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An ongoing series of informational entries

Mental Modeling? Huh? Changing the World for the Better? Are you serious?

June 10, 2017

Gordon Butte CEO and CTO, Cognitive Science Systems and inventor of the Mental Modeling Technology Platform was interviewed in June 2017 by Dyna Vink for a series of blog posts.

Dyna: What is a Mental Model?

“The image of the world around us, which we carry in our head, is just a model. Nobody in his/her head imagines all the world, government or country. S/He has only selected concepts, and relationships between them, and uses those to represent the real system” (Forrester, 1971).

“Tacit webs of belief and their underlying rationale that guide how we learn, make decisions and interpret communications from all sources. “(Baruch Fischhoff, 1993)

Dyna: What’s the background of mental modeling? (Make it brief)

“Decades of research and experience make clear that to be effective on decision making and behavior one must build on where people are at today in their thinking (mental models), tailoring communications of all kinds to the critical decisions at hand. But almost nobody does this. “(Granger Morgan, Scientific America, 1994)

Mental modeling has become the generic term for what is more formally called, by us at least, Mental Modeling Technology Platform, or MMTP, a science-informed, evidence-based approach – enabled by proprietary software –for better understanding and focusing people’s judgment, decision making and behavior.

The term “mental models” was coined in the 1940’s and mental models have been an active area of research since. The foundational studies that led to the development of MMTP were conducted by Baruch Fischhoff and his research colleagues in the mid-1980s at Carnegie Mellon University. A major step forward was Baruch’s development of a framework to characterize mental models in a way that would help co-ordinate behavioral interventions in 1990. The initial focus was on helping people better understand and act on risks of all kinds.

That year, we formed a boutique research and consulting firm called “Decision Partners” to translate the basic research in mental models and decision science into practical methods and tools non-scientists could use. The focus quickly expanded from risk to judgment, decision making and behavior writ large.

Dyna: And how did it go?

It was a great ride! We built on the foundational research in many ways and greatly extended the application from risk management, leveraging the latest advances in decision science along the way as they were developed in the basic research. We conducted hundreds of different applications involving thousands of people internationally. That activity created a large body of new knowledge in applied research in decision science.

Beginning in 2007, at the suggestion of clients and long-time friends of the firm, we developed proprietary software specifically for mental modeling. With that software in hand, we were awarded an international and U.S. patent for Mental Model Method and System in February 2016. In a way, that date marked the official launch of a company we created to develop and deploy Mental Modeling Technology Platform via the Internet, a company now called “Cognitive Science Systems”.

Dyna: Who else was doing this?

No one. And as Baruch says, no one has our stories, meaning application successes.

Dyna: Where are you at now, a bit more than a year on? Changing the world for the better?

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete”. (Buckminster Fuller)

Funny you should say that. (Laughs)I believe we have a line of sight to doing just that with MMTP. How can I say that with a straight face? Well, look at what’s happened historically with inventions that have ended up changing the world.

First something novel is invented to solve a problem many people have. Done that with the Carnegie Mellon research.

But at the time, the invention is obscure and appreciated by only a very few people. Then there’s a lengthy period where the invention is refined, further developed and proven in different uses or applications, still appreciated by a relatively small number of people. Did that, 1990 to 2015.

Along the way, new tools are developed to support the invention and its refined versions. Did that – still doing it - with our Cognitive Analysis Software Suite, or CASS, circa 2007.

The trigger event for an invention to become capable of changing the world is the formation of a value network, not for the invention by itself, but to leverage and greatly extend the sciences and technologies from which it is derived. An example is the automobile. A novelty at the time of its invention but ended up transforming the world as the value network for automotive technology exploded everywhere at about the same time.

Cognitive Science System closed on its first stage value network via Internet for MMTP in December 2016.

[ A value network is a business analysis perspective that describes social and technical resources within and between businesses. The nodes in a value network represent people (or roles). The nodes are connected by interactions that represent tangible and intangible deliverables. Wikipedia, 2017]

Dyna: Ok. So how does the “for the better” part happen?

It happens by focusing or constraining the use of the invention. In our case, we do that by only making MMTP available as a “rental”, with the form of rental agreement being a license. You can’t buy it. Second, terms and conditions in the license are very clear on its use. Trite as it may sound, it can be used to “only do good”. Nothing is perfect, but this is our way for now of making sure MMTP and the assets which comprise it, get into the hands of the most good people who will use it to only do good for other people, worldwide.

Over the years, the mental modeling approach has created a lot of value for a lot of people by providing a means to help address problems that are serious to the people involved. We have been fortunate to work with some noteworthy and distinguished clients like the U. S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Health Canada to solve some critical problems among Americans and Canadians. With the Chamber of Mines in South Africa we create a management system incorporating MMTP that has help dramatically improve occupational safety and health performance in mining. We are committed to always being on the solution side of the equation, never the problem side.

How do you get from here to there in a nanosecond with new technology - MMTP?

June 14, 2017

Gordon Butte CEO and CTO, Cognitive Science Systems and inventor of the Mental Modeling Technology Platform was interviewed in June 2017 by Dyna Vink for a series of blog posts.

