Sunday, April 20, 2008

Research, Compendium and voting-type group decision support systems

This came out of an email interchange with a VZ colleague who asked about whether keypad- or other voting-style group decision support systems would help in a Compendium session, and how that would relate to what I'm looking at with my current research. This is pretty much what I responded with.

My research has more to do with the activity of trying to work and be effective in this kind of environment, trying to shape a collaborative artifact of this kind, and what kinds of challenges as well as expertise/artistry come up in doing so, than it does with looking at the effectiveness of the session/approach for the group itself.

I take as a given that the subjects are engaged in a worthwhile activity using appropriate tools, but I am not really looking at either of those things (the worthwhileness of the activity or the appropriateness of the tools). Rather I am trying to understand the ‘phenomenology’ of the practitioners themselves as they are engaged in such an activity – what their experience is, how to characterize it. The focus could equally be a facilitator drawing on an easel sheet or post-it notes, the same kinds of things occur (how do they deal with disruptions/dilemmas, how do they engage with the participants, what do they do to help shape the artifact in a contextually useful way, etc.).

Similarly, related research on teachers in classrooms, or jazz musicians, or dispute mediators, or the way that Donald Schön studied various kinds of professional practitioners, also take this kind of experiential/phenomenological approach (as opposed to looking at the tools, methods, or outcomes themselves).

So using different sorts of tools (like the keypad kind of approach you mention) might make various kinds of difference for the participants, positive or negative – but my interest (at least for this strain of research) would still be on what the experience of trying to make these kinds of sessions ‘work’ is like, especially in the face of the inevitable sensemaking challenges that occur no matter what kind of approach you are using (except possibly when things are rigidly controlled – but then you have different kinds of challenges).

Personally I’m somewhat skeptical of voting-type approaches, though they have their place. However, all approaches to helping groups communicate together have flaws and limitations – human beings are tough to work with. And it is only humans that can work with other ones… What I am really interested in understanding is, what human capabilities make the difference – and my belief is that, no matter what the tools/approach, it comes back to the intelligence, artistry, communicative competence, improvisational abilities, etc. of the people involved. So what I hope this research is leading to is some kind of characterization of those dimensions in this particular context (rather than making claims about the context or tools themselves).

No comments: