in mothers in Finland (Lucas study))?
    • Yes: Make a nugget to Opasnet. Use the {{nugget}} template.
    • No: Continue.
  • Is the contribution directly linked to an existing page, such as a discussion?
    • Yes: Copy it to the Talk page of the relevant page. Then, if necessary and possible, restructure it into the form of a formal discussion. Use the {{nugget}} template.
    • No: Continue.
  • Does the contribution really contain some important information that should be available to other people?
    • Yes: Make a nugget to Opasnet.
    • No: Move on and forget your contribution.


If you want to have the authorship for your contribution, you can do one of the following (in the order of preference):

  1. Use your real name as your username, or put your real name onto your user page. This way, readers can find your contributions from the history of a page and see who was the contributor. No specific actions are needed when making the contributions.
  2. Copy a permanent link (see the sidebar) of the page where you made your contribution and paste it to the current version of that page under the title See also with a short explanation such as: "The original discussion about methylmercury by N.N. can be found from here."
  3. Make a new page for your contribution. Describe the metadata according to the {{Nugget}} template.

See also