[by Lynn C. Rees, after a reminder by Charles Cameron]
Wikipedia defines a mind map as:
…a diagram used to visually outline information. A mind map is often created around a single word or text, placed in the center, to which associated ideas, words and concepts are added. Major categories radiate from a central node, and lesser categories are sub-branches of larger branches. Categories can represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items related to a central key word or idea.
Using visuals to represent and explore issues has long interested me. The primary tool I use now is Freeplane, a software application for drawing mind maps. While many mind mapping applications are available, I use Freeplane because:
- it’s free/open source software (FOSS)
- it’s trivial for me to customize and extend its core features with my own software
A central and popular conceit of FOSS is Linus’
Strongly Worded Suggestion Law:
“given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow”; or more formally: “Given a large enough beta-tester and co-developer base, almost every problem will be characterized quickly and the fix will be obvious to someone”
This conceit, over-hyped for most FOSS projects, is true in narrower cases. Since I use a few obscure Freeplane features, I’ve encountered a few obscure Freeplane bugs. Since Freeplane’s source is freely and publicly available and I’m a software engineer, I fixed some of those bugs myself. Some bugs I merely reported for Freeplane’s developers to fix. Some bugs I fixed but the fix hasn’t been merged into the main program.
This isn’t a significant issue. Since it is FOSS, I can take Freeplane’s source code, apply my fixes and customizations to it, and run my own version of the software which, under the terms of the GNU General Public License, I also make publicly available. Hoping to benefit from Linus’ Law myself, I’ve released source for some of my custom Freeplane add-ons for the Freeplane user community to use.
Horst Rittel, who first devised the concept ascribed ten characteristics to wicked problems:
- There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem.
- Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
- Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but better or worse.
- There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
- Every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot operation”; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial-and-error, every attempt counts significantly.
- Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan.
- Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
- Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.
- The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem’s resolution.
- The planner has no right to be wrong (planners are liable for the consequences of the actions they generate).
Rittel’s own solution for solving wicked problems was the Issue-Based Information System (IBIS). IBIS involves four elements:
An IBIS map starts with one root question (simplified here for posting efficiency):
A question can be responded to with an idea.
Within IBIS, an idea is:
- a potential answer or solution to a question
- a trigger for further questions
Pros and cons can only respond to ideas.
Further questions can also respond to ideas, pros, and cons.
Following these few rules, Rittel argued that even wicked problems could be mapped. While IBIS can be used for individual visualization of wicked problems. Rittel designed it for a group. Used with other methodologies like dialogue mapping, Rittel figured a shared map could help establish shared understanding, facilitating distributed problem solving.
Rittel may be correct. I don’t know. While other structured analysis approaches exist, many of them suffer from too much representational granularity. Too much fine parsing tends to lead to inevitable ontological crisis.
For my own efforts, IBIS has a nice balance between too little structure and too much. This new Freeplane add-on facilitates use of IBIS within my existing toolchain.
Some ZP readers may find it interesting to experiment with. It requires Freeplane, available as a free download for Windows, MacOS X, and Linux. The initial version of the add-on, FreeIBIS 0.1.0, is available as a free download here. If Freeplane is installed, all you should have to do is double click it to have it install. Commands are accessed under the Tools → freeIBIS menu within Freeplane.
I use the keyboard for mind mapping so I assigned the four IBIS functions to these keyboard shortcut combinations on MacOS X:
- ⌘? for question
- ⌘> for idea
- ⌘= for pro
- ⌘ for con
It may use the Control key instead of ⌘ under Windows. I don’t know. I don’t run Windows.
Fortunately, Freeplane has a convenient point and click way to reassign keyboard shortcuts under Tools → Select hot keys.
I am exploring further ways to integrate visualization techniques like Freeplane and IBIS with other structured techniques like ACH. Hopefully we’ll see more emerge in this area going forward.