Loomio could support Dialogue Mapping with IBIS diagrams

PF Paul Fernhout Public Seen by 130

Thanks for all you do with Loomio to help people collaborate. A key benefit of Loomio for that is helping groups visualize their deliberation process -- ranging from hand signals to pie charts displaying a group's sentiment. How can Loomio help bring those visualization tools supporting collaboration to the next level? Supporting "Dialogue Mapping" by adding an IBIS diagramming tool is one possible answer to that question.

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Here are some related resources explaining IBIS and Dialogue Mapping -- to understand the potential value of IBIS diagrams for visualizing complex discussions as an aid to collaborating on "wicked" problems -- and hopefully to spark discussion on adding this feature to Loomio somehow. IBIS diagrams are made of a simple-seeming grammar of four major building blocks of Questions/Issues, Ideas/Answers, Pros, and Cons which form a connected graph that is good enough to visualize essentially any complex conversation. IBIS is an acronym for "Issue-Based Information System".

"A Tool for Wicked Problems: Dialogue Mapping™ FAQs"

From there: ""Dialogue Mapping™ is a radically inclusive facilitation process that creates a diagram or 'map' that captures and connects participants' comments as a meeting conversation unfolds. It is especially effective with highly complex or “Wicked” problems that are wrought with both social and technical complexity, as well as a sometimes maddening inability to move forward in a meaningful and cost effective way. Dialogue Mapping™ creates forward progress in situations that have been stuck; it clears the way for robust decisions that last. It is effective because it works with the non-linear way humans really think, communicate, and make decisions. What is a Dialogue Mapping™ Session Like? Picture a meeting room with the usual tables and chairs and with a computer, display projector, and screen. Now bring in a group of people working on a project or problem. Now bring in a facilitator (also known as a "technographer") who sits at the computer and types. As the people in the meeting speak, the facilitator paraphrases and captures what they are saying in a hypertext diagram on the screen. For example, at one moment in the meeting the dialogue map might look like this: [image omitted]. The icons represent the basic elements of the Dialogue Mapping™ grammar (called IBIS): Questions, Ideas, Pros and Cons. This combination of (i) a shared hypertext display, (ii) a trained facilitator, and (iii) a conversational grammar is Dialogue Mapping™. ... In Dialogue Mapping™, as the conversation unfolds and the map grows, each person can see a summary of the meeting discussion so far. The map serves as a "group memory," virtually eliminating the need for participants to repeat themselves to get their points made. Moreover, Dialogue Mapping™ captures the way that we humans actually converse and solve problems (in a non-linear way), rather than the way most of us wish we solved problems (in a structured way)."

"Limits of Conversational Structure" (referenced in the previous citation)

"Dialogue Mapping The Lord Of The Rings with Paul Culmsee & Nick Martin"

"Dialogue Mapping: Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problem 1st Edition" by Jeff Conklin

From there: "In contrast to the use of agendas and restrictive structures, dialogue mapping is a facilitation technique that allows the intelligence and learning of the group to emerge naturally. Each participant can see how their comments contribute (or don't) to the coherence and order of the group's thinking. The first full-length book to bring dialogue mapping to a wider audience, Dialogue Mapping provides an exciting new conceptual framework that will change the way readers view projects and project management."

FOSS "Compendium" desktop software in Java made by the late Al Selvin and others (no longer in development) which supports IBIS and Dialogue Mapping:

Al's book about his PhD work:
"Constructing Knowledge Art: An Experiential Perspective on Crafting Participatory Representations"

From there: "This book is about how people (we refer to them as practitioners) can help guide participants in creating representations of issues or ideas, such as collaborative diagrams, especially in the context of Participatory Design (PD). At its best, such representations can reach a very high level of expressiveness and usefulness, an ideal we refer to as Knowledge Art. Achieving that level requires effective engagement, often aided by facilitators or other practitioners."

Perhaps, to a degree, Loomio itself essentially serves sometimes as a practitioner chosen by a group to help guide discussion through the good practices Loomio embodies?

