Mapping in Word - Tim van Gelder

Overview of some attempts to incorporate visual structured deliberation into Microsoft Word

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Tim van Gelder
27 May 2010

The "(visual) structured argumentation" community has generally taken a kind of "provide a whole new type of tool" approach, based on the following ideas:

  • existing "knowledge work" environments or tools don't support reasoning/argumentation very well
  • argumentation is generally done poorly, or at least could usually be much improved
  • the solution is to build new, special-purpose environments which support argumentation much better. 

Hence we see all the proliferation of desktop- and online (visual) structured argumentation tools or environments, all of which have small-to-miniscule user bases.  One thing we've learned over the past decade is that the great mass of knowledge workers are very resistant to adopting new tools and practices for an activity that they feel they can do at least well enough in their existing environments.  

An alternative approach is to introduce (visual) structured argumentation into those already-heavily-used environments or tools.  In short, we should go to where the people are, rather than hoping they will come to and adopt our shiny new gizmos.  

This is the approach Austhink Consulting has been exploring recently.  We have been developing tools and corresponding practices for introducing structured argumentation into Microsoft Word. 

Why Word?  Well:

  • It has about 500 million users, making it (as far as I've been able to tell with a bit of quick Google research) BY FAR the most widely used of all serious knowledge-work tools
  • Arguably, Word is the most sophisticated, well-designed and powerful knowledge tool in existence, and indeed that has ever existed. 
  • In particular, Word is the tool which, more than any other, people use for serious/complex argumentation and deliberation.   
It is still very early days, but our efforts to date have resulted in two tools:
  • ShowCase, a Word document which effectively turns Word into a special-purpose argument & decision mapping tool.
  •  More, which adds general hide-show functionality within Word.  More can easily be extended to support rudimentary visual structured argumentation in Word. 
Microsoft Word is of course a desktop tool.  Why talk about this in a forum concerned with online deliberation?  Because Word is going online; you can already use a (stripped-down) collaborative online version at Windows Live Office.   The distinction between desktop and online is blurring and it is reasonable to assume that eventually all Word use will migrate to some kind of "in the cloud/browser" form.  They deeper point is that it is Word people are using, whether in desktop or online versions.   

 

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