Issue Based Information Systems (IBIS) is a method of organizing the information of thinking and discussion starting with Questions (or issues). These Questions are often implicit, rather than explicit, in our daily lives. The possible answers to those Questions are known as Ideas. Ideas are supported by Pros and – possibly – objected-to by Cons.
While the IBIS method is simple, it has great power within it. Using IBIS to structure your thoughts or the content of discussion has power to lay clear what has and has not been considered. It gives us the power to see what things have – and do not have – supporting argumentation. And, by asking the right kinds of Questions in our thinking and discussions, we can open up the possibility for new and more creative solutions to difficult problems.
“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on it, I would use the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”
— attributed to Albert Einstein
The IBIS method is particular useful when planning, designing and problem solving. It has successfully been used for the capture of design rationale. It can be used by individuals for thinking and analysis… or by groups either as a method of capturing discussion content, or to facilitate the discussion.
IBIS was created by Horst Rittel and Werner Kunz, in the 1970’s. They were looking at complex problems – such as city planning – that involved a host of stakeholders, no clear definition and no simple, straightforward answer. These problems have since been classified as “wicked problems.” But the method is useful when dealing with any complex situation or hard to solve problem, not just those that qualify as “wicked problems.”
You can use your usual word processing application to build IBIS structures, in a form we call Indented Text IBIS or itIBIS. Here is an example, using the popular question “Where should we go to lunch?” as a starting point:
You can also use applications that are specifically designed to build IBIS maps (such as Compendium and Glyma) or which can be tailored to build IBIS maps (such as Mind Manager or other Mind Mapping software.) Here is the same example, as a map, created using Compendium: (Click on the image to enlarge it.)
Compendium software and training are available through CogNexus Group training, if you are interested in learning to use Compendium to build IBIS maps.
Glyma is available through Seven Sigma Business Solutions. Contact them here for more information. Glyma (in beta test until October 2014) can be used in SharePoint environments, although it does not require SharePoint to be used.
Questions, issues or concerns? I'd love to help you!