Global Sensemaking

Tools for Dialogue and Deliberation on Wicked Problems

Jeff Conklin
  • Male
  • Napa, California
  • United States
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About me:
I've been pursuing the dream of computer supported collaborative sense making and deliberation since 1984, when I started working on a system called "Leonardo" in the MCC Software Technology Program. I met Horst Rittel at that time, recognized IBIS as powerful enough to capture software design rationale but simple enough to be used by mere mortals, and I've been doing whatever I could figure out to do to make the dream a reality since then.
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My paper for Directions and Implications of Advanced Computing; Conference on Online Deliberation

Growing a Global Issue Base:
An Issue-based Approach to Policy Deliberation

Jeff Conklin
CogNexus Institute

Current mechanisms for public policy deliberation are failing to cope with overwhelming amounts of information and legitimate, competing interpretations. Online discourse around complex and controversial topics supports neither broad participation nor deep exploration of the issues, options and arguments. Contributions to public deliberation in the popular media, such as speeches, debates, blogs, and op-ed pieces, tend to articulate a particular point of view, simplifying the counterarguments. We urgently need approaches that are designed from the start to illuminate the nature of disagreements, to broaden public understanding of complex debates, make it easier for stakeholders to contribute productively, and to provide analysts and decision makers with cognitive support. Building on two decades of work facilitating small scale, face-to-face deliberation over wicked problems using the IBIS language, this paper proposes that the essence of the approach, augmented by recent technical advances, could scale to support global, online deliberation. A semi-structured discourse scheme like IBIS, delivered via visual web tools, provides a powerful grammar for distilling and inter-connecting speeches, blogs, and other contributions. Just as Wikipedia and related tools have become the world’s repository of consensual knowledge (representing the state of agreement), it is within reach to create robust representations of the knowledge in live controversies (the state of disagreement).

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Comment Wall (5 comments)

At 1:11 on April 4, 2008, David Price said…
Hi Jeff,

Thanks for signing up -- and looking forward to joining you as a volunteer dialogue mapper for the phone calls/workshops ahead.

At 21:47 on June 4, 2008, Jeff Conklin said…
Test message for Jeff from self: Try joining SF Bay Area group at
At 21:48 on June 4, 2008, Jeff Conklin said…
Test message

At 16:32 on July 2, 2008, Brian Sullivan said…
Hi Jeff,

It was great to talk with you and the rest of the gsm gang at Berkeley. Since we are in the neighborhood I hope we get more opportunities to talk.

Keep up the great work.
At 19:36 on June 10, 2009, Lynne Johnson said…
Collaborative sense-making. I think I'm going to love the language and practice of this new network I just joined.

Growing a Global Issue Base: An Issue-based Approach to Policy Deliberation -- I like what I read so far in the openning paragraph.

I have a :) stake in transforming the use of the language "stakeholders", which came from community development where I've background, into something more collaborative, less ownership-laden (waking up our ever-vigilant egos) and more deeply collective in essence. What do you think?

I wonder about going beyond knowledge eventually, and more approaching wisdom as a vision or outcome. Yes, I'm a writer, I split hairs. But our language reflects and affects our lives, so I'll keep on keeping on. Let's talk about it!


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