the teach tour uncovering how & why we've failed to educate children worldwide@theteachtour

conversation mapping

The Teach Tour & Enterprising Schools are embarking upon an exploration of conversing in a new manner. Ever since the development of online forums, we have been chatting linearly. We speak to one another in many different parts of the world over forums, chats, emails, and facebook. But we are limited to a linear conversation that feels…restrictive, unnatural, and impossible to keep up with. Even when we approach an existing discussion, our ability to insert our thoughts into different parts of the conversation, to tangentialize, to comprehensively view the main points of the conversation is severely hindered. Today, we must read the entire conversation in its entirety before we feel able to contribute.

This is where conversation mapping comes in. Below is a conversation map around teacher training from the ES symposium last week.

I first learnt of conversation mapping from Avary Kent at Hip Investor. She had learnt about it from a man named Bruce McKenzie from the Systemic Development Institute in Australia. She explained the methods behind it- how it looked similar to a mind map, but had specific rules that allowed users to freely, anonymously, time-boundlessly, tangentially comment and converse and contribute to important systemic issues that are not easily solved. She also explained the exciting part about the physical nature of the maps- on big pieces of paper one could take them from place to place and get conversations going between various geographies, sectors, people, and organizations. It sounded perfect for The Teach Tour and the systemic problems that exist in Education today.

Here are Bruce McKenzie’s rules for the divergence part conversation mapping, summarized by me: (Bruce’s version is physical, on paper, whereas ours will be online, so slightly altered.)

1. Begin with a trigger word in the middle.

2. A participant then begins the conversation with thoughts/feelings around that trigger word.

3. Each participant should be given their own colored pen. (Colored text, for us)

4. As others respond to this and other comments around the trigger word, each comment branches with a single line to the issue being addressed. This creates a tree of sorts.

5. All contributions are valid, whether they agree, disagree, begin new conversations (around the trigger) or continue to tangentially branch out with more twigs.

6. Attempts to deliberately shape the conversation should be avoided. Just let it happen. If the edge of the paper is reached, more can be added. (Internet blank space is unlimited…I promise)

7. When one theme is exhausted, new themes/issues should be discussed and exhausted, around the same trigger.

8. Try not to connect ideas between themes yet. Simply stick to the conversation you are having.

9. Allow for the conversation to continue as long as possible, the map gets messier and messier and richer and richer.

Then, we move into assimilation. This part will be done on the back end by our team unless we set up an online web-conference of sorts with all participants, but nonetheless, here is how it works:

1. Try to avoid making the obvious connections between ideas and observations across themes; we want to get an overall impression of the picture and extract unusual, unexpected trends.

2. Think, “What does this messy shape say about my perceptions of the issue or about the people who spawned it?”

3. Think, “What would represent an improvement to the complex message that is being conveyed to me as (a) I stare at it in its entirety, and (b) I try to get into more detail?

4. Transformational details will be found in the detail.

5. Select the emergent issues from the list, which the group believes may have significant leverage to improve the problematic situation. These issues can be used to: (a) Probe to the complex issue to gain greater understanding of its behavior when emergent issues are manipulated, or (b) Design activities that will leverage improvement in the problematic situation.

Bruce’s final words:

The Conversation Map is neither time nor geographically bound in its generation. The map can be moved from location to location (or online where all locations are accessible) to ensure many separated perspectives are captured. New participants can quickly engage with the conversation that has gone before adding their contributions be they new themes or additions to themes already presented. Similarly many successful mapping activities have been conducted by displaying the map in a public place (the Internet, perhaps?) for two to three weeks so that potential participants can contribute and re-contribute as they are able.

Conversations maps can make the follow contirbution to work on an intractable problem:

1. Articulate different perspectives of a situation and the interaction (relationships) between several perspectives that are captured

2. Generate an opportunity for all stakeholders to understand the different perspectives of a situation and to modify their personal understanding in the light of others perspectives

3. Provide an opportunity for all stakeholders to mutually identify emergent properties of the problematic situation that were not previously available and which may be the basis for new probes to explore and improve the situation.

Imagine how incredible & rich this could be if each of you 50 people per day who read this site contributed one thought to the map! When you click on the pencil to edit the map, you can sign in using your gmail account, no need to create a new account! Simple.