Dedicated to Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems

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Articles & Research by Jeff Conklin (founder of CogNexus Institute)
Hypertext: An Introduction and Survey - September 1987, Computer Magazine
Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems - Rotman Magazine interview with Jeff Conklin, Winter 2009
Designing Organizational Memory     Second most popular paper
Wicked Problems and Social Complexity     Most popular paper

Jeff Conklin, Ph.D.

Dialogue Mapping is a graphical technique for creating a shared map of a meeting conversation. A facilitator uses the Dialog Mapping method to capture the key questions, ideas, and arguments that come up as the conversation unfolds, recording them in a network-like map for everyone in the meeting to see. The technique works for any topic or problem, but shines best when used with technically complex problems and “socially complex” groups … those with widely differing views on a dynamically complex or “wicked” problem.
Hypertext: An Introduction and Survey  - September 1987, Computer Magazine
Jeff Conklin

Most modern computer systems share a foundation which is built of directories containing files. The files consist of text which is composed of characters. The text that is stored within this hierarchy is linear. For much of our current way of doing business, this linear organization is sufficient. However, for more and more applications, a linear organization is not adequate. For example, the documentation of a computer program is usually either squeezed into the margins of the program, in which case it is generally too terse to be useful, or it is interleaved with the text of the program, a practice which breaks up the flow of both program and documentation.

El primer paso para mejorar la colaboración es entender las barreras que se tienen. Este documento describe el obstáculo para la colaboración exitosa, la fragmentación y muestra como es causada por los problemas complejos y la complejidad social. La fragmentación, sucede por ejemplo, cuando los participantes de un proyecto están todos convencidos de que su versión del problema es la correcta. La manera de enfrentar la fragmentación es a través de un entendimiento y un compromiso compartido, el cual es principalmente un problema social.
Rotman Magazine interview with Jeff Conklin

CogNexus Institute founder Jeff Conklin explains why the Age of Design requires a new approach to problem solving that is built on a foundation of shared understanding.

Dr. Jeffrey Conklin

Current mechanisms for public policy deliberation are failing to cope with overwhelming amounts of information and legitimate, competing interpretations. 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. This paper, presented at the Directions and Implications of Advanced Computing (DIAC) conference in June of 2008,  presents a vision for using Dialogue and Issue Mapping, on a global scale and using web tools, in order to allow diverse stakeholders to systematically build a shared understanding of the most complex and urgent challenges facing humanity.
Dr. Jeffrey Conklin

We are entering the "Age of Design," in which the primary activity of all organizations is creative design. The engine of this activity is the project team, but the rules for successful project teams are changing. The mythos and mechanisms of the Age of Science are no longer adequate, and are actually creating pain ... organizational pain. This paper gives a name and a compelling story to the phenomena project teams are experiencing every day.

Dr. Jeff Conklin

Collaborative display (or "shared display") is more than just a computer projector, it is a new way of working that augments a group's ability to communicate with each other and make sense of their context.  This 2-page article describes this phenomenon from a personal perspective.

Dr. Jeffrey Conklin

Drawing on parallels to human and computer memory, this paper proposes that groups and projects need an effective Short Term Memory (STM) in order for knowledge management and organizational memory efforts to be effective. The use of a shared display during meetings, the paper argues, is an organic Sort Term Memory for the knowledge that is created in the meeting, and thus serves as a natural bridge to organizational (long term) memory and knowledge management systems.

Jeff Conklin, Albert Selvin, Simon Buckingham Shum, Maarten Sierhuis

Pursuing Doug Engelbart's goal of "augmenting human intellect", we describe the Compendium approach to collective sensemaking, which demonstrates the impact that a hypertext facilitator can have on the learning and adoption problems that plagued knowledge capture problems in earlier hypertext systems. We also describe how conventional documents and modelling notations can be morphed into and out of Compendium's `native hypertext' in order to support other modes of working across diverse communities of practice.