Simon Buckingham Shum, currently a Professor of Learning Informatics at the University of Technology Sydney, oversaw Al Selvin's PhD thesis related to Compendium and best practices for facilitating groups while using Dialogue Mapping -- and he might be a resource for further ideas:

From there: "I’m Professor of Learning Informatics at the University of Technology Sydney, where I direct the Connected Intelligence Centre (CIC). I have a career-long fascination with making thinking visible using software. ... My academic journey has involved various mixes of User Modelling, Hypertext, Organisational Memory, Knowledge Management, Semantic Publishing and Learning Technology, all with a fascination in making thinking visible as networks of ideas and arguments. ..."

Inspired by Al's work, Simon's work, and work and commentary by many others, I have made some initial steps towards bringing IBIS to the web (others have tried as well). I am hoping to eventually replicate all of Compendium's features in a web app, although that may take quite a while. As part of some larger software I've been working on towards a multi-user programmable notebook, here is my latest crude work-on-progress toward bringing IBIS to the web using a tech stack of Mithril+HyperScript+Tachyons+ES6 for the front-end and Node.js+Socket.io for the backend:

That code is under the MIT license. There is obviously a big impedance mismatch from Loomio's choices of AngularJS/Vue/Coffescript for front-end work and Ruby for server-side work. But, I can hope that example can at least help inspire the Loomio team to explore the possibility of adding support for Dialogue Mapping using IBIS diagrams in the Loomio teams's preferred tech choices. Or maybe it might also help inspire Loomio to give Mithril+HyperScript+Tachyons a try or at least allow it in the tech stack for plugins like perhaps some future version of what I am working on with this code? And, given the FOSS license, Loomio developers are welcome to use that ibis.js file as a starting point for your own explorations -- and if it helps, the Loomio team is welcome to relicense that file for Loomio's use under the same GNU Affero Public License that Loomio uses. There are also some icons needed which I obtained from the Compendium project and have their own free license.

Not that you probably need more affirmation that you are doing the right thing with Loomio, but in case it helps anyway, here is some more encouragement:

From there: "The main idea of the “argumentative theory of reasoning,” put forward by Dan Sperber and myself [Hugo Mercier] is that the function of human reasoning — why it evolved — is to improve communication by allowing people to debate with each other: to produce and evaluate arguments during a discussion. This contrasts with the standard view of reasoning — apparently shared by quite a few of the readers — that reasoning evolved in order to further individual reasoning: to make better decisions, to plan ahead, to get better beliefs, etc. We have gathered a lot of evidence in support of our theory. The interested reader may enjoy a short summary ( https://sites.google.com/site/hugomercier/theargumentativetheoryofreasoning ), and the bravest may read the main academic article ( https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1698090 ). For those who don’t have the time or the inclination, let me simply try to correct an important but common misconception. We do not claim that reasoning has nothing to do with the truth. We claim that reasoning did not evolve to allow the lone reasoner to find the truth. We think it evolved to argue. But arguing is not only about trying to convince other people; it’s also about listening to their arguments. So reasoning is two-sided. On the one hand, it is used to produce arguments. Here its goal is to convince people. Accordingly, it displays a strong confirmation bias — what people see as the “rhetoric” side of reasoning. On the other hand, reasoning is also used to evaluate arguments. Here its goal is to tease out good arguments from bad ones so as to accept warranted conclusions and, if things go well, get better beliefs and make better decisions in the end."

I feel supporting IBIS in Loomio could help Loomio get even better at meeting the need for "arguing" together in a productive way. The existing Loomio functionality for decision making makes a natural complement to IBIS. For example, people could review an IBIS diagram visualizing a Loomio conversation and then agree, abstain, disagree or block possible solutions for a problem after examining all the related pros and cons on the IBIS diagram -- or people might add more to the diagram before voting such as to ask new questions. No doubt other people will think of even more ways to tightly integrate IBIS into Loomio in various ways.


