Dialogue Mapping

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Dialogue Mapping is a software-assisted method of non-linear group facilitation, initially developed by Jeff Conklin. The software it uses, Compendium, is open-source shareware that is freely available through the Cognexus Institute.


Dialogue Mapping consists of a combination of (i) a shared hypertext display, (ii) a trained facilitator, sometimes called an "info-cartographer", and (iii) a conversational grammar.

Dialogue Mapping is structural augmentation of group communication. 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." (http://www.cognexus.org/id41.htm)

Dialogue Mapping also allows participants to offer their contributions to the conversation in an organic, dialogical flow, while the facilitator maps their contribution onto an organized logic tree that is being seen by all.

How DM differs from other facilitation methods

"How is Dialogue Mapping different from traditional facilitation?

We're all familiar with the role of the facilitator. This is the role of the neutral person who plans and guides a group through a meeting, keeping the group on schedule and on topic, and addressing process issues like one person dominating the conversation or group members getting stuck in a debate. The facilitator uses learned skills and intuition to interact with the group in ways that effectively “facilitate? their accomplishment of their meeting objectives.

Dialogue mapping has the same intention as facilitation: to help the group members hold an effective conversation on a complex topic. By “effective? we mean a conversation that both accomplished the objectives and built higher levels of shared understanding, respect, alignment, and transparency. But dialogue mapping uses two tools that are relatively new to the conference room.

The first is to capture key elements of the conversation in a shared display. This could be whiteboards or flipcharts, but more often these days it's a computer projector. Shared display means that what is projected in the display is being crafted by the group actively. People's comments are somehow reflected in the display. We're not talking about PowerPoint here!! Sometimes referred to as interactive visual modeling, shared display requires that there be someone driving the computer who has the skills and intention of adding value to the group's interaction and creating group memory of the group's thinking and learning.

The second aspect of dialogue mapping that is new and different is the use of a simple conversational grammar called IBIS, Issue Based Information System. IBIS represents the moves in a conversation as Questions, Ideas (possible answers to the Question), and Arguments (pros and cons to the ideas). The power of IBIS is its emphasis on questions. In an IBIS diagram new questions arise to clarify assumptions, challenge arguments, shift the context, and explore the deeper implications of ideas. Dialogue mapping requires that the mapper be so fluent in IBIS that they can translate everyday meeting-speak (e.g. “Why are we talking about this??, “That's not the issue!?, etc) on the fly into IBIS and write or type it into the shared display for the group to see and validate. The pinnacle of fluency in IBIS is being able hear the hidden questions behind participants' comments." (http://www.cognexus.org/dm_vs_facilitation.htm)

More Information

More information about Dialogue Mapping can be found here: https://eight2late.wordpress.com/category/dialogue-mapping/

Compendium software can be downloaded here at http://compendium.open.ac.uk/institute/

Paul Culmsee and Kailash Awati's "The Heretic's Guide to Best Practices" is a highly informative book on Dialogue Mapping, that explores how it compares to other problem-structuring methods, and also includes detailed case studies. At one point, they summarize the difference as being that DM is more "bottom up" approach, in contrast to other PSM's which they depict as being more "top down".

Recently, Paul Culmsee has developed an open-source KM software based on Compendium called Glyma. http://www.cleverworkarounds.com/about/