Meeting Facilitation Through Dialogue Mapping

Turning to the third element of the approach, facilitation, Dialogue Mapping5 is a set of skills for mapping ideas as IBIS structures in order to support the analysis of wicked problems, as defined by Rittel.6 It has turned out to be a critical development in argumentation-based DR, since it provides a way to negotiate the capture bottleneck: the structure required to construct useful DR is added in real time during the meeting, adding immediate value to the participants, but also creating a record. Mapping ideas in IBIS during a meeting is unquestionably an acquired ability, but equally, one that can be learnt (there is an international Compendium user community). This was the key oversight in early argumentation-based DR research, which experimented with small-scale demonstration examples, and did not invest enough in what we now think of as hypermedia/IBIS “literacy”. See Conklin [8] for a longer introduction to the craft skill involved in choreographing meetings and representational activities that we introduce later, and [9] for an extended resource.

The facilitation perspective places the Dialogue Mapper in a potentially very powerful role, quite the opposite of the lowly “DR scribe” whose role runs the risk of relegation to minute-taker or documenter. The mapper actively crafts structures on a shared display screen that both capture the meanings and ideas of the group and reflect back to it the larger implications of their thinking. There is a spectrum of how strongly discourse is mediated via this display (described in the DR continuum [3]). It may be used to periodically summarize and review “normal discussion” (e.g., at decision time), screens can be shown to reflect on progress, or the discussion and the map can “dance” – each shaping the other. It is hard to convey this in writing, but we contend that it exemplifies the kind of synergy be-tween tools and sensemaking that was envisioned by the developers of early “idea processing”/DR hypertext systems.

To borrow a musical metaphor, there are several shifts in the “rhythm” or “timbre” of a meeting when Compendium is used well: −Beneficial slowing down. A complaint sometimes heard when argumentation-based DR is first introduced to meetings, is that it disrupts the flow of the meeting [2,12]. When done appropriately, however, we find that it can be extremely beneficial to “disrupt” dysfunctional dynamics by focusing attention on a feature of the hypertext map. After a period of use, people become noticeably unhappy when their contributions are not mapped, because once captured on screen, they know that their view has been heard, correctly recorded, and will be harder to ignore when the map is assessed at decision time.

−Depersonalization of conflict. When ideas and concerns are mediated via a shared display, challenges to positions assume a more neutral, less personal tone. In situations where there are competing agendas, it helps participants clarify the nature of their disagreement (e.g., the definition of ‘the problem’; understanding different criteria of “success”). We have seen Compendium defuse meetings which otherwise looked to be polarized, for instance, by surfacing the different connotations of a particular question. Recent work with Compendium has deployed specifically in conflict resolution and mediation [24].

−Flexible rhythmic review. To a surprising degree, collaborative know-edge work can be characterized as “group list processing.” Whether the list is a set of requirements, budget items, or action items, a common activity is group review of a list of potentially complex elements.