Issue-Based Information System

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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.[1]

To quote from their original paper, "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...".

Subsequently, the understanding of planning and design as a process of argumentation (of the designer with himself or with others) has led to the use of IBIS as a design rationale.[2]

The basic structure of IBIS is a graph. It is therefore quite suitable to be manipulated by computer.


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 Issue-Based Information System 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.

IBIS is used in issue mapping,[3] an argument visualization technique related to argument mapping. It is also the basis of a facilitation technique called dialogue mapping.[4]


Rittel’s interest lay in the area of public policy and planning, which is also the context in which he defined wicked problems.[5] So it is no surprise that Rittel and Kunz 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...".[6]

When the 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. 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.[7] Several other graphical IBIS-type systems were developed once it was realised that such systems facilitated collaborative design and problem solving.[8] 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 [9] and designVUE.[10]

In recent years, 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 facilitation method called dialogue mapping which uses the IBIS notation to map out a design (or any other) dialogue as it evolves.[11]

Lately, online versions of dialogue- and issue-mapping tools have appeared, for example, Glyma and bCisive (see the links below).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Werner, Kunz and Rittel, Horst, Issues as Elements of Information Systems, Working paper No. 131, Studiengruppe für Systemforschung, Heidelberg, Germany, July 1970 (Reprinted May 1979)
  2. ^ Noble, Douglas and Rittel, Horst W.J. 1988, Issue-Based Information Systems for Design, Proceedings of the ACADIA `88 Conference, Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture, University of Michigan, October 1988. Also published as Working Paper #492, Institute of Urban and Regional Development, College of Environmental Design, University of California, Berkeley. November 1988.
  3. ^ Okada, A., Shum, S.J.B. and Sherborne, T. (Eds.), "Knowledge Cartography: software tools and mapping techniques," Springer; 2008, ISBN 978-1-84800-148-0
  4. ^ Conklin, J., "Dialog Mapping: Reflections on an Industrial Strength Case Study", in Visualizing Argumentation – Tools for Collaborative and Educational Sense-Making, P. Kirschner, S.J.B Shum,C.S. Carr (Eds), Springer-Verlag, London (2003)
  5. ^ Rittel, Horst, and Melvin Webber; "Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning," pp. 155-169, Policy Sciences, Vol. 4, Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company, Inc., Amsterdam, 1973. Reprinted in N. Cross (ed.), Developments in Design Methodology, J. Wiley & Sons, Chichester, 1984, pp. 135-144
  6. ^ Werner, Kunz and Rittel, Horst, Issues as Elements of Information Systems, Working paper No. 131, Studiengruppe für Systemforschung, Heidelberg, Germany, July 1970 (Reprinted May 1979)
  7. ^ Conklin, J. and Begeman, M.L., gIBIS: A hypertext tool for team design deliberation, Proceedings of the ACM conference on Hypertext, 1987
  8. ^ Shum, S.J.B.,Selvin, Albert, M., Sierhuis, M., Conklin, J., Haley, C. B. and Nuseibeh, B., Hypermedia support for argumentation-based rationale: 15 years on from gIBIS and QOC, Rationale Management in Software Engineering, Springer, 2006
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ Conklin, Jeff; "Dialogue Mapping: Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems," Wiley; 1st edition, 18 November 2005, ISBN 978-0-470-01768-5

External links[edit]