Providing Expert Support for Collaborative Problem Formulation

R. V. George

In this paper, I describe how collaborative problem formulation can be facilitated by the language used to describe the problem and by a tool that eases use of that language. The situations that constitute urban design problems are extremely complex, and formulating these problems is usually an intractable task. As a procedurally rational response to this intractability, scholars and practitioners have prescribed ways in which such complex problems can be systematically formulated. Some of these are tools for representing problem information, others are procedures for systematically manipulating the information. Whatever the approach, applying these tools and procedures requires a high level of expertise and effort, and this represents a serious disincentive for using them in everyday design endeavors. Problem formulation methods could be made more accessible and useful through computer-based tools that encode the expertise necessary to implement the methods. One such tool is SmartDRAW, which provides expert support for creating FAST diagrams of problematic situations. The FAST diagram is a diagrammatic vehicle for representing the different parts of a view of a problem and the relationships among the parts. First, I describe the FAST diagram and discuss why it is suited to formulating complex problems. Then, I describe how SmartDRAW provides expert support in constructing FAST diagrams, and discuss how this could be done more effectively for groups.

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