Dyna: Let’s pick up from where we left off in our conversation. So, you’ve been busy developing Mental Modeling Technology Platform, a technology released in 2016 to a first stage value network, since 1990. And now you’re setting sites on changing the world for the better in a hurry? How goes it?

Thanks for asking without laughing. (Laughs). Actually, it seems to be going quite well. We are ahead of schedule and under budget. Amazing to think we are in the second half of 2017 already.

Closing on the first stage value network in December 2016 was an important event. One reason was that experienced professionals and business people carefully evaluated MMTP as a technology and an opportunity, and only after deliberation decided to take it on. We didn’t sell anyone on anything.

Another reason was it was a signal to many people that something quite unexpected and potentially very disruptive might be going on. So, others have started to pay attention. A third reason was it demonstrated the very real phenomenon in technology of rapid growth via the network effect, that is, users of the technology rapidly attract new users at a scaling pace that, enabled by the Internet, can reach exponential proportions surprisingly fast.

[An external value network consists of those people and other interactions which lay outside of the business in question; these can include customers, users, business intermediaries, business partners, stakeholders, suppliers, etc. We know, almost instinctively, that networks hold value. Human beings are by nature social creatures and our own social networks (not just those online) provide a framework for our behaviors and structure to our lives. Yet, the value of networks in business is often overlooked. (Interaction Design Foundation)]

We had our first meeting of investors May 10 in Pittsburgh to unveil plans for creating a business system for MMTP capable of scaling fast. As of mid-June, the primary components of that system are in place.

Dyna: What components are those?

First, a simple network design that can grow unconstrained wherever it takes root geographically, and from those root points concurrently.

The design has three interconnected parts. First of course, there’s the source of unique technology. That’s Cognitive Science Systems with Mental Modeling Technology Platform.

The value network – one we call a CVN for “collaborative value network” - grows and is supported by the second component, an operations and business support unit.

In any geography, these CVNs are built and managed by independent, entrepreneurial professionals – we call them “Hub Leaders”. All the participants in the CVNs and the Hub Leaders are interconnected via business social networks and the Internet. We don’t have to build the next LinkedIn or ResearchGate.

Third, and perhaps most exciting, is an online knowledge management system for MMTP accessible by any registered user of our software, anywhere in the world.

The system basically hosts all the intellectual property produced by application of MMTP anywhere and much basic research. In this way, the knowledge management system is a pipeline to the latest advancements in the behavioral sciences, and the new knowledge produced by their application worldwide.

[“To scale, at first you do things that don’t scale. And you don’t start with a million users. You start with just a few.” (Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn).]

We seeded it with the body of knowledge over the course of more than 27 years of application internationally. And we expect, like the network, the body of knowledge will grow exponentially.

Dyna: Sounds simple enough. But the whole thing can be tough to get your head around. What’s been your experience engaging with people on MMTP?

(Laughs) Many, many years of frustration punctuated by some memorable flashes of the obvious.

When you say, “mental models” many people say “Oh yeah, mind mapping. I’ve got the software.” Ah, no. Or they might say “You mean mindset and message maps”. Ah, no again.

And showing a busy looking influence diagram turns out to be a real turn off. Quite a number of up-to-that-point promising new business discussions have halted abruptly doing that.

More recently, when asked what I do I’ve been saying “I have a patented technology for better understanding and influencing human judgment, decision making and behavior”. Then I mostly get the Mother treatment.

Dyna: What’s that?

You know, when you first learned about the time/space continuum and tried to explain it to your Mother, she gives you that look and says, “That’s nice, dear”.

[ Space-time is a mathematical model that joins space and time into a single idea called a continuum. This four-dimensional continuum is known as Minkowski space. Combining these two ideas helped cosmology to understand how the universe works on the big level (e.g. galaxies) and small level (e.g. atoms)].

Dyna: But some people get it.

Yes. And that’s a lot of fun. When I say that, some people – mostly those who are actually listening – will repeat themselves. “What do you do?” Then I repeat myself, with slower pacing and a new ending, “I have a patented technology for understanding and influencing human judgment, decision making and behavior. Works on any topic”.

Then they go blank for a second but you can see that they are processing. Then they say, “Well, if you can do that, that would mean you could……..” then they rattle off three or four major issues or topics. Then I say, “Yep. Now what would you go to work on with it?” Then, you’re off into a very productive and usually quite enjoyable conversation.

Updates to Cognitive Science Systems - Presentation at SRA Europe June 2017

June 25, 2017

Cognitive Science Systems is a decision support framework using Mental Models Method and System that can be applied to many different situations to reduce the risk of poor outcomes and increase the opportunity for planned success. It’s made up of four elements: The Core, Types of Application, the Collaborative Value Network and the Knowledge Management System. A little about each element:

The Core

Consists of a combination of human and machine technology. The human expertise applies specialized protocols in facilitated environments. The machine technology is a patented software and platform for solution sets that have been developed through application and fieldwork.

Types of Application

The platform can be used wherever strategic decision-making takes place. It includes methods and tools to cut through challenging situations and difficult decisions. It has been used for product market innovation, organizational innovation and change management, strategic risk communication, stakeholder engagement, and developing new products and technology.

