From Dialogue Games to m-ThinkLets: Overview and Synthesis of a Collaborative Modeling Approach

From Dialogue Games to m-ThinkLets: Overview and Synthesis of a Collaborative Modeling Approach

Stijn Hoppenbrouwers (Model-Based Information Systems Group, HAN University of Applied Sciences, Arnhem, The Netherlands) and Wim van Stokkum (Everest B.V., Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/ijec.2013100103


The authors present an integrated overview and extension of a conversational approach to support analysis and design of goal-driven and focused interaction between stakeholders and facilitators, to be specifically applied in collaborative modeling. Complementary to ‘collaborative diagram drawing’ approaches, the authors provide more focused and accessible, wizard-like or even game-like conceptualization support. This work is rooted in theory as well as (study of) industrial practice. Ideas developed in over half a decade, as well as some new concepts, are coherently presented, centering on the notion of ‘Dialogue Games’. The approach is brought under the umbrella of the ‘ThinkLet’ approach from Collaboration Engineering, and is positioned as a specialization thereof, aiming to fit the specific needs and features of collaborative modeling.
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In many uses of collaborative modeling, e.g. in business engineering (den Hengst & de Vreede, 2004), knowledge engineering (Hoppenbrouwers, Schotten, & Lucas, 2010), problem structuring (Vennix, 1996), and enterprise engineering (Barjis, 2009), collaborative modeling with stakeholders untrained in modeling is a required and common practice, but also a continuous challenge, sometimes referred to as the ‘knowledge acquisition bottleneck’ (Hoppenbrouwers et al., 2010).

In the field of collaborative modeling (Renger, Kolfschoten, & De Vreede, 2008), most work focuses on the collaborative creation and validation of model diagrams, using some standard modeling language, for example UML activity diagrams (Rittgen, 2007). A different approach, which this paper is an exponent of, concerns the isolation of more focused, ‘smaller’ conceptualizations that help gather and communicate highly to-the-point, well structured information that can be the basis for derivation (manually or possibly automatically) of more formal, ‘technical’ models (Hoppenbrouwers, 2008; Hoppenbrouwers et al., 2010).

Once we move away from the ‘collaborative diagram drawing’ approach and into more limited and focused conceptualization (aiming to get closer to the stakeholders’ familiar concepts and requiring less skill in dealing with abstract syntax and complex visualizations and verbalizations), we can also move towards more closely guided, wizard-like or even game-like conceptualization support (Hoppenbrouwers, Weigand, & Rouwette, 2009). We thus, in the long run, work towards the creation of a coherent library of well focused and often interrelated ‘modeling games’: rule-based, goal-driven interactive procedures that do not involve more than a few meta-concepts each and should be relatively easy to ‘play’ for stakeholders untrained in formal modeling (Wilmont, Brinkkemper, van de Weerd, & Hoppenbrouwers, 2010).

Such ‘conceptualization games’ bear considerable resemblance to the ThinkLet concept central in Collaboration Engineering (de Vreede & Briggs, 2005; Kolfschoten, Briggs, de Vreede, Jacobs, & Appelman, 2006), and can in fact be seen as a specialized extension of that approach. However, as will be explained, some additional properties are to be added to ThinkLets for them to (also) become Dialogue Games (DGs). The DG approach originated in the field of conceptual modeling, whereas CE concerns collaborative conceptualization more in general yet placed in the specific context of CSCW. We hope to eventually link not only the approaches, but ultimately also the two fields.

This paper is partly an integrated overview of previous, fragmented work, but also introduces into the collaborative modeling literature some new concepts, most prominently ‘m-ThinkLet’ and ‘Communication Situation’. It is a direct result of intensive field study of industrial practices (Hoppenbrouwers et al., 2012) and a prelude to recently initiated systematic application of the approach in business engineering industry.

We first present relevant background literature, covering the conversational nature of the collaborative modeling process and the Dialogue Game approach to the description, analysis and guidance of such conversations. Next, we briefly discuss Collaboration Engineering as a generic framework for aiding facilitation of collaborative conceptualization, as well as the Focused Conceptualization concept as a way of breaking up larger conceptualization or modeling efforts into smaller, more manageable chunks or ‘conceptualization modes’. We also introduce the ‘Communication Situation’ concept, which helps analyze and organize the broader communicative context of conceptualization efforts. Next we discuss how the Collaboration Engineering approach (with ThinkLets as its main concept) can be extended into a Dialogue Game approach more specifically aimed to support collaborative modeling (introducing the specialized m-ThinkLet concept). We provide an illustrative example from industrial knowledge engineering practice. We finish with conclusions and suggestions for further research.

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