Issue-based information system
|Topics & fields|
The issue-based information system (IBIS) was invented by Werner Kunz and Horst Rittel as an argumentation-based approach to tackling wicked problems—complex, ill-defined problems that involve multiple stakeholders.
According to Kunz and Rittel, "Issue-Based Information Systems (IBIS) are meant to support coordination and planning of political decision processes. IBIS guides the identification, structuring, and settling of issues raised by problem-solving groups, and provides information pertinent to the discourse."
The elements of IBIS are issues (or questions that need to be answered), each of which are associated with alternative positions (or possible answers). These in turn are associated with arguments which support or object to a given position (or another argument). In the course of the treatment of issues, new issues come up which are treated likewise.
Issue-based information systems are used as a means of widening the coverage of a problem. By encouraging a greater degree of participation, particularly in the earlier phases of the process, the designer is increasing the opportunity that difficulties of his proposed solution, unseen by him, will be discovered by others. Since the problem observed by a designer can always be treated as merely a symptom of another higher-level problem, the argumentative approach also increases the likelihood that someone will attempt to attack the problem from this point of view. Another desirable characteristic of the IBIS is that it helps to make the design process "transparent." Transparency here refers to the ability of observers as well as participants to trace back the process of decision-making.
Rittel's interest lay in the area of public policy and planning, which is also the context in which he and his colleagues defined wicked problems. So it is no surprise that Kunz and Rittel envisaged IBIS as the "type of information system meant to support the work of cooperatives like governmental or administrative agencies or committees, planning groups, etc., that are confronted with a problem complex in order to arrive at a plan for decision".
When Kunz and Rittel's paper was written, there were three manual, paper-based IBIS-type systems in use—two in government agencies and one in a university.
A renewed interest in IBIS-type systems came about in the following decade, when advances in technology made it possible to design relatively inexpensive, computer-based IBIS-type systems. In 1987, Douglas E. Noble completed a computer-supported IBIS program as part of his doctoral dissertation. Jeff Conklin and co-workers adapted the IBIS structure for use in software engineering, creating the gIBIS (graphical IBIS) hypertext system in the late 1980s. Several other graphical IBIS-type systems were developed once it was realised that such systems facilitated collaborative design and problem solving. These efforts culminated in the creation of the open source Compendium (software) tool which supports—among other things—a graphical IBIS notation. Similar tools which do not rely on a database for storage include DRed (Design Rationale editor) and designVUE.
Since the mid-2000s, there has been a renewed interest in IBIS-type systems, particularly in the context of sensemaking and collaborative problem solving in a variety of social and technical contexts. Of particular note is the facilitation method called dialogue mapping which uses the IBIS notation to map out a design (or any other) dialogue as it evolves.
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