Sunday, November 25, 2007

The action is in the live interaction

For the Rutgers and Ames experiments, I gave small groups the task to construct a Compendium exercise that they would lead a larger group through. They were free to take this in any direction they chose, with the one instruction that they had to facilitate the large group through making changes of some sort to the maps.

The successful groups were able to get a large amount of engagement with the maps and to keep up the energy level throughout their 15-20 minute facilitated sessions. The less successful groups had little to no engagement with the maps; the sessions had more the character of general discussions, with occasional looks at the maps but no real direct engagement.

Why were some groups successful and some less so? It appears to be a combination of factors. Clarity of focus, giving the large group participants a clear task, not cluttering up the seed maps too much in advance, and adroit facilitation were some of the factors. For my research I am focusing specifically on sensemaking instances and shaping moves made during these sessions, and how these played into what the groups were able to accomplish during their sessions.

I have been doing a lot of thinking about what all of this has to do with Compendium, and knowledge art, in general. What will it add up to? What does it contribute to the longer-term effort to move these tools and practices forward?

No definitive answers yet. But one thing that is emerging is more clarity around what Compendium is "for", at least for me. I have to say the "for me" part because, by its nature, it doesn't have to be about any one thing or set of ideas. I have argued elsewhere that Compendium is not inherently about concept/mind-mapping, IBIS, dialogue mapping, knowledge modeling, or any of the other purposes that people are putting it to, valuable as they are. There are other tools that can do all of these things, and other ways to do them.

There is something that Compendium is uniquely suited for, though, and that is the real-time, live interaction with these kinds of maps, especially by groups of people. The kind of work that my small groups did in advance, planning and making the seed maps, or that many others have done in a myriad of settings, can be full of artistry and produce elegant and compelling maps. But you could make the same kinds of things with other tools, and some forms of interaction with maps (e.g., asynchronous web interactions a la Cohere) are supported better in ways other than Compendium. But live, unconstrained, shaping and reshaping of a complex set of maps, as far as I have seen, is best done with Compendium. No other tool gives you the breadth and depth of reach and ability to shape interlinked knowledge maps finely, rapidly, on the fly, in the heat of the moment, with a group of people.

I am starting to think of making maps as creating the stage sets for live interaction. The sets can be designed and built with a great deal of artistry, but ultimately what matters is the live performance, what the actors are able to do in front of, and with, their audience. At least, that's what I'm most interested in, and what I believe Compendium as software is most uniquely suited for, and what the kinds of practice I am trying to study and support are concerned with. For me it comes down to what happens in those live interactions. If we can understand and support them better, there is something of unique value there that can have much broader impact than what we've been able to foster so far.

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