Global Sensemaking

Tools for Dialogue and Deliberation on Wicked Problems

Features and functionality of a global-scalable, collaborative, deliberative, asysnchronous discourse system

Would it be possible to start a pre-specification list of all the features and functions we think would be necessary for a comprehensive sense-making tool? I have studied concepts in effective discourse, including argumentation, group problem solving, discussion visualization, collaboration and a number of tools used to support these. It seems to me that most of the historical approaches (IBIS, Delphi, etc.) have been oriented toward smaller groups. Debate tools, too, seem to be oriented toward small group construction of argument supports. Some aspects, say between argumentation and collaboration seem inherently dialectic (and I haven't been able to see the synthesis).

If there is interest in trying to put in one place all of the things we want to get out of a tool (or interoperable set of tools) then I will be happy to extend this thread with some seeds from my own ConsensUs project to show some of what I think is important.

Jack, David, Ankur, Andy and all? Can we build a functional spec here in Ning? Is this a way to proceed?

PS. Has anyone thought about inviting Ward Cunningham (wiki) or other CMC type folks to the party?

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Replies to This Discussion

In the end, George, I mentally remain in the camp which argues that there is no universal ontology. The context that camp entails is the one that watches people try to invent, e.g. the IEEE standard upper ontology. Many argued against the idea, including John Sowa. Thus far, the results are less than satisfying...Note: I don't use the word impossible.

But, I would endorse any claim that the tiny ontology applied to IBIS, which consists of just a few concepts and axioms, is, for a particular use case, universal--that is to say, that ontology appears to be both necessary and sufficient to satisfy the use case to which it is applied.

I am intrigued by the notion that systems science might provide the ontological entities and axioms necessary to satisfy the particular use case you described above.

But, can we invent an ontology that describes our entire universe of discourse to the full and complete satisfaction of all sentient beings who would use it? I remain doubtful; that is the context in which I made the assertion to which you raise exceptions.

Returning to your insight, it's one I understand. I've been following systems science long enough to know many of the references; I'm much more interested in the particular references that animate the insights you offer here. I follow the writings and followers of Robert Rosen, who picked up the torch Nicholas Rashevsky lit in 1953 with his paper "Topology and Life...", the question being asked: how would we go about representing a canonical organism? which is tantamount, I think, to asking "what is life?" Rosen's book Life Itself provided his version of an answer, a system that offers two functions: metabolism and repair, from which reproduction self-derives. I happen to believe that the book also suggests a missing piece of the grand jigsaw puzzle we are all trying to assemble: a thorough understanding of the topology of our universe of discourse. For that, Rosen brought category theory, the topological algebra, into play. My present intuitions suggest that we might not be doing full service to our "knowledge garden" until we understand what category theory has to offer, and perhaps apply it in our processes.

While Rosen's writing takes reductionism to task for valid reasons, it seems clear that a balance of reductive and holistic thinking will be required. It follows that the platform you describe would, indeed, be most beneficial.

A short story: I recently sat down with two British bio-modelers who were lamenting that if they could just introduce a bit of teleology into their models, they could solve some tough problems. I suggested they read Rosen since he advocates admission of all four Aristotelian causes, one of which is the final cause, thought to be teleological by some. They read him and became quite enthused that they might now try something new.
Excellent! Years ago I participated in the annual Anticipatory Systems Conference in Belgium, dedicated to Rosen. Sounds like we have much to discuss - damn this limited bandwidth!

As for ontology, I don't know if you understood me, but I meant ontology in the philosophical sense rather then the way it is used, say, in the semantic web sense. In that latter sense I agree completely. In fact I'm struggling with advising a grad student right now who is convinced she is going to write software that will be able to join two disparate disciplines for interdisciplinary reference by simply looking at their published papers and extracting a common ontology from keywords. Needless to say I have insisted on constraining her scope quite a lot.

