What key components make someone a conversation architect?


Opened by Kelly Dennie, Linkbuilder, Everspark Interactive
Feb 2, 2013.

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Martin Goetze Senior Consultant, ISIS Papyrus Europe AG
Feb 4, 2013

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Hi Kelly, thanks for this simple but important question.

As you can imagine, we at Xperlink are on a mission to find out what it means to effectively architect conversations and we ourselves ask this question what does someone make a conversation architect very seriously.

I am sure there are already dozens of academic approaches to that topic, and we have looked at some contributions from conversation theory already, in order to understand better how we can fulfill our self-imposed goal to provide a platform supporting and architecting effective and actionable conversation, as we think we should understand conversation properly to call ourselves the conversation architects...

However, as much as i am interested in elaborate and scientific analysis, i am convinced that easily understandable main features should be conveyable to make clear what a conversation architect (in some instances they are called with the more traditional term moderators) must be able to to...
My first take on this would be the following points:

1. Conciliate, Connect, Bring Together
This is topic independent and should serve as a basis to form a sort of basic trust between conversation participants, the old "break-the-ice" excercise...introduce the participants to each other, make them feel comfortable to talk and engage.

2. Care for a suitable environment
If its a physical space take care for atmosphere, for light, sound, comfortable seating, catering and obey special needs of certain participants. If its a virtual space (chatrooms, websites, phonecalls, videocalls), make sure that the way of interaction is easy to use, and especially cares for a properly method of sequencing the contributions, so that its easy for everyone to follow the process of the conversation.

3. Framing
This is the most important task of a conversation architect. A conversation without a proper scoping and framing will lead to a wild discussion where its is impossible for anyone to remember any valuable result. Its not always needed to frame a conversation with a question which has to be answered in the course of the discussion, but a well suited frame is needed in order to enable the moderator to intervent in case the talks get out of frame...

Similar to Framing, containment is a task for a conversation architect which nearly needs psychological training, a conversation can easily get out of hand and become a kindergartenlike fight for attention, where the loudest wins and the intelligent introvert just resorts into silence... to prevent such scenarios, the conversation architect should apply means to make it possible that eah participant has equal rights to be heard...

This is my take for the moment and i am happy for critics, comments and input.
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Antoine Fournier Head of ECM, Input and Output management, Zurich Insurance
Feb 4, 2013

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Hi Kelly,

I'm very pleased you asked that question. Thank you Martin for your thoughfull and detailed answer.

I'd like to bring my 2-cents anyway ...

In my view conversation architects are team leaders. As leaders they need to be asking questions rather than giving answers, even though they may want to stimulate the group with their thoughts. This is a top-down view where they are responsible only for the outcomes of a discussion. It takes into consideration the fact that a leader is defined by their ability to aim for a goal.

The term “conversation architect” was defined some time ago by Nancy Dixon in a post I referenced down below.
I fully agree with her when she says that conversation architects are also participants in the conversation. They may join in as soon as the group is small enough that it no longer needs a specific leader. I simply take the view that this last role is optional.

According to Nancy Dixon, the conversation architect should work on the following points:

1.Framing the conversation:
Helping the team to focus on the subject; to avoid getting bogged down in irrelevant discussions and to keep to the point.

2.Identifying who needs to be in the conversation:
All stakeholders need to be involved to get a complete picture of the subject.

3.Initiating highly interactive activities:
Conversation architects should ensure that participants are really interacting and engaging in conversation with each other.

4.Leading the conversation:
As I mentioned earlier, the conversation architect has to be a stimulating leader, but will need to let the conversation run its course. They will obviously be needed at the beginning and at the end of the discussion, but should have little input during the conversation itself.

5.Organizing a physical space in which to hold the conversation:
The frame (see 1) also has to be defined in space and time (e.g. two hours in a meeting room)

6.Facilitating connection before content:
Nancy pointed out that conversations begin with people getting to know each other. Personally, I believe that this is half the challenge. By allowing people to share their experiences on a subject, they will develop an understanding of each other's point of view. At that point focused, adaptive and innovative ideas can emerge with no effort. Combining diverse people and ideas in new and unusual ways leads to real innovation by means of the human brain’s empathy network.

What does all this mean to XperLink, proclaimed as "The Conversation Architects"?

Internet and social media are actually "framing" electronic social relationships. As I stated in another post "Innovators Are Conversation Architects" (down below), suitable social media "engages the human brain’s empathy network just as well as face-to-face conversation does". It does so within the framework of the “ancient theatrical rules” of the three unities (time, place and action). These rules have been applied by the Internet for years. The online "drama" unfolds in a single place (the Internet), at a single time (now), within a single action (the session).

This therefore makes the size of the group less important (I removed this point from Nancy's list). A social media conversation can involve a lot of people or only two without those participants being affected. It can likewise be witnessed by thousands of people with the same lack of impact.

With this in mind XperLink aims to create a frame (and more) for conversation.

- The person requesting the conversation is called upon to define the objectives of the conversation.
- The community of experts following the subjects define themselves as stakeholders.
- Interactivity is provided by the simple web interface and notification system which we continuously improve.
- The conversation requester is called upon to be a conversation architect and to lead the conversation naturally, by means of the XperLink UI
- Participants will experience the elements of space and time as being "here and now" (hic et nunc) rather than "anywhere anytime". (I believe that this is one of the biggest changes that social media brought to the Internet). While I'm posting this answer, I have to consider, Kelly, that you're at your desk, reading it ...
- Replacing content at first. XperLink's slogan "Don't just follow people, follow ideas" does not contradict the fact that making a connection is almost enough to get into a focused and effective conversation. Content is the key to getting the right people into the conversation and sharing experiences is the content which encourages people to get to know each other for the right reasons. On the Web, connections (trust) have to come from content as pure e-connections are useless. (You may wish to read my post about meaningful online connection endorsement down below).
With social media conversations, it is therefore necessary to reverse the usual order of proceedings in order to create meaningful engagements. This is one of our main strengths.

Conversations are fertile ground for ideas: conversation architects are gardeners.

- The Power of the Conversation Architect to Address Complex, Adaptive Challenges
- Build Online Reputation Through Knowledge Contributions, Not Personal Popularity
- Innovators Are Conversation Architects
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