Collaborative Value Network

The network comprises linked individuals and organizations that together develop and deploy one or more technologies. With a focus on designing, building and supporting sustainable solutions in primary business processes, CVN members are engaged in a broad range of activities in organizations of all kinds.

Knowledge Management System

Tapping the new developments of the Collaborative Value Network, the latest developments are located in the Knowledge Management System and made available to others according to defined permissions. Knowledge of all sorts – documents, recorded interviews, music, images, video – are stored there to be accessed by those who can benefit.

The Mental Models TechnologyTM Platform core technique represents a simple system of four basic steps beginning with the analysis of an application problem or opportunity:

1. Solution design and valuation of the solution

2. Preparation of strategic management tools

3. Research to discover and characterize factors influencing judgment

4. Design and testing of strategies and communications devised from research insights.

Over the past 25 years, researchers at Decision Partners LLC and their colleagues in academia have used the mental models approach to address challenges presented by lay people's understanding of complex topics, issues and processes. This work, and other research, has shown that to change people’s beliefs and behaviors, one must understand and change their mental models.

SRA Europe Conference in Lisbon Beckoned

July 15, 2017

The Society for Risk Analysis – Europe hosted its 26th Annual Conference in June 2017 in the wonderful city of Lisbon with the theme “New Challenges, New Threats: Resilience and Adaptation in a Risky World”. Attracting 212 attendees from 32 countries, there was lots to talk about. As a first time participant, I was keen to hear as many presentations as I could and meet people to discuss the different issues.

SRA is an interdisciplinary society that addresses emerging issues in risk analysis, management and policy. It operates worldwide and encourages those interested in all aspects of risk analysis to commnunicate, collaborate and develop new methodologies for risk analysis and risk management. As a result, the conference included issues relating to industry challenges, different functional approaches to risk, generic frameworks and risk communications.

The opening Keynote was delivered by Professor Gerd Gigerenzer, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Director of the Harding Center for Risk Literacy in Berlin. His topic was “Risk Literacy and Health”. Using a number of compelling examples, he illustrated how risk statistics are commonly misapproporiated, delivering predictions using incompatible but striking measures. Health organizations and industries exploit innumeracy to make small benefits of treatments or screenings appear big and their harms appear small. The best solution, he said, was to make children and students risk literate. By promoting risk literacy in health, more lives could be saved than by using expensive screening programs and big data.

Josh Greenberg chaired a session on “Addressing Challenges and Opportunities for Vaccination Uptake”. Josh is with the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University in Canada. He presented an analysis he did of the measles outbreak at Disneyland in late 2014 to show how media shapes how we experience, understand, and imagine our shared vulnerability to infection and disease. He focused on how outbreak narratives inform public understandings about vaccination and disease. Cindy Jardine, a Canada Research Chair from the University of the Fraser Valley, discussed immigrant and refugee-specific policies and how important they are given the higher rates of vaccine-preventable diseases for these groups. Risk communication takes on very different messages when addressing these groups.

Anna Olofsson from Mid-Sweden University opened a session on “Multi-Actor Approaches in Risk Analysis, Management and Governance” with a remarkable presentation on the feminist approach to Arctic policy. Feminist risk theory was developed to overcome the dividing lines of risk research and intersectionality. It highlights the need for analysis of the impact of risk not only from the perspective of individuals subjected to it, but also from a perspective that acknowledges the power dimensions that take place in the process. Their analyses show the Swedish strategy adapts to and uses the dominant discourses about risks, and demonstrates ‘masculine fantasies’ which are embedded in the policy.

Manon Racicot of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency presented a new risk assessment model that had been developed based on research with member organizations. The model was developed to quantify the risk associated with food establishments based on their impact on consumers’ health in Canada. The assumption is that resources should be focused on the areas with the greatest need. This new approach uses risk factors developed and measured using robust methodology allowing CFIA to identify the locations that need regular inspection. The model has been tested in meat/poultry and dairy establishments and is currently being piloted in other commodities.

Margot Kuttschreuter, from the University of Twente in the Netherlands, gave an interesting keynote on “Social Media and Serious Gaming in a Risky World: Opportunities and Challenges”. This presentation started out with the assertion that a lot of risk communication doesn’t work. This intrigued me as a starting point. She was looking at ways to use social media channels and serious digital gaming methods to deliver risk-related messages in a different way. A lot of research has been done in gamification, and she was looking at how to take advantage of that to improve risk communications. Her research determined that a good game needed to be fun, have good graphics, provide incentives and feedback on performance. It has been used to deliver knowledge in health sciences with some success, but had mixed results in attitude and behavior change.

In this last presentation, as well as several others, I noted an absence of target market definition. In determining effectiveness of any communications strategy, the definition of the target market determines the channel options available. It also starts to determine what the key messages might be. And that hypothesis can be tested using mental modeling techniques to learn about the deep-rooted beliefs different segments embrace. From that, the type of information each group needs can be defined and carried over into specific key messages. Messages and channels selected for segments in greatest need will improve the effectiveness of strategic risk communications.