Eight to Late

Sensemaking and Analytics for Organizations

What should I do now? A bedtime story about dialogue mapping

with 23 comments

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.

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.”

“What 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

“School’s boring.”

“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).

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”

“’night, Rohan”

Written by K

October 7, 2010 at 5:12 am

23 Responses

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  1. Possibly the clearest, and most entertaining description of IBIS ever written! Bravo. Going to send it to my kids now 🙂


    Al Selvin

    October 7, 2010 at 9:05 am

  2. Really wonderful, thoroughly enjoyed it! Thanks!



    October 7, 2010 at 9:31 am

  3. Great example, for both parents and young people!


    KC Burgess Yakemovic

    October 7, 2010 at 10:21 am

  4. Wow, this is going to a textbook case for me sharing IBIS with others. Well done, and thank you very much for sharing


    Jason John Wells

    October 7, 2010 at 1:34 pm

  5. Sweet! Thanks for sharing.



    October 7, 2010 at 3:54 pm

  6. Al, Kerri, KC, Jason and Tim,

    I’m glad you liked the piece, and truly appreciate the feedback.

    Thank you all so much!





    October 7, 2010 at 5:47 pm

  7. So educational, helpful and clear.

    P.S – Awesome father. 🙂


    Richard Harbridge

    October 8, 2010 at 6:40 am

  8. Thanks Richard. Rohan might not always agree with the PS though 🙂





    October 8, 2010 at 8:04 am

  9. Excellent description, and a most practical app 🙂


    Austin Tate

    October 9, 2010 at 8:07 pm

  10. Many thanks for the feedback.

    Yes, Compendium is a very practical app. Moreover it is easy to use and very intuitive: I was able to start mapping out dialogues in small, informal meetings right after working through a basic tutorial.





    October 9, 2010 at 10:25 pm

  11. Great piece Kailash. I can see many uses, I will also forward to my #1 son (23yo), and #2 son (9yo). I’m sure both will learn something from it (as I did).



    October 14, 2010 at 12:14 pm

  12. Thanks Andrew (Zulu),

    Perhaps we’ll get a chance to collaborate on a project soon – would present some opportunities to use DM.





    October 16, 2010 at 1:59 pm

  13. Kailash — you have a rare gift for taking something that can seem arcane and diffult and turning into … well, child’s play! Brilliant!! I’m sending it to all my clients and students.


    Jeff Conklin

    October 21, 2010 at 4:14 pm

  14. Jeff,

    I’m truly honoured by your comments. Thank you!





    October 21, 2010 at 8:56 pm

  15. […] What should I do now? A bedtime story about dialogue mapping – https://eight2late.wordpress.com/2010/10/07/what-should-i-do-now-a-bedtime-story-about-dialogue-mappi… […]


  16. […] It was a rapid prototype knocked up on the fly, to indicate how we might developed the approach more systematically into sets of templates and tags to scaffold a team engaged in collaborative design of an enquiry project, but it seemed to work as an object to think with, and I look forward to exploring its potential further, since several people were enthusiastic. (Can Compendium be used to engage young people, not just adults planning activities for them? Yes!… examples 1/2/3) […]


  17. This is the clearest and most down-to-Earth explanation of IBIS I have ever seen. Imagine if you have just dived into the theoretical details and unnecessary jargon, I wouldn’t have understood. Thanks a lot. I really appreciate this cos I’ve been trying to understand what it was about for a while.



    January 30, 2011 at 1:49 am

    • I’m glad you found it helpful. Thank you for your kind words !





      January 30, 2011 at 9:39 am

  18. […] that their views may need to be revised in the light of the arguments presented by the other.  Dialogue Mapping, which I have discussed in many posts on this blog is a great way to facilitate such […]


  19. […] I described a light-hearted example of its use in a non-work setting, is discussed in my post, What should I do now – a bedtime story about dialogue mapping. Incidentally, kids learn IBIS very quickly and it is, I think, a skill worth teaching […]


  20. Reblogged this on MarkjOwen's Blog and commented:
    Kailash post on dialogue mapping is excellent. It makes it easy to understand the concept of this technique.



    January 20, 2013 at 5:21 pm

  21. […] the comment section there is a reference to IBIS (Issue based Information System) which basically is about recording issues (questions), positions (ideas) and arguments in order to […]


  22. Not only is this “bedtime story” clear and easy to understand but it also sheds light at how IBIS can be used for anything, including very personal yet complex decisions. Also, brilliant kid.


    Sebastian Farach Aldana

    July 17, 2020 at 7:18 pm

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