What should I do now? A bedtime story about dialogue mapping
It was about half past eight in the evening a couple of weeks ago; I was sitting at my computer at home, writing up some notes for a blog post on issue mapping.
“What are you drawing?” asked my eight year old, Rohan. I hadn’t noticed him. He had snuck up behind me quietly, and was watching me draw an IBIS map. (Note: see my post entitled, the what and whence of issue-based information systems for a quick introduction to IBIS)
“Go to bed,” I said, still looking at the screen. It was past his bedtime.
“…but what are you drawing. What are those questions and arrows and stuff?”
A few minutes won’t hurt, I thought. I turned to him and explained the basics of the notation and how it worked.
“But what good is it,” he asked.
“Good question,” I said. “It has many uses, but one of the most important ones is that it can help people make good decisions.”
“Decisions about what?”
“Anything, I said, “for example: you may want to decide what you should do right now. Well, IBIS can help you make that decision.”
“I’ll have to show you,” I said, “and I can’t because you have to go to bed now.” What a cop out, I thought to myself, as I said those words.
“Come on, dad – just a few minutes. I really want to know how it can help me make a decision about what I should do now.”
“You should go to bed.”
“How do I know that’s a good decision? Let’s see what IBIS says,” said the boy.
Brilliant! It was checkmate. I relented.
“OK, “ I said, opening a new map in Compendium and drawing a question node. “Every IBIS map begins with a question – we call it the root question. Our root question is: What should I do now?”
I typed in the root question and asked him: “So, tell me: what are the different things you could do now.”
He thought for a bit and said, “I could go to sleep but that’s boring.”
“Good. There are actually two things you’ve said there – an idea (go to sleep) and an argument against it (its boring). Let’s put that down in the map. In an IBIS map, an idea is shown as a light-bulb (as in a comic) and an argument against it by a minus sign.”
The map with the root question along with Rohan’s first response and argument is shown in Figure 1.
He looked at the map and said, “There’s another minus I can think of – it is hard to sleep so early.”
I put that point in and said, “I’m sure you could also think of some plus points for sleeping early.”
“Yes,” he said, “I can get up early and do stuff.”
“I can play Wii before I go to school.”
“OK let’s put all that into the map,” I said. “See, an argument supporting an idea is shown as a plus sign. Then, I asked you to explain a bit more about why getting up early is a good thing. Your answer goes into the map as another idea. Notice, also, that the map develops from right to left, starting from the root question.”
The map at this point of the discussion is shown in Figure 2.
“What else can you do now?”
“I can talk to you,” said Rohan.
“And what are the plus points of that?” I asked.
“It is interesting to talk to you.” Ah, the boy has the makings of a diplomat…
“The minus points?”
“You are tired and crabby”
OK, may be he isn’t a diplomat…
The map at this point is shown in Figure 3.
“What else can you do,” I asked, as I cleaned up the map a bit.
“I could spend some time with Vikram.” (Vikram is Rohan’s 4 month old brother).
“What are the plus points of doing that?”
“He does funny things and he’s cute.”
“That’s two points, ” I said, adding them to the map. Then I asked, “What kinds of funny things?”
“He gurgles, smiles and blows spit bubbles.”
“Great,” I said, adding those points as elaborations of “does funny things”.
Rohan said, “I forgot. Vik is asleep so I can’t play with him.”
“OK, so that’s a minus point that rules out the choice,” I said, adding it as an argument against the idea. The map at this point is shown in Figure 4.
“Can you think of anything else you can do?” I asked.
He thought for a while and replied, “I could read.”
“OK,” I said. “What are the plus and minus points of that.”
“It’s interesting,” he said, and then in the same breath added, “but I have nothing to new to read.”
I put these points in as arguments for and against reading. The map at this point is shown in Figure 5.
After finishing I asked, “Anything else you want to add.”
“I could just stay up and watch a movie,” he said.
I stopped myself from vetoing that outright. Instead, I put the point in and asked,” Why do you want to stay up and watch a movie?”
“It’s fun,” he said.
“May be so, but a movie would take too long and you have school tomorrow.”
“I’ll note your point,” I said, “but I’m afraid I have to veto that option.”
“I was just trying it out, dad.”
“I know,” I said, as I updated the map (see Figure 6).
“Can you think of anything else you could do?”
“OK, let’s look at where we are. Have a look at the map and tell me what you think.”
Rohan looked at the map for a bit and said, “It shows me all my choices and gives me reasons to choose or not to choose them.”
“Does that help you decide what you should do now?”
“Sort of,” he said, “I know I can’t spend time with Vik because he’s asleep. I can’t talk to you because you’re tired and might get crabby. I can’t stay up and watch a movie because you won’t let me.”
“So what can you do?”
“I can read or go to sleep”
“But you have nothing new to read.,” I pointed out.
“Yes, but I think I could find something that I would like to read again…Yes, I know what I will do - I’ll read for a while and then go to sleep.”
“Sounds like a good idea – that way you get to do two of the things on the list.” I said.
“This IBIS stuff is cool. I think I’ll talk about it at my news this Thursday. It is free choice.” (News is a 2-3 minute presentation that all kids in class get to do once a week. Most often the topic is assigned beforehand, but there’s one free-choice session per term where the kids can talk about anything they want to)
“Great idea,” I said, “I’ll help you make some notes and map images tomorrow. Now you’d really better go off to bed before your mum comes in and gets upset at us both.”
”Good night, dad”