May 20, 2009
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Tinderbox and Public Information

One highlight of Tinderbox Weekend London was Robert Brook’s discussion of using Tinderbox for planning public information programs for the British Parliament.

A key theme of his talk was the importance of sketches — small, quickly-prepared documents that hold the information you need yet remain malleable enough to adapt quickly as changes are required. “People often make oil paintings when they want sketches,” Brook observed.

For example, consider the meeting agenda prepared for a series of meetings with the varied stakeholders of a project. Instead of printing numerous agendas tailored for each different audience and constituency, a single Tinderbox agenda can let each meeting focus on its chief concerns through natural actions in hiding, showing, and arranging elements. Map views let participants see what they’re discussing and what is being passed over; people suddenly notice that this thing over here actually connects to the other group’s thing over there.

This flexibility extends from Web projects like Hansard, a new Web repository of Parliamentary debates from 1803 that was partially prototyped with Tinderbox, to performance reviews and management negotiations. In budget discussions, for example, it can be helpful to make note sizes proportional to cost, focusing attention on the most pertinent items.

My own notes for this fascinating session are something of a mess, highlighting Brook’s own observations of the importance of informal and even fuzzy tools. Keeping control and responsibility in one place, he insists, is key: being able to change the map within a presentation gives speakers a way to visibly incorporate changes and address objections that is indispensable where many interests must be satisfied and where changes will need to be accommodate and embraced throughout the entire development cycle.