Dialogues: Structured & Mapped

Peter Jones Dialogic Design

Checking up on the ongoing series of NextD interviews, I was taken by the recent Jeff Conklin interview on Rethinking Wicked Problems. The Conklin interview discusses the nature of (Rittel and Weber’s orientation to) wicked problems. He also describes the use of IBIS, developed by Rittel, which has been modernized in their process called Dialogue Mapping. Essentially they have created a basis for collaborative facilitation across stakeholders of a significant issue, drawing up the emerging consensus using visual display of contributions via software and F2F meeting engagements.

Many old-timers in the systems thinking community have used IBIS in complex design processes, and there are many connections among those in the formative years of practice: Rittel, West Churchman, Harold Nelson, Hasan Ozbekhan, Christakis, and Erich Jantsch. The Interactive Management community of practice that has grown up since the 1970’s has followed the work of Aleco Christakis (Dialogic Design) and John Warfield (Generic Design). We call ourselves structured dialogue practitioners, following Christakis, a co-founder of the Club of Rome who remains quite active in writing and practice (Harnessing Collective Wisdom, 2006).

Dr. Conklin’s Dialogue Mapping is one of the only other processes we know of similar to the software-driven process of SDD – and there are too many differences to discuss in blog post #1 on this subject. SDD was designed to facilitate a true collective consensus from widely mixed stakeholders for complex system design, policy, and problem solving situations (as it was designed for “Limits to Growth” style problematiques). Our wiki site (the Blogora) shares the ongoing case study of the current Cyprus peace dialogues, as well as other key examples, with several final reports available.

While in the last month or so, so much discussion about the past and future of design has been inspired by vanPatter’s interview with Peter Merholz, and the discussions following among IA Institute members largely following vanPatter’s response to previous discussion (Unidentical Twins). I would imagine may of my colleagues in the User Experience field did not find Rethinking Wicked Problems germane to their applications. If so, this might tend to support vanPatter’s thesis that we are not paying sufficient attention to the history of design thinking in our own disciplines. Not everything that is good and effective is new; and plenty of “old” methods and practices, (perhaps unsexy to contemporary business,) are powerfully effective and validated tools just waiting to be enhanced and employed in the right design situation.