Global Sensemaking

Tools for Dialogue and Deliberation on Wicked Problems

Who are the users/scientists/policy makers whose effectiveness and collaboration and decision-making would be improved by sensemaking tools such as we are proposing here? Who would be good beta users of such tools? Who would be the climate or energy or peak oil/food/water or whatever practitioners who could be early adopters?

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RealClimate describes itself:
RealClimate is a commentary site on climate science by working climate scientists for the interested public and journalists. We aim to provide a quick response to developing stories and provide the context sometimes missing in mainstream commentary. The discussion here is restricted to scientific topics and will not get involved in any political or economic implications of the science.

Nine scientists are listed as contributors to the RealClimate multi-user blog.
Excellent question.

What got me started thinking about organizing global-scale discourse for these issues was a book, "High Noon 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them" by Jean-francois Rischard, ISBN: 0465070108. In this book Rischard (former VP World Bank - Europe) outlines communities of interest he called Global Issues Networks (GINs). These networks, in his view, would be comprised of NGOs, universities, governmental agencies, and interested businesses who shared a common purpose in analyzing the problems and finding solutions. These GINs, he thought would be self-organizing once they were seeded properly, and if they had the right communications tools. He used the open source software movement as an example of the social dynamic.

My thought was to find a few experts who would then know other experts and create a system that would require invitation only entre. Those experts would then invite whoever they knew would want to contribute and the thing would sort of take off from there.

I think the key is to have the easy-to-use, supportive, productive tool set at the outset so these domain experts can get to work with a minimum hassle. I don't know if there are many domain experts who would be willing to do beta testing (I'm sure there must be some). Some of the folks I know in various environmental organizations just like to get on with it. They use blogs and discussion boards now with all of the commitment drawbacks. But they don't have to be part of the design process of something they aren't familiar with the internals. Do we have a usability expert on board?

A more direct answer is that there are many NGOs and university centers where all of these issues are being worked on. Perhaps our role is to give them a means to connect with one another and let the discourse develop as it will.

It seems to me that George is onto something: give them (NGOs and everybody else--all stakeholders, which, to me, includes the consituencies of the NGOs) the means to connect and sensemake. My take is that they need to be federated, to give them, especially the smaller entities, a more equal voice in the dialogues.
Re I think the key is to have the easy-to-use, supportive, productive tool set at the outset so these domain experts can get to work with a minimum hassle. I think this is it. One way I see it is that the mapping/sensemaking tools that the participants here can make available are embedded in a web-based delivery platform which can host teams and groups making use of these tools.

The collaboratorium that Mark Klein is working on may be such a framework -is that right? I'd like to learn more about this. Also, I have built a Java-based framework for topic-based collaboration that I could offer (I have the rights to it) if that's appropriate.

I can also see using tools such as the recently announced Google Friend Connect: what this allows doing is linking a social network (eg, for example the nine scientists that make up the RealClimate group) on one site to another site (for example to our GlobalSensemaking site). In this case the RealClimate people can enter our site to make use of the tools there. Or, we can expose a "room" in our site which can be accessed from their site via a Friend Connect widget.

As George says, the key is a really good UI, so they can do what they do best, and we can offer for their use what we do best.
More on implications of Friend Connect at my blog.

Essentially, if there is a working group of scientists, let's say, at Site A, and we have a sensemaking server on Site B, Friend Connect will allow those scientists to use a widget through which to work with a sensemaking tool on Site B. On Site B more than one circle of practitioners could work with the same tool on the same problem.

Ie, I believe Friend Connect and OpenSocial make it less necessary to provide a platform in order to deliver services.
Let me toss in a comment made by Eric Schmidt in an interview, with emphasis added where I think valid discussion points can be derived:
"Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) has 70,000 employees. Is it harder to get things done in Microsoft at 70,000? Well, the answer that's probably more interesting is how has it changed from 7,000 to 70,000. We certainly could have a big company organized into 20 small companies. That's called divisionalization. We went through this at Sun (JAVA, Fortune 500) [where Schmidt was chief technology officer] and I'm rather cynical about it. The argument is that divisionalization allows you to have general managers who then make operating decisions that are fast moving. The problem with that is if the customer wants an integrated experience it now looks like they're looking at a federated experience. So you don't get leverage. We talk a lot about this issue, and we're trying to do the inverse. We're trying to run a large company well, which is not an oxymoron."

My use of the term federate relates to the process of bringing together of information resources, merged where appropriate (same subject). The discussions we all have about Web services suggest a different use of the term federate, a federated user experience; Eric's comment above suggests that some might prefer a unified experience rather than a federated experience; at least, that argument supports Google's drive to unify the user's experience. The context for his comment (my interpretation) is that of a "divisionalized" company creating products that must be federated, compared to a unified company that creates products that are fully integrated.

I might argue for both positions in the following sense: in my view, federation of knowledge assets is performed by mapping; a single (logical) map (possibly highly distributed at the implementation level) could be combined with a single sensemaking portal that provides tagging, dialogue mapping, annotating, and connecting all in one. At the very same time, distributed portals, each related to some specific user action, can still be federated at the information resource level, providing full map views at each portal. The argument for that is going to be user preference. Tagging is typically performed by clicking on a bookmarklet that takes the user and specific information to the tagging portal, no matter where it is located. Annotating, which leads to Cohere-like connecting could begin with similar bookmarklets. An interesting federation of Cohere and Tagomizer means that, when a user bookmarks (tags) a Website, the comments made for the bookmark itself could also be made to serve as a lifted idea in Cohere. These are just examples of the nature of the beast and they are related specifically to a sensemaking methodology I just outlined over at the wiki.
The RealClimate people break out into (at least) two distinct groups: (1) the climate scientists themselves and (2) the lay people going to them for their expertise. The scientists are clearly committed to communicating with the public about their subject, and I'm sure they'd adopt GSm tools if they were easy to use and enhanced their interaction with the users of the RealClimate blog. The subject just begs for visual sensemaking tools.

To provide a unified experience for their users, I imagine the RealClimate bloggers assembling a mashup of GSm tools and presenting it on their site. Blog posts could incorporate views into that mashup as well as be linked to from the contents of the mashup. I also imagine some of their users wanting to explore ideas related to but outside of that blogs focus. They could go to a free GSm host and create their own mashups, linking to material on RealClimate as appropriate.

Two points here:

(1) websites/blogs want to maintain a unified experience for their users and control over that experience. RealClimate is does a good job managing the comments on their blog. They'd want that same ability with their mashup of GSm tools (meaning limiting user's ability edit the contents of mashup).

(2) users want to break out of that box at times. I hope free GSm hosting services become available so they can do that.

Aside: It's always surprising to find out how people adopt and use new technology. When I first put "DebateGraph" into a search engine I was surprised to find a comment on a forum at the von Mises Institute suggesting they pursue a debate using that tool. [Editorial comment: those people need all the sensemaking tools they can get their hands on so good for them. (Sorry, couldn't help myself.)]

I'm sure we would find beta users in academia. I think it was Robert Parks who brought up WebGrid, a tool apparently widely used in university classroom settings.
Major agreement, Andy. Specialized users should have access to views familiar to them. I uploaded an image here that expressed my view of a high level architecture for a federation, where GEIS, the center node, represents, itself, a platform that consists of a variety of portals, each for a different community of practice, and all federated by a topic map, what I call a knowledge garden.

von Mises Institute: yet another source of sensemaking ideas and issues...





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