PDF Version as published in Proceedings LAP'03: 8th International Working Conference on the Language-Action Perspective on Communication Modelling, Tilburg, The Netherlands

Simon J. Buckingham Shum, Albert M. Selvin, Maarten Sierhuis, Jeffrey Conklin, Charles B. Haley, Bashar Nuseibeh

Abstract: Having developed, used and evaluated some of the early IBIS-based approaches to design rationale (DR) such as gIBIS and QOC in the late 1980s/mid-1990s, we describe the subsequent evolution of the argumentation-based paradigm through software support, and perspectives drawn from modeling and meeting facilitation. Particular attention is given to the challenge of negotiating the overheads of capturing this form of rationale. Our approach has maintained a strong emphasis on keeping the representational scheme as simple as possible to enable real time meeting mediation and capture, attending explicitly to the skills required to use the approach well, particularly for the sort of participatory, multi-stakeholder requirements analysis demanded by many design problems. However, we can then specialize the notation and the way in which the tool is used in the service of specific methodologies, supported by a customizable hypermedia environment, and interoperable with other software tools. After presenting this approach, called Compendium, we present examples to illustrate the capabilities for support security argumentation in requirements engineering, template driven modeling for document generation, and IBIS-based indexing of and navigation around video records of meetings.
Jeff Conklin

Dialogue Mapping™, and the closely related Compendium approach, are essentially about creating coherence from a mass of fragmented points of view and pieces of information. This short article introduces the concept of using this collaborative approach in the intelligence community to help make sense of the mass of fragmented security information that must be analyzed and interpreted.

PDF Version (Final version, Feb. 11, 2002)
Shorter Document version for government RFI on Knowledge Collaboration (Revised Nov. 9, 2001)

Jeff Conklin

This paper (published in 1999) reviews the remarkable history of continuous use of QuestMap software and the Dialogue Mapping™ approach over a seven year period (now nine years, and counting). CSCA is Computer Supported Collaborative Argumentation, the use of structured argumentation models such as IBIS to organize and capture the collaborative process. This paper presents some of the roots of the Dialogue Mapping™ approach, and illustrates some of the issues of using the approach for synchronous and asynchronous collaboration in a mid-sized corporate research and policy organization.
Jeff Conklin

This paper updates the "Seven Years ..." paper above, and also appears as a chapter in Visualizing Argumentation: Software Tools for Collaborative and Educational Sense-Making (Paul A. Kirschner, Simon J. Buckingham Shum and Chad S. Carr, Eds.). "The case study reports on ten years of continuous usage of Dialogue Mapping™ by a group of approximately 50 users in the Environmental Affairs division of Southern California Edison (SCE). More precisely, this group has been users of the QuestMap software system, which is the software system underpinning Dialogue Mapping™. QuestMap provides some hypertext and groupware features which are quite powerful but are also can be difficult for new users to master. Such features often spell doom for the successful rollout of new collaboration technologies. The case study explores the some of the practical success factors for CSAV adoption as they apply to the case of the adoption and usage of QuestMap and Dialogue Mapping™ at SCE."

Jeff Conklin

Dialogue Mapping™ must be seen and experienced to be understood. We hope soon to have video clips on the website that will help communicate "the dance" between the DM facilitator, the group, and the shared display. In the mean time, think of this piece as the story board for the movie.

A short tutorial on some of the ideas behind IBIS and some common pitfalls to avoid in using it.
Jeff Conklin, Clarence Ellis, Lynn Offermann, Steve Poltrock, Albert Selvin, and Jonathan Grudin

Virtual teams of geographically distributed knowledge workers are increasingly common, yet they face serious challenges. This proposal has three objectives: to create an empirically-based "ecological" theory of effective, sustainable virtual teamwork, to create a Web-based Handbook as a vehicle of disseminating the theory, and to create a software Collaboration Assistant that would coach virtual teams in sustainability practices. Although this proposal to the National Science Foundation was not funded, we still feel it represents important research on collaborative technology.

Dr. E. Jeffrey Conklin

The first step in improving collaboration is to understand the barriers to collaboration. This paper describes the chief barrier to collaborative success - fragmentation - and shows how fragmentation is caused by wicked problems and social complexity. Fragmentation, for example, is when the stakeholders in a project are all convinced that their version of the problem is correct. The way to combat fragmentation is through shared understanding and shared commitment, which is inherently a social process.

Many thanks to Chris Connerly at Art Direction, Inc. for the wonderful new formatting on this paper!

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