A structured debate is a dispute resolution technique which maps the debate, i.e. breaks down the elements of a disagreement into the smallest arguable chunks ("points") so as to clearly indicate the dependencies between supporting points and the larger points they support or attack as well as the current status of each assertion (i.e. whether it has been refuted or not).
This helps to prevent a number of common problems with discussions of complex issues:
- accidentally (or deliberately) taking opposing points out of context, and answering them as if the context didn't exist
- the feeling of getting "lost" in the argument due to not knowing what has been settled and what remains to be discussed
- significant points falling by the wayside and remaining unanswered
- conflating multiple points into a single point, which leads easily to making logical fallacies
See project:Structured Debate for extensive design discussion.
- Q: Isn't it authoritarian to make people follow rules, rather than just allowing open discussion?
- A: The structure doesn't restrict what anyone can say; it just helps show whether they're making sense or not. If everyone using this system agrees that one and one equal three, or that the sun rises in the west, the system won't stop them from saying so. If nobody challenges those assertions, then they will stand as true.
- Q: Isn't this turning discussion into a contest, where participants will want their position to prevail at any cost?
- A: The only sense in which this is a contest is that it is arguably a contest of ideas – not people. It does eliminate ideas by keeping track of which ones have been shown to have logical or factual flaws, but it does not attach any stigma or virtue to those who propose those ideas, whether those ideas prevail or are culled. Further, an idea which is culled may later be resurrected by new information; no idea is discarded or lost outright.
- Argumentrix is attempting to stage what appears to be loosely-structured debates using MediaWiki as a platform
- Issuepedia is working on a set of rules for structured debate, eventually to be turned into an internet application with a web interface
- Calculemus looks to be a similar idea.