Dialogue Mapping by Jeff Conklin: a Summary

dialogue mapping - Toolshero

Dialogue Mapping: this article explains Dialogue Mapping, developed by Jeff Conklin, in a practical way. Besides what it is, this article also highlights its application in complex problems, preference, the power of group memory, the importance of structured action and the application of this technique. After reading you will understand the basics of this communication technique and communication model. Enjoy reading!


In some meetings the participants cannot seem to agree on anything and everyone will stick to their own views instead of arriving at common consent. Many people will recognize this situation. Dialogue Mapping or dialogue map makes collective thinking much easier.


Dialogue Mapping appears to be more complicated than it actually is but as a matter of fact it supports the human brain.

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In brief, this means that all the ideas of all the participants are recorded in a clear diagram. In addition to the ideas, the accompanying remarks can be recorded too. In this manner, the participants will have a sense of a common bond and this creates a basis for positive cooperation.

Complex problems and Dialogue Mapping

This method is especially effective for very complex problems or different ideas about facts, preferences and other data. Because of a clear overview, the participants will discover where certain bottlenecks may be located and where additional attention is required.

It helps when all the participants have a clear overview of all the ideas that have been properly recorded. Ultimately, this method paves the way to make quick, sound and joint decisions.


As the human brain can only record a limited number of ideas and facts in one go, people are inclined to immediately select a preference and forget about the rest of the ideas.

However, the ideas that are less appealing could be very useful too. By collecting all the ideas with their advantages and disadvantages and by recording them in the diagram, an objective overview is created that can lead to a broad range of solutions.

All participants are now ‘forced’ to discuss and listen carefully to each other and come up with good solutions.

Group memory and Dialogue Mapping

When discussions begin between the participants, the diagram will grow and expand. Each participant contributes to the discussion and everything is recorded in the Dialogue Mapping.

The diagram therefore represents the group memory. Furthermore, the opinions of the dominant participants are held back. When their ideas have been incorporated into the diagram, there is no need for them to repeat their viewpoints.


People are naturally inclined to solve problems in a non-linear manner, just by talking about problems. Because of the ‘forced’ and structured manner of this method, participants become also aware that other people’s ideas may be very useful.

This method has more advantages:

  • the ideas of each participant are heard and recognized.
  • each participant will note that their remarks make a positive contribution to the process.
  • the participants have a common goal and  as a group they are now able to take corrective action
  • the group dynamics will increase as a result of which  joint responsibility is taken.
example of the Dialogue Mapping model - Toolshero

Figure 1 – example of the Dialogue Mapping model

Use of Dialogue Mapping

Dialogue Mapping can be used in two ways:

Shared display

Visualization helps the participants understand what the different opinions are; this can be realized by using a whiteboard, flip chart or computer projection. The use of Power Point is strongly advised against.

Issue Based Information System (IBIS)

The strengths of IBIS are, that the emphasis is put on questions and the interaction that takes place during the discussion.

In an IBIS diagram new questions, assumptions, arguments, etcetera are created. This may cause the context to shift and other (useful) ideas and solutions may surface as a result.

Added value of Dialogue Mapping

This method encourages collective thinking and therefore synergy between the participants.

Because of this added value, this emthod differs from traditional facilitation during meetings. It promotes mutual understanding and respect for each other and each other’s opinions.

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It’s Your Turn

What do you think? Do you recognize the practical explanation of Dialogue Mapping or do you have more additions to this article? What are your success factors for using this method?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

More information

  1. Conklin, J. (2003). Dialogue Mapping: Defragmenting Projects through Shared Understanding. Cognexus Institute. White Paper. Napa, CA.
  2. Conklin, J. (2005). Dialogue mapping: Building shared understanding of wicked problems. John Wiley & Sons Inc.
  3. Roehl, H., Knuth, M., & Magner, C. (2008). Mapping dialogue: Essential tools for social change. Taos Institute Publications.
  4. Shum, S. B. (2008). Cohere: Towards web 2.0 argumentation. COMMA, 8, 97-108.

How to cite this article:
Mulder, P. (2012). Dialogue Mapping. Retrieved [insert date] from Toolshero: https://www.toolshero.com/communication-methods/dialogue-mapping/

Original publication date: 10/22/2012 | Last update: 04/19/2024

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Patty Mulder
Article by:

Patty Mulder

Patty Mulder is an Dutch expert on Management Skills, Personal Effectiveness and Business Communication. She is also a Content writer, Business Coach and Company Trainer and lives in the Netherlands (Europe).
Note: all her articles are written in Dutch and we translated her articles to English!


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