We only got as far last time as Fact-Finding, so four of the five stages of facilitated collaboration still need to be addressed. As a reminder, the five stages are Fact-Finding, Proposals and Options, Decisions, Action, and Evaluation, and we’ll use the gas pipeline example from last time to ground the discussion.
Once all the stakeholders are identified, the viewpoints are expressed, the questions are asked, and the facts are on the table, a key question comes up: What are we going to do?
Proposals and Options–In this world, there are no perfect and complete answers. Every response includes trade-offs. Resources are consumed. Waste is created. The calendar eliminates opportunities. Winners and losers are created.
Because of the give-and-take, some of the tools of Fact-Finding, like wikis, can be put to work here, too.
Generation of options. The value of bouncing ideas back and forth is well-known. Can brainstorming be facilitated? Software, including meeting tools, has been used for this purpose, and so have mind mapping programs. In a circumstance like my example where there are a number of stakeholders with varying power, the former can be of real value. It is possible to collect ideas and proposals, and gather support, anonymously, so the hierarchies and political power are not amplified. (I’ve used such a mechanism in meetings were bosses of various levels participated with rank-and-file employees, and I’ve seen powerful, bottoms-up ideas emerge.) Another option is to create an idea futures market, where people essentially place bets on the best ideas.
Exploration of conclusions. It may seem like there isn’t a lot of ambiguity in results, but often a richness of information is just below the surface. The problem is how you do any digging when the issue is complex (as it is for my example). Data provenance provides an approach that takes advantage of advances in semantics. It makes it easier to look at the data, models, and analytical sources behind technical reports.
Socialization of ideas. Unless you have a lot of power, having the best idea or “winning” with your idea isn’t enough. Proposals and options need to be advocated and to gain buy-in. This involves, among other things, argument (see logic in the last post) and contextualization. Overall, people need to fit the new possibility into their value systems. They need to know what’s in it for them. This means that the best way to learn how to adapt ideas and advocate for them is to know the other people better. This can be approached (if not achieved) by profiling them. The traditional way to do this is to have conversations or work with the other people. The technical alternative is collecting and mining data. The latter creates privacy and trust issues, but it is already part of our culture and becoming more accepted.
Another aspect of socialization is understanding who makes or influences decisions. Tools exist to analyze and classify the roles of people in groups. In fact, it’s possible to get insights as to who is important to convince about an idea based on the patterns of their communications, with no reference to the content of their communications.
Critiques and comments. Proposals and options need to be presented in a way that allows them to be critiqued and commented upon. But a list of hundreds of responses is not enough. Ultimately, these must be grouped and sorted (just as the bits are in Fact-Finding). Something more interesting happens when Proposals and options are combined, hybridized, and mashed up. Not every mix of ideas is viable because of the limits of resources and the requirements for trade-offs, but a technology that could generate viable amalgams of the proposal and options presented should be possible. If too many false ones are generated, perhaps a human-based computation solution could come into play.
Horse-trading. Ultimately, for any social solution that engages enough stakeholders, compromise becomes important. All parties share in gains and losses. This may be too subtle to facilitate, but whatever system is agreed upon, there must be a space, a venue, that allows trading to take place, and it may be important to provide a level of privacy.
This provides elements to consider, but is not a comprehensive list of what might be needed to arrive at the best proposals and options. Cultures vary wildly in terms of authority, consensus, and what is accepted in terms of roles, questioning, criticism, and modification. The currents of power in a society may be disrupted by technologies, but they cannot be defined by the tools we use.
Still, the areas mentioned here might be valuable as touchstones for developing this aspect of facilitated collaboration.