Conversation for Possibility
design activity, but also to generate those possi-
bilities in reality by intentional speech acts.
What if we captured
a patient’s personal reflections
in the medical records system?
Where do we start?
What would that even look like?
Conversation for possibility.
Conversation for Action
(Offer) Let’s write a proposal
to the IT board for a research
project on this idea.
I’m in. (Accepted) We need
a position paper. Can you write
a draft by next week? (Request)
Conversation for action.
January + February 2010
[ 7] de Michelis, G.
and Religion Wars”.
Cooperative Work, 3, 1
enormous humanist impact, its longevity was
disrupted by critiques of the embedded conver-
sational model in The Coordinator. Today we
may consider the irony of how the LAP, a critique
of the micro-cognitive and rationalist view of
AI, was itself critiqued as socially determinis-
tic (macro-cognitive) and insensitive to natural
human interaction. However, LAP reenvisioned
cognition and agency as responsive to action
in the world, a humanistic concern. Winograd
and Flores’s unit of analysis for embodied cogni-
tion was conversation, expressed in an explicit
phenomenological approach known as ontologi-
cal design. Ontological design was construed
as a practice of formulating conversations to
invent new modes of being and co-create action.
Conversation was deemed the appropriate way
not only to explore the possibilities invented in
Types of Speech Acts
LAP adopted Searle’s speech act theory, wherein
language performs an action represented by the
content and intent of the utterance. Performative
speech acts instantiate the action referred to in
speech itself. Five basic speech acts, called illo-
cutionary points, are specified as:
Assertives • commit a speaker to the truth of
Directives • (such as requests, commands, and
advice) cause the listener to follow a requested
Commissives • (such as promises and oaths)
commit the speaker to future actions.
Declarations • change the circumstances of real-
ity to accord with a proposition (e.g., pronounce a
couple as married).
Expressives • convey a speaker’s attitudes
or emotions about a proposition (e.g., praise,
The applicability of performative speech acts
in design was pointedly critiqued, essentially
based on the hermeneutic problem that a lis-
tener might interpret an illocutionary point dif-
ferent from the speaker’s intention [ 7]. However,
Searle’s model provides a descriptive power of
language as action helpful in understanding and
even guiding the messy dynamics of design prac-
tices. And since conversation (and hermeneutics)
is recursive, continuous, and correctable, the
interpretive critique seems overwrought.
Speech Acts in Conversation
While a conversation must be “about something,”
conversations often have no purpose other than
social mediation and acknowledgement of phatic
communication. Conversations that lead to
action exhibit intentionality, and differences in
conversational structure are apparent.
Winograd describes three types of purpose-
ful conversations based on the LAP model. His
nomenclature reveals intention by the preposi-
tion “for,” as “conversations for”:
Orientation is maintained by conversation that
mutually regards a shared referent object (e.g.,