David Price and Peter Baldwin are doing a great job with their Debategraph tool to raise the profile of visual argument mapping. Their collaboration with The Independent on “Mapping the Crisis in Gaza” has been widely covered on other channels.
Debategraph represents the current state of the art in argument mapping in the way it uses Web 2.0 techniques to draw in users and make its maps viral. Some of our ongoing discussions with David and Peter cover our joint ESSENCE initiative, the sociotechnical mix that gets tools such as this used, and interoperability with our own tools, also grounded in the IBIS discourse scheme.
One of the challenges facing the argument/debate mapping field is the relationship with dialogue. Argumentation is quite a confrontational activity, seeking to establish the truth — or plausibility — of a position. This is clearly critical in many fields of inquiry, where factual truth is at stake (was there a holocaust or not?), or the plausibility of an approach, as judged by other criteria. But we might also ask how we move from mapping an apparently intractable debate such as the issues around Gaza, to supporting dialogue that builds common ground, resolves conflict, and re-establishes trust. In a recent chapter reporting on mapping some of the Iraq debate, we concluded:
Finally, while we are certainly interested in improving information management, sharpening critical thinking and promoting sound argumentation, at the same time, these are only part of the story if knowledge mapping tools are to go beyond fostering critical analysis (albeit a worthy end in its own right), and provide support for shaping, not just analysing, the hardest kinds of policy deliberations. Those who are engaged in conflict resolution in the most strife-ridden communities and countries (not to mention the less extreme dynamics within our organisations), remind us that the key to making true progress is to establish the context for open dialogue in which stakeholders learn to listen to each other properly, and co-construct new realities (Isaacs, 1999; Kahane, 2004).
This chapter has focused somewhat on the rational, critical analysis of information and argument connections (see also Ohl’s Chapter 13). However, the approach we are developing emphasises a simple visual language that can be used effectively in real time to capture and reflect back a wide variety of deliberative moves, with its roots in facilitating dialogue that is owned by all stakeholders (Conklin, 2006; Selvin, et al., 2002; Papadopoulos, 2004 Selvin, Chapter 11). The vision of our ongoing Hypermedia Discourse research programme is to create knowledge cartography tools and practices that integrate heart and mind. We need both critical thinking and open listening as we strive collectively to make sense of, and act on, the complexities and controversies now facing us.
Exciting times! But serious times, as we need to get these tools into the hands of the people who are tackling the pressing issues now confronting us in our communities, nations and as a planet.