Sunday, October 19, 2008

More Compendium history (part 2): Early Days

This is part 2 of a series.
Over the next few weeks in early 1992, a small coterie of lab members tried to build out discussions and plans within CM/1, mostly working individually to build on others’ contributions in collective maps. Somehow, however, these never seemed to amount to what we expected. Some maps withered with few contributions, while others got very large very quickly, so large that it was difficult to find where to read or contribute. In some cases, long chains of “yes it is”-, “no it isn’t”-style pros and cons emerged as individuals argued back and forth. Few, if any, left-hand moves or coherent arguments or rationale emerged in these collaborative, networked maps.

On the other hand, several of us started to use the software in small group sessions, usually in the context of small software or process redesign projects. These were more successful, especially when the groups paid close attention to what was being put on the screen. When the group worked together to ensure that each node and link were carefully crafted, matching the intended types (e.g. that a Question node really represented a single question and did not bundle in answers and arguments, and was not phrased in such a way as to only allow yes or no answers, etc.), the results were more generative and beneficial.

Fast-forward a few months. Despite the initial excitement, the collaborative networked use of CM/1 had died out. We did not get much take-up of the software in any form beyond a few people who had been at the original workshop. Several other members tried the approach with enthusiasm, especially in group meetings, only to give up quickly as the apparently simple act of capturing discussion in nodes and links proved not to be as easy as it looked. Most times we saw people quickly fall behind, and then give up altogether as the spoken discussion just did not seem to take a form that matched what could be represented in IBIS. Neophyte mappers did not know how to intervene in the conversation so as to try to get careful engagement in the maps.

However, several of us still believed that there was great potential there, if we could only find the right way to apply the approach. We continued to experiment in small groups and individually, recording discussions in meetings, occasionally trying our hand at live facilitation and collaborative capture of design rationale.

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