Global Sensemaking

Tools for Dialogue and Deliberation on Wicked Problems

There has been a powerful surge of energy in the group over the last few days, suggesting, perhaps, the imminent emergence of a higher degree of complex organisation and purpose.

The energy and activity—distributed across various threads—appears to be building around a group agenda (roughly) along the following lines:

(1) Defining the problems we are addressing—building a definitive, systemic map of the (interrelated) global problems. Focusing initially on the issues rather than the solutions.

(2) Defining and assembling the sensemaking tools necessary to address the problems.

> An audit of the existing tool set
> A wish-list of what's missing from the existing tool set
> A means to federate and build upon the existing tools

(3) Connecting with the wider community

> Other people who are working on similar tools
> Other people who are working to address the problems in different ways
> The practitioners whose work the tools may assist
> People with the resources to catalyse the development of the tools and potential new institutional forms

(4) Defining a charter / ethos of the group. Identifying and exemplifying the patterns of interactions that we aim to encourage more widely in society.

(5) Other items?

> Defining a mission statement to post as a fixed item at the top of the Ning main page for new visitors / members.

> Should we make the group fully open now or continue to grow via invitation?

> Should we federate other tools around Ning (and, if so, which ones) or should we look to move to an alternate platform (e.g. Drupal or Wordpress mu?)

A tool missing from the Ning feature that might help us to flesh out, refine, and coalesce around the agenda is a Wiki. So as an experiment I have posted the agenda above on a Global Sensemaking wiki, created using DekiWiki.


Splitting the locus of the discussion in this way may not be a sensible idea—and if this proves to be case we shouldn't hesitate to abandon the idea (or to build on it in a different direction).

Feel free to add comments on the agenda (and/or on the Wiki idea/experience) here as well.

Once we have fleshed out the agenda, we can focus on an action plan for achieving our goals.

[UPDATE 3rd June 2008: Wiki switched to DekiWiki, which looks like a more promising longer term option for the group. I have changed the links above accordingly].

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Even though it says the page cannot be edited, I've succeeded in editing it, following which, it now says, instead, the "last modified" stats.

Found My Preferences...
I've updated my preference (profile) a bit just to get the feel.

But I'm a little concerned about this Wiki. In my experience the best uses of wikis is for collaboration on publishable documents (like co-authoring papers, Wikipedia, etc.) where the real work often happens off-line or in a backroom discussion (which I don't see in this version). In other words I see a wiki as a way of integrating already determined content from diverse authors, but not as a means for doing another form of discussion.

Is it possible that we step back and consider exactly how we plan to use these tools and for what purpose? My original thought, when David suggested the wiki, was that that is where we could record the charter, plan, specifications, etc. Each of us participating could take a chunk/task (assigned by Andy S!) and work on it, putting the draft version of our work into the wiki. Then it would be subject to further discussion (ala Wikipedia style) and editing for refinement.

It would also be good to have a protocol for page creation, format, etc. just so things don't go out of control. For me this is a time management issue as much as anything. When I log into the group here at Ning I look first at recent activity in order to try to get a handle on where the discussions are going. When I see blogs and groups and discussions all over the place, I have to admit, it puts me in a time crunch to follow the various threads. I would vote for an up-front protocol for using the wiki so that we can have a consistent way to know what the structure, etc. of the published material is.

Just my thoughts.
I wonder if it would make sense for us to use an on-line argumentation tool (like debatemapper, compendium/citrix, or the collaboratorium) to hash out the issues, ideas, and tradeoffs, and then use a wiki as a venue for word-crafting whatever consensus emerges from that process? This would serve a dual purpose, since it would help us explore the value of on-line argumentation as a possible sensemaking technology.
Well that makes sense to me. I don't mind a discussion thread in this Ning environment to complement the wiki development. But one of the tools you mentioned probably provide more support for sensemaking than is feasible in just threaded comments.

Are others on-board with this?
I suspect I am "on-board" with Mark's suggestion for two main reasons, one of which is my experience tells me that information is really hard to find in threaded discussions where, often as not, the subject changes within the threads. The other reason is that I think that tiny subject lines as in Compendium force people to be concise and say precisely what they want conveyed in short phrases, amplifying the thought, justifying it, relating it, etc, within the text body of each node. Along that thought, my own experience has been that I like to work in Compendium, but, on the Web, I implement outline formats as does DebateGraph and the collaboratorium. I like both of them; my TopicSpaces project uses something closer to the collaboratorium except that it uses the Compendium node icons, seeking to maintain the visual vocabulary that Compendium is offering. In comparison to DebateGraph, I like to get as much of the outline in view as possible, meaning, I would prefer if DebateGraph would show the text bodies on mouseover or at least offer an option to hide them in order to get a larger view of the landscape.
I also prefer that each node in a dialogue map is uniquely addressable for referencing elsewhere.

This is the thread about the agenda and action plans, and we are now deciding which tools to use. That topic is an agenda item, but, in a dialogue map, it could, be discussed in a nested map, one devoted to that agenda item. The way we would do that here is create another Forum thread for each agenda item, and leave this thread to just hash out which items to discuss.
Actually, my original question wasn't what tools should we use, it was shouldn't we define how we are going to use whatever we decide on. In this case, my concern was that the wiki platform would turn into another comment stream without any structure or pre-agreement as to what we would put in those pages.

Ward Cunningham told a conference audience, a few years ago (if memory serves), that the best practices he'd seen for wikis was where a group had established a protocol for content development and collaboration before launching the application. I think Wikipedia is a good example of getting the protocols (mostly) right before allowing people in. They used the page typing mechanism in MediaWiki to structure the kinds of interactions. Of course in that application they relied on competitive-cooperative processes of self-organization to produce the outcomes. But the structure and protocols constrained the process and I think it worked out pretty well.

So my comments here are directed at pre-establishing a protocol and externally agreed upon content purpose for the wiki. As I explained, I just don't have time to chase ideas around multiple media and multiple threads.

I suggest Andy provide some oversight (if he accepts the nomination) and guide some development of guidelines for content production and placement. Or David. This is all in the interest of time. I'm not sure we have the luxury of letting self-organization do its magic. But if others feel differently, I'm a team player.
Seems like we are talking about a different question than the one to which I responded above. Issues of sensemaking 101: figure out what the subject identity is--the identity of the issue being answered.

George, like you I don't have time to chase ideas around multiple media and multiple threads. I much prefer them organized by subject; in some sense, a dialogue map does a portion of that, which is why I "got on-board" your later question, which followed Mark's suggestion to begin using a mapping tool.

I think there is merit in "assigning" an individual or small group to sort out something and "report back". But, counting active heads, we are already a small group with less than half-dozen out of 40-something members of this tribe. The core theme is collective sensemaking.

David and I talked about this earlier today using Skype. It seems that there is an underlying frustration growing out of using tools that don't support sensemaking in the ways we are trying to pioneer the sport; we need to use dialogue maps to conduct dialogues. Let's find such tools and use them, knowing there are three options (could add TopicSpaces in a pinch, making 4). Two (not counting TopicSpaces) of the three use indented outline form; I'm growing used to talking in DebateGraph, look forward to using the collaboratorium. Also have successfully used Compendium online. We have options.

I like the idea of conducting "back door" discussions of the rambling kind in a wiki, then taking the ideas to the map.

For protocol, the purpose of each dialogue map sets the context, just as a World Cafe is created for a given theme, then tables-for-four are set for specific aspects associated with that theme. IBIS itself already provides a protocol for user gestures.

Over time, I'll try to groom TopicSpaces to harvest the dialogues and feed back in some iframe query what the map "knows" about different subjects. If each dialogue node is addressable, people can annotate and connect it through Cohere and tag it through Tagomizer. With a small group and absent Google discovering TopicSpaces, I'm happy to make an instance of it available to test ideas.

Just my tenth EURO.

It would be great to use the Collaboratorium for one (or more) of the activities on the agenda.

Would you like to pick an activity that appeals, set up an appropriate area in Collaboratorium, and point us towards it whenever you are ready?


I created a GSM space on the Collaboratorium, and sent you an account invitation. Currently, only the admin (me, for now) can create accounts, so I need the names and email addresses for the people who are interested in accounts. Is there a quick way for me to get that info?

I'm not sure what topic to pick. What do you suggest?

Here's an idea. If anyone wants a collaboratorium account, send me an email at
This has been a good discussion. Here's my contribution: I'm volunteering for a project management role which I briefly describe at that link.
Thanks Andy,

The way forward text is spot on from my perspective—and I'll gladly participate in the way that you outline, and gladly second you for the project management role (with the request that you don't suffer in silence at any point if the volunteer workload feels as if is becoming too great or the time that you have available for the role becomes temporarily compressed).






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