Argument map

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…complex situations and infoglut.

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You need a good oversight to think about your future, or to really understand your clients. You are committed to empathically include everybody's reasoning and arguments. You want to make wise and just decisions.

Making the right choices and decisions is crucial. Often too, we need to decide fast. Do we need to vaccine the world population against swine flu? Should we enter this new market? Can we still trust science after Climategate? Are we going to bail out Greece and Ireland? Can computers think? Do we need a new monetary system? Should we support Wikileaks?

You need a good oversight to think about your future, or to really understand your clients. Based on your reasoning, you want to make wise and just decisions.

The argument map is a systematic approach to mapping a debate in a pleasant and high-quality way as a big visible chart. It's process invites every stakeholder to carefully listen to each other's arguments. It moves away from debate and towards mutual understanding, encouraging empathy. When people are forced to examine other peoples' points of view there's a chance for a real conversation.


Generate, collect, prune, and cluster all arguments for and against in a tree-shaped structure on a single A3 sheet of paper.

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Use the force field map to chart weighted forces that direct change.

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The argument map is originally conceived by the Argumentenfabriek.

Number of Players: 5–30

Duration of Play: 1–3 hours

Object of Play

Public debate often diverts into endless low quality discussions and exhausts both the debaters and audience. At the end, you still can't make a well-informed choice. Many conversations suffer from a lack a central theorem or stand, scarce arguments in favor, or ignored counterarguments.

The goal is to get out all of the issues and arguments before talking about any one issue. Real-life dialogue makes this a challenging goal, yet it is the goal nonetheless.

If you immediately explore the first one or two issues instead of getting a complete argument list, you risk the following:

  1. You will never get the complete list and may miss significant opportunities.
  2. You will end up talking about an issue, which is not the most important issue.
  3. Even if you eventually discover the most important issue, you may have depleted the scarce resources of time and energy.

People have trouble to remember a lot of connections between statements and arguments, and suffer from infoglut—masses of continuously increasing information, so poorly catalogued or organized (or not organized at all) that it is almost impossible to navigate through them to search or draw any conclusion or meaning.

A big visible chart like the argument map, force field map, or hoshin kanri gives oversight. Visualizing reasoning helps in practicing critical thinking: clean reasoning, focusing on errors of reasoning, unspoken assumptions, and psychological digressions. big visible charts will increasingly take over long-winded texts. There is simply no time to read and understand the ever growing thickets of documents.

How to Play

Either use a whiteboard or flip chart or a computer projection and some handy outline software used as ‘argument catcher’. Step through the process below, and everything important will surface. You will be complete and not miss any important issues or arguments. And you will be able to make a just decision.

  1. Just the Facts—Create a facts map and briefly share facts and figures related to the topic. No opinions, just (verifiable) facts, please.
  2. Quiet Brain Dump—Take ten minutes or so to find causes and consequences, pros and cons. Jot down any argument you can find in favor or against the case.
  3. Take Turns and Share—Take turns and share a single argument with the group at each turn. Got nothing more? Just pass. Write down the argument on the whiteboard or capture it using the outliner.
  4. Prune Your Arguments—Delete any argument on your list that someone else also brings up as soon as you hear it.
  5. Be Terse—Relentlessly end any discussions, long-winded stories, or salvo of arguments.
  6. Exhaust Yourself—She or he ho passes last, wins. Still not exhausted? Loop back to 3.
  7. For or Against—Take two flip charts. Label one as “For” and one “Against”. Collect the arguments on their appropriate flip chart. If you are using an outliner software program, simply drag each argument in its appropriate “For” or “Against” class.
  8. Shape, Organize and Thicken—Shape, organize and thicken the arguments. Cluster and categorize the arguments into ‘themes’, facets or aspects. Pick one to three key words for theme name. Within each theme, further subcluster arguments and label each cluster as a theorem, proposition, opinion, or stand, listing the arguments below. Often you will find similar themes and labels in both “For” and “Against”, but this is not a requirement; they can differ.

Instead of listing arguments and copying them to flip charts, you can also write them down on sticky notes, one argument per sticky note, and put those on the flip chart. Crumple any duplicate stickies.

Repeat this process with other groups of stakeholders.

If you have the time and money, process the harvest into a colorful tree-structured schema. Make sure it fits on a single and handy A3-sized sheet of paper, while keeping it legible, of course.

Exempli gratia

Reasoning errors

  • petitio principii of cirkelredenering—‘God bestaat, want het staat in de Bijbel, en dat is woord van God.
  • argumentum ad hominem—‘Op de man spelen’—Aannemen dat een stelling niet deugt omdat er iets mis is met degene die het naarvoren brengt. ‘Eet jij geen vlees? Hitler was ook een vegetariër’.
  • post hoc ergo propter hoc—Aannemen dat iets wat ergens op volgt daar ook wel door veroorzaakt zal zijn. ‘Altijd als jij op mijn computer werkt crasht hij daarna, dus wil je dat niet meer doen?’