structure of VTF


This is the basic structure of the VTF situation:
      a distributed group
      a live conversation on a direct unmediated channel (audio or audio+video)
      a visual facilitator who generates a text graphic Meeting Map in real time
      fresh copies of the meeting map are continually distributed live to the telegroup on the mediated text graphic channel (via the Web or FAX or ...)
      the meeting map serves as an explicit group memory
      the telegroup uses the direct unmediated channel to refer to items on the meeting map

While contemplating the basic structure of the VTF situation, it will probably help if the reader refers to Figure 2. "Visual Telefacilitation in action with extended group".

The group shown in Figure 2 is having a live telephone conversation. The audio connection of the phone constitutes a direct or unmediated channel of communication among the members of the telegroup. By direct or unmediated we mean raw, unfiltered and uninterpreted.

In addition, the group also has another channel of communication available to them at the same time. This is the text graphic channel, which is "mediated" by the visual telefacilitator. The content of the text graphic channel is the meeting map, being a visual representation of the information on the audio channel (i.e. the group's discussion).

For truly effective group communication, both channels are needed. Direct is good; so is mediated. The real power of Visual Telefacilitation is in the synergy between the two channels.

The facilitator carefully listens to the direct audio channel and presents a real time visual representation of the meeting on the text graphic channel. The telegroup can see the meeting map during the meeting and respond to it in real time, and then use the audio channel to refer to items in the map.

The meeting map provides a common frame of reference for the telegroup's discussion, used by the group to help navigate through the issues of their working task.

So for instance Sally in London can easily refer to an earlier comment by Joe in New York, "I basically agree with what Joe said on page 3, but I would like to add some pricing details."

It is important to note that the meeting map is not a transcript; it is not an exhaustive (and exhausting) record. Instead, the meeting map is just that      a map, a text graphic summary, designed on the fly to be read on the fly, synoptic yet rich, providing quick access to the content of the discussion through a holistic visual representation showing both overall structure and how the details fit into it      in short, an event map improvised live by the visual telefacilitator as text-graphic performer.

It is also important to note that the addition of video to the unmediated channel does not change the basic dynamics of the telemeeting situation, nor reduce the need for a mediated text graphic channel. It is true that being able to see each other's facial expressions, as well as physical objects, does add more richness to the direct channel, and can improve interpersonal communication.

But that richness can in no way replace having a live and persistent high level summary of the meeting in front of the group as a whole      i.e. the meeting map presented on the text graphic channel. The high resolution meeting map provides a common frame of reference in real time, ensures that input from all members is represented, and captures the flow of the meeting for on the fly review during the meeting itself. Adding video to the audio simply enriches the direct channel. And to repeat, Direct is good; so is mediated. The two modes need each other and interact synergistically to produce more effective telegroup communication.

© 1997, 1999 PGC