If this meeting in SF (Berkley?) happens maybe we can get a chance to dig deeper.
While I like the practical point of this discussion which could provide clarity and scaffolding for tools and practices, I'm very much with Jack's point.

A comprehensive tool for sense-making suggests that sense-making is some kind of uniform activity that people engage in. It probably varies.
Variation, it seems to me, will occur along several dimensions.

One dimension is tools. I know people, for instance, that much prefer to use their email client whenever possible and don't much care to go online and login to some facility, roam about, and figure where to go next.

Another dimension is cognitive styles, which might be a driver in tool choice, but also, along perhaps subtle lines, would make someone prefer an outline view of an issue map over a graph view.

Other dimensions?
Nice points.

Activity varies in many ways. It varies in terms of the centrality of language. In some activity language-use is almost peripheral (e.g., soccer match) whereas in others it is almost fully central (e.g., debate or chat).

Activity also varies in terms of the status people are expected to take up with each other, the types and sequencing of contributions, the point/aim of the activity, and so on.

Activity also "produces" and "reproduces" discourse (where discourse refers to given ways of talking/thinking about some domain). Sometimes we want to get beyond a discourse because it may, for instance, be contributing to impasse and stuckness. Other times the aim is to further refine a discourse.

There are other dimensions of variability, no doubt.

The point though is that it's worth considering how sense comes from the nature of the activity people create and carry out with each other. Moreover, maybe sense doesn't come from tools or individuals but from the nature of the interactivity among people, tools, and surroundings.

Thinking of GSm technology it seems useful to consider these technolgoies as a kind of intervention into the way people do things together. Ways that either elaborate what they do or that alter or enable new forms of action. Thus, in developing requirements for GSm technologies, rather than starting with tools, I would draw attention to activity, how it varies, and how people attempt to support those activities (prior to a new technological intervention). Activity is not the only matter at hand but one that is easily overlooked.
Much discussion support (both computerized and non-computerized) has been oriented to small groups. Even so, argument/dialectic as a process seem quite scaleable but the support for organizing, tracking, participating and such that seem suitable for groups may not be suitable for much larger groups using argument/dialectic as a means for sense-making.

IBIS, for instance, provides a means for articulating issue structure that seems quit robust. Challenges arise when the map gets large and when there are multiple parties attempting to jointly map a domain. In FtF groups, there seems to be a smaller cost for the participants to coordinate their activity as "IBIS mapping" (a good facilitator can help the group overcome these costs). But, as the number of participants grow, it seems that additional support will be needed to enable the larger group or community to coordinate their activity as "IBIS mapping." A facilitator provides the discipline and special labor mapping requires. How will this be provided in a large groups? Any attempt at specification should consider not only the layer of argument/dialectic but the additional layers of support often associated with the facilitator in small group settings.
I see two candidate solutions to the scalability of dialogue/issue maps, one of which is keeping track not only of the arguments and their interrelationships, but also tracking the subjects entailed in those arguments. I am introducing topic mapping to IBIS in my thesis project. The others is the divide and conquer approach as suggested by the good folks who brought us World Cafés. They open a "café" and set tables for four participants. They then start a timer and rotate people around to stir things up, and for well documented reasons. They then end the café with an integration session. Some facilitating all around.

One of my experiments is to implement what I call a Topic Café, in which a portal is opened with a context statement, some "tables" are set, and four players can join in self-facilitated IBIS discussions. In theory, the topic map engine will provide some assistance in identifying commonalities in a subject-centric way. Tagging, annotating, and connecting (Cohere) between IBIS nodes are then used by "gardeners" to wire up any coherent stories to be found among the nodes. An advantage to this approach, I think, is based on the fact that since the process is asynchronous, players can take all the time they need to formulate reasoned and justified game moves. A reputation and trust metric would assign more points to those responses that offer more and better justifications. That's my present thinking on massively-parallel-multiplayer online sensemaking. Who can say whether it will work or not...

There are undoubtedly many other solutions to scaling out hypermedia discourse.





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