Robert Guthrie Thu 9 May 2019 4:06AM

Hi @paulfernhout, thank you for the detailed intro to IBIS.

I think it sounds like a really exciting area to experiment with, but can't see how I'll ever get started on such a new direction. At least, not without resources to help with the work involved.

Are you in a position to help us find funding to develop an experimental version of this?


Paul Fernhout Thu 9 May 2019 10:56AM

Hi @robertguthrie, thanks for the reply and feedback.

On finding funding for this, I don't have many specific ideas right now -- other than perhaps to reach out to foundations or forward-looking governmental organizations that already use Loomio. Here are a couple of ideas along those lines.

Perhaps one of the partners of Vodafone New Zealand Foundation's "Collaboration Fund" already uses Loomio and could see the potential for doing even more with it? (From: https://foundation.vodafone.co.nz/collaboration-fund/ "For our Collaborative fund, we’ll be investing in processes that drive systems change – convening conversations, supporting joined up thinking and working, enabling collaborative innovation and hosting collective influence.") Training young people in New Zealand in how to use Loomio with IBIS for better decision making could then also be part of that grant perhaps?

That foundation's Innovation Fund might also be a match. (From: http://foundation.vodafone.co.nz/2018/11/30/what-are-we-funding-through-our-innovation-fund/ "We are looking for proven or promising ideas, projects and programmes that align with our strategy, generate outcomes in one or more of our five keys areas, and that utilise technology in their implementation or dissemination.")

The Loomio team could perhaps also contact Professor Simon Buckingham Shum (mentioned in the post) to see if he has any suggestions -- or maybe he might have know of some university students who could help?

Anyway, just some ideas to get you started. Collectively, the Loomio community will no doubt have many other ones!


Robert Guthrie Mon 13 May 2019 1:37AM

Id be keen to hear if anyone has any experience using this in a practical setting.


Paul Fernhout Mon 13 May 2019 10:59AM

The book mentioned above by Jeff Conklin ("Dialogue Mapping: Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problem") from 2005 has multiple examples of using Dialogue Mapping and IBIS in practice. But I'd agree it would be more persuasive if current Loomio users were clamoring for this based on experience with this technique.

I'd suggest just trying IBIS in a simple way for your next technical discussion -- just make an outline of questions/issues, answers/options for each question, and pros and cons for each answer, where any of those four can have additional questions under them.

For example:

Q: Should Loomio have an IBIS component?
    A: No
        Pro: Users wanting IBIS can do it manually like this example
        Pro: Prevents diversion of limited programming resources
            Q: Could additional funding be found for this new feature?
        Pro: Avoids cluttering the interface and confusing users
            Q: Could some clever UI design manage the clutter?
            Q: Could better training videos help users learn the new features?
        Pro: Avoids extra complexity in Loomio which risks bugs and security
            Q: How could bugs in the new code be tracked?
            Q: How could security issues in a new feature be found?
            Q: How much extra code complexity would IBIS likely add too Loomio?

    A: Yes
        Pro: A tool may help users learn how to use IBIS
        Pro: Graphical tools support linking to submaps to manage complexity
        Pro: May help groups reach better decisions
            Q: How specifically would IBIS help with this?
                A: Groups can better visualize their thinking together
                A: Group members feel heard when their comment is diagrammed
                A: Facilitators can point to the diagram when users repeat themselves
                A: IBIS diagrams help with group memory
                A: IBIS diagrams could serve as a visual index into the discussion
        Pro: May expand Loomio's user base
            Q: What are specific groups who might want this feature?
            Q: Current examples of Loomio discussions needing this?
                A: This discussion about whether to add IBIS to Loomio
                    Q: Is IBIS  helping signficantly for that discussion?

