Last Friday, Eric and I had the opportunity to present to the class and discuss our work so far, as well as to try out a couple of tools we’ve developed.
Originally, we’d planned to try running a game of Moon Talk with the class, but decided against that based on our experience that the game is best with 10 or more people (the game is too easy with a small number). Instead, we discussed the background research in groups and decision making processes, our prototyping with community partners, and tried using the 10 Points and Dotstorm tools.
The “10 points” tool or “bill of rights” tool (found at http://billofrights.byconsens.us) is based on the meetings tool by May First/People Link. The intention is to help groups to arrive at consensus on 10 principles, values, questions, rights, or some other kind of point that the group has in common. Anyone can change one of the points, but if they do so, all “votes” for it are cleared, and people have to re-vote on them. So after a point has gained some support, you have an incentive not to nit-pick on wording unless it’s a substantial change.
I had interest in using May First’s tool in some workshops, but it was broken when I tried, and wasn’t looking like it was going to get fixed any time soon. So I threw together a version which is more etherpad-like in its design ethos: zero barrier to entry, everything editable by everyone, the minimum feature set that will work, real-time-collaborative-everything.
In class, we used this tool as an exercise to identify 10 principles for codesign (Sasha used this tool previously to identify 10 questions for transmedia). Based on the feedback from the class, I went back and changed a bunch of things to improve the editing experience:
- I removed the automatic sorting of points based on the number of votes they got, since that was confusing and interrupting if you were currently editing something.
- I reduced the font sizes and whitespace to fit all the points on screen, and added better feedback for what you’ve voted on, and the total count of vote numbers. I think this may solve the main desire behind the point sorting by vote — you can quickly see what the state of all the points are, without the jarring re-sorts.
- I made the real-time updates more subtle, and fixed it so they don’t interrupt your typing if you’re working on a point.
- If someone’s editing a point, everyone gets an indication that it’s being edited.
Another piece of feedback from the class was that after some certain amount of time working on the exercise, we all reached a point of fatigue. I wonder if the updated interface that reduces the conceptual burden of seeing the state of all the points would help that — another alternative we discussed was to reduce the number of points (of course, a group could agree beforehand to only use 6 or 8 and leave the others blank).
This tool fits nicely into a toolbox of consensus tools to reach for, but it’s rather narrow in its focus. I don’t imagine standing groups using it often; but it could be an interesting diversion where returning to a set of core organizing principles or points is important.
Dotstorm is a brainstorming tool I’ve been developing based on the experience of doing brainstorming exercises with a few different groups (our class included!). The tool is loosely based on the Nominal Group Technique, a brainstorming technique in which a group goes through five stages with a problem:
- Introducing the problem or topic, and explaining how the technique works.
- Brainstorming possible ideas/solutions/points that address the problem. Each member of the group develops these on their own.
- Sharing the ideas with the group. Each participant explains the ideas they’ve contributed.
- The group discusses the ideas, sorts them, collapses similar ideas, and contributes any new ideas that arose from discussion.
- The participants vote on or rank the ideas. The top voted/ranked ideas are considered the outcome of the process.
A common variant of this process is to write ideas on post-it notes, which makes them easy to share and arrange publicly, as well as to draw pictures in addition to text, engaging other parts of folks’ creative brains.
Dotstorm is a tool which facilitates doing this process, but entirely online. The intention is that groups using it will have a projector or other large shared screen, and that most (but not necessarily all) participants will have a smart phone, tablet, or computer. Participants can add ideas to virtual post-it notes using their devices, and those who have camera-enabled devices can take pictures of any additional notes written out on paper to contribute them. Ideas can be any mix of photo, drawing and text. Once they’re entered, it should be possible (soon!) to easily archive, embed, share, and remix the ideas in flexible ways. Right now, the tool just supports tagging, sorting, and grouping. In class, we used the tool to brainstorm ways to communicate emotion online.
Like the 10 points tool, dotstorm is suited to a somewhat narrow task — brainstorming and sharing ideas around a topic. It’s not really helpful for making complicated, nuanced decisions, or for negotiating issues within a community. But like the 10 points tool, my hope is it will sit among a set of tools a group can reach for, expanding the group’s flexibility and effectiveness.