Argumentation support tools aim to create structured maps of arguments that aid sensemaking in a particular problem domain. A wide range of argumentation support tools exists, some of the more well-known ones including CMaps, Compendium, COHERE, and DebateGraph. My own GRASS tool also classifies as being an early experiment in this realm.
Despite their great potential to help structure, visualize, and reason about arguments in all their manifestations (including debates, conceptual models, and knowledge maps) , the actual use of argumentation support tools in practice has turned out to be disappointing.
Three important reasons that the uptake of these tools is so low are:
- argument mapping in terms of defining appropriate concepts and relations is inherently difficult.
- maps quickly become too large for users to literally continue to see the bigger picture.
- the functionalities and interfaces are often way too complex for the average user.
One particular question that keeps popping up when analyzing this problematic is "who cares?" Why would somebody want to go through the considerable, and at least partially unavoidable, effort of creating knowledge maps? Who is going to use them? How are the creation and usage processes of knowledge maps related?
Thus, sensemaking on its own is not enough. It should be actionable sensemaking, sensemaking that suggests (1) relevant stakeholders and (2) appropriate actions required to address the creation and usage issues identified. In other words, key aspects to address are:
- How to put the maps to good use?
- How to model the alliances of stakeholders, organizations, and policy-makers that would have an interest in contributing to/making use of the maps?
- What goal-oriented argumentation needs do these actors have?
- How can we satisfy those needs in such a way that the actor networks of creators and users of the maps become self-sustaining?
An interesting project in which at least some beginnings of answers to these questions may be found, is the ESSENCE project (E-Science/Sensemaking/Climate Change). ESSENCE goes beyond the focus on the functionalities of individual argument mapping tools. Instead, it aims to learn about why their usage fails in practice and to improve the usability, usefulness, and interoperability of argumentation support tools by comparing their application in a realistic and very important context of use: climate change. Key here, as in satisfying the argumentation requirements of many other wicked problems, is for these tools to support dialogue that builds common ground, resolves conflict, and re-establishes trust.
In the ESSENCE community, there is a strong interest and commitment by the participants to explore the pragmatics of these argumentation tools: what exact role do they play in the purposeful context of their communities of use? This issue, which is also one of the leading questions of the Pragmatic Web community, is still very much unexplored territory and deserves much more attention of the argumentation tool building crowd.