The Artificial Facilitator: Guiding Participants in Developing Causal Maps Using Voice-Activated Technologies

  • Thrishma Reddy
  • Philippe J. GiabbanelliEmail author
  • Vijay K. Mago
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 11580)


Complex problems often require coordinated actions from stakeholders. Agreeing on a course of action can be challenging as stakeholders have different views or ‘mental models’ of how a problem is shaped by many interacting causes. Participatory modeling allows to externalize mental models in forms such as causal maps. Participants can be guided by a trained facilitator (with limitations of costs and availability) or use a free software (with limited guidance). Neither solution easily copes with large causal maps, for instance by preventing redundant concepts. In this paper, we leveraged voice-activated virtual assistants to create causal models at any time, without costs, and by avoiding redundant concepts. Our three case studies demonstrated that our artificial facilitator could create causal maps similar to previous studies. However, it is limited by current technologies to identify concepts when the user speaks (i.e. entities), and its design had to follow pre-specified rules in the absence of sufficient data to generate rules by discriminative machine-learned methods.


Amazon Alexa Causal maps Mental models Participatory modeling Virtual assistant 



The authors are indebted to Mitacs Canada for providing the financial support which allowed TR to perform this research at Furman University, while mentored by PJG (local advisor) and VKM (home advisor). Publication costs are supported by an NSERC Discovery Grant for VKM.


TR implemented the software and produced the videos demonstrating its functioning. PJG wrote the manuscript and designed the workflow of the virtual facilitator. TR was advised by PJG and VKM, who jointly initiated the study. All authors read and approved of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thrishma Reddy
    • 1
  • Philippe J. Giabbanelli
    • 2
    Email author
  • Vijay K. Mago
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Computer ScienceLakehead UniversityThunder BayCanada
  2. 2.Computer Science DepartmentFurman UniversityGreenvilleUSA

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