Archive for May 2007

In Toronto: Escape from Suburbia

May 25, 2007

OK, first of all Toronto IS our escape from Suburbia – We leave the Dayton area and spend a week or more of every month working in downtown Toronto. I have collaborative projects that have developed over the last year or two, and Patricia works on her book projects. A small-ish work/live studio in Liberty Village suffices for now. Our next door neighbor at the Fraser Studios happens to be Greg Greene, director of End of Suburbia and cinematographer for the Yellow Springs-based (our other neighborhood) project on Community Solutions (How Cuba Survived Peak Oil).

Greg pre-screened the second documentary in the trilogy project, Escape from Suburbia, last night at the No Regrets restaurant in Liberty. Escape from Suburbia shows us the committed, seemingly “early” responses of people followed from New York, LA, and even Portland to their new lives in eco-villages and rural farms. Notice that we, and Greg, remain in the city for now.

Toronto is a wonderful place to live and work, and our future location of choice. But the facts are that the GTA is the 5th largest metro area in North America, and much of it is sprawl. The regional food supply is very limited – as with much of the US, the food is flown and trucked in with about a 2-day supply. Transportation to the city and in the city is problematic – although better than most US cities.

Regardless of how your frame the phenomenon, resource costs and diminished supply are here now. The cheap oil-subsidized illusion of progress and pereptual growth is crashing, in parallel with Peak Credit, Peak Debt, Peak Consumer/Housing, leading many of us to Peak Anxiety. The documentary forces the realization that we are on our own, the governments and corporations are not here to help. We each have to create sustainable communities, wherever we choose – and we have to choose very, very soon or the choice will be made for us. See the trailer – its a witty fist in a reality glove.

Understanding Meaning as Awareness

May 17, 2007

See the fullpost on the CIMI website: Center for Interactive Management, India

Dr. Batra’s discussions of “From Data to Wisdom”, and “Laszlo’s Pyramid of Meaning”, describe a hierarchy of types of knowing and understanding. Alexander Laszlo’s notion of syntony, a kind of resonant circuit of meaning related to the levels of knowledge, energizes the pyramid in the dynamic interactions of learning and evolution. There are interesting origins to the evolution of a DIKW (Data, Information, Knowledge Wisdom) model, ranging back to Russell Ackoff’s (1989) JASS article, and according to Nikhil Sharma, back to T.S. Eliot’s The Rock, from 1934.The current model enhances this hierarchical construction with the dynamics of learning and meaning.

The DIKW model presents a kind of Maslovian-type hierarchy of knowledge, where the higher levels are constructed as “better” locations that are reached by mastering the lower levels composing the pyramid. Except in Laszlo’s model, the pyramidal shape is rightly downsided-up, to better envision the dynamics of the syntonic (dual-circuit) model. Laszlo shows the bottom levels (data and information) as constituting more objectified representations of human knowledge. The higher levels increase the degrees of freedom exponentially, toward an unlimited horizon of (subjective) possibility, creativity, and transcendence. 

In the development of KM, one of the persistent forces driving the field was the possibility of moving organizational awareness from a data-perspective toward a knowledge-based perspective. A non-trivial difference was imagined, whereby we might enhance productivity, reduce error and the reinvention of wheels, and accelerate innovation by leveraging the various levels of information entities: data, information, and the ever-elusive knowledge. Consider an organizational model of this pyramid based on one of the main drivers of KM, innovation management. Some of the questions that drive interaction at these levels may include:

  • Data: What resources do we have?
  • Information: What do we know about?
  • Knowledge: What do we know how to do with what we know?
  • Comprehension: Where do we have mastery? (Is it worth doing?)
  • Understanding: How well do we understand our context, opportunities and possibilities?
  • Wisdom: Knowing this, what should we do? (What’s the best decision?)
  • Transcendence: What does this mean? (What’s the best contribution we can make?)

We might redefine these levels of meaning as states of consciousness, from Data to Transcendence. Data is not “data” apart from our awareness and perception of it as such. Information is not transformed from data except in cognition – there is no object in the world identified as “information.” Bits, yes – information, no.

And of course, these are the tangible levels of meaning – the intersubjective agreement diffuses even more as we navigate through Knowledge and toward Wisdom. Working knowledge is inherently tacit – all the more so Understanding and Wisdom. While I am not ready to regard these states of awareness as continua, the states have characteristics we might collectively agree upon and recognize, even across cultures. And traversing up the pyramid, we experience different gradations of possibility vs. utility, tacitness vs. concreteness, self-awareness vs. object-awareness, and duration.

Dialogues: Structured & Mapped

May 14, 2007

Checking up on the ongoing series of NextD interviews, I was taken by the recent Jeff Conklin interview on Rethinking Wicked Problems. The Conklin interview discusses the nature of (Rittel and Weber’s orientation to) wicked problems. He also describes the use of IBIS, developed by Rittel, which has been modernized in their process called Dialogue Mapping. Essentially they have created a basis for collaborative facilitation across stakeholders of a significant issue, drawing up the emerging consensus using visual display of contributions via software and F2F meeting engagements.

Many old-timers in the systems thinking community have used IBIS in complex design processes, and there are many connections among those in the formative years of practice: Rittel, West Churchman, Harold Nelson, Hasan Ozbekhan, Christakis, and Erich Jantsch. The Interactive Management community of practice that has grown up since the 1970’s has followed the work of Aleco Christakis (Dialogic Design) and John Warfield (Generic Design). We call ourselves structured dialogue practitioners, following Christakis, a co-founder of the Club of Rome who remains quite active in writing and practice (Harnessing Collective Wisdom, 2006).

Dr. Conklin’s Dialogue Mapping is one of the only other processes we know of similar to the software-driven process of SDD – and there are too many differences to discuss in blog post #1 on this subject. SDD was designed to facilitate a true collective consensus from widely mixed stakeholders for complex system design, policy, and problem solving situations (as it was designed for “Limits to Growth” style problematiques). Our wiki site (the Blogora) shares the ongoing case study of the current Cyprus peace dialogues, as well as other key examples, with several final reports available.

While in the last month or so, so much discussion about the past and future of design has been inspired by vanPatter’s interview with Peter Merholz, and the discussions following among IA Institute members largely following vanPatter’s response to previous discussion (Unidentical Twins). I would imagine may of my colleagues in the User Experience field did not find Rethinking Wicked Problems germane to their applications. If so, this might tend to support vanPatter’s thesis that we are not paying sufficient attention to the history of design thinking in our own disciplines. Not everything that is good and effective is new; and plenty of “old” methods and practices, (perhaps unsexy to contemporary business,) are powerfully effective and validated tools just waiting to be enhanced and employed in the right design situation.