The IBIS code I linked to above has support for parsing a diagram in that textual format and making a diagram of it. I just imported that text to a test site using that ibis.js code linked above so you can see what that outline looks like graphically as an IBIS diagram: http://twirlip.net/ibis.html#diagramUUID=c290c4bd-8ce0-4275-91a8-ce754cc20ae3

The UI for editing those diagrams at that page is fairly clunky -- it is more a proof-of-concept than anything -- although it is usable. Compendium has a much smoother interface for using IBIS which I hope to duplicate or at least use for inspiration. Also, that is a wiki-like test/demo site and may get reset periodically, so no guarantees about any changes you save there; you can export the changes to JSON if you want to have a local copy.

In some cases like the above, every Pro for one option tends to be a Con for the other, so in that case, it may sometimes makes sense to choose one of Pros or Cons for listing to avoid duplication. That is one of the things Jeff Conklin explains in his book.


Eduard Kurganskyi Mon 20 May 2019 12:06PM

I used similar services for individual work. Then printed the map of the arguments and gave it to experts for evaluation. Then again brought their arguments to the map. I think that specialized services, like bCisive, will be more convenient for expert work.
For collaboration Kialo is suitable. Including through the visualization of results


Paul Fernhout Mon 20 May 2019 1:34PM

@eduardk Thanks for your perspective rooted in experience -- and also for the references to other approaches.

Kialo seems to be for listing pros and cons about a a specific topic. It reminds me of procon.org which is a free service for doing something similar.

It seems like bCisive is a (proprietary) paid web service for visualizing discussions in an IBIS-like way they call "maps" (https://www.reasoninglab.com/anatomy-of-a-map/ ). The company currently behind that called ReasoningLab also seem to offer broader reasoning and teaching tool for more complex diagrams called "Rationale". There seems to be an earlier version of bCisive from Austhink (same people?) which was a desktop version: https://www.mind-mapping.org/index.php?title=BCisive

Following up on your suggestion about bCisive also led me to this website on Mind Mapping in general, which says:
"There are details of more than 450 software tools for making various types of information maps and outlines here. 240+ are current, nearly 60 are no longer supported but can be found at download sites and the rest are here purely as a historical record and are categorized as Historical (defunct)."

While I've used general diagramming tools like Visio in the past, IBIS (and Compendium) had really captured my interest based on appropriate simplicity for live use in real-time conversations. One thing to consider is that IBIS succeeds in large part because it is simple and focused on dialogue mapping of conversations -- and is not about general diagramming which has a higher learning curve and can be a distraction in meetings. That said, any software that supports IBIS could be generalized to support more types of graphical maps -- and later versions of Compendium add other types of nodes beyond the four I mentioned.

With so many possibilities listed at the Mind Mapping website, I can hope you or others can suggest more players in this space based on experience -- since it definitely helps to see what others are doing and how successful they have been at it when deciding how to proceed.


Eduard Kurganskyi Tue 21 May 2019 3:53AM

Technical questions. Is there any standard for the exchange of information between IBIS applications? If not, which company is the leader in working with IBIS?
In which format should be export information from, for example, Loomio to be able to further work with it in IBIS applications?


Paul Fernhout Sun 26 May 2019 6:58PM

@eduardk Good questions to which I don't know the definitive answers. That said, Jeff Conklin and his CogNexus Group are leaders in the IBIS & Dialogue Mapping. They use the FOSS Compendium software a lot. While Compendium uses a database, here is an XML DTD used to define a file format for interchange: https://github.com/CompendiumNG/CompendiumNG/blob/2.1.5/docs/Compendium.dtd

An IBIS diagram in practice is usually an outline -- even though Compendium can do more than simple outlines given the same node (like a question) could show up in different diagrams. So, given the outlining aspect, a related exchange format is OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opml


Eduard Kurganskyi Mon 11 Nov 2019 7:01AM

Export Formats:

  • AIF

  • ArgDB

  • Argument Markup Language

  • RDF

  • SIOC

More information about terminology


Robert Guthrie Mon 11 Nov 2019 7:04AM

does the timeline in loomio 2 help in some way towards your goals here?

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