FlexiTools 2011: ICSE 2011 Workshop on Flexible Modeling Tools

Sunday, May 22, 2011
Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA


Most activities during the software lifecycle involve producing and manipulating representations of information. These range from domain analysis (such as business analysis) during the early stages of requirements engineering, through architectural and lower-level design, to coding, testing and beyond. The information representations are models, and hence these are modeling activities, though not typically called that in all cases. Many modeling tools exist to support modeling activities. They have a variety of advantages, such as syntax and semantics checking, providing multiple views of models for visualization and convenience of manipulation, providing domain-specific assistance (e.g., "content assist") based on model structure, providing documentation of the modeling decisions, ensuring consistency of the models, and facilitating integration with other formal tools and processes, such as model driven engineering (MDE) and model checking.

Despite these advantages, however, formal modeling tools are usually not used for many of these activities. During the exploratory phases of design, it is more common to use whiteboards, pen and paper or other informal mechanisms. Free-form diagrams drawn there serve as the centerpiece of discussion and can easily evolve as discussion proceeds. During the early stages of requirements engineering, when stakeholders are being interviewed and domain understanding is being built, it is more common to use office tools (word processors, spreadsheets and drawing/presentation tools). Free-form textual documents, tables and diagrams serve as working documents and can easily be fashioned into presentations to stakeholders that are such an important part of this activity. The documents are easy to share with stakeholders. Users are also not forced to commit too early to specific choices, and thus have freedom during highly iterative, exploratory activities. Other examples exist as well.

Formal modeling tools thus have strengths and weaknesses complimentary to more informal but flexible, free-form tools, and vice versa. Practitioners throughout the software lifecycle must currently choose between them for each particular task. Whichever they choose, they lose the advantages of the other, with attendant frustration, loss of productivity and sometimes loss of traceability and reduced quality.

What can be done about this unfortunate dichotomy? Tools that blend the advantages of modeling tools and the more free-form approaches offer the prospect of allowing users to make tradeoffs between flexibility and precision/formality and to move smoothly between them. We call these flexible modeling tools. They might be modeling tools with added flexibility, or office tools with added modeling support, or tools of a new kind. They might leverage new approaches such as tool-as-a-service, cloud-based tools or web 2.0. Tools may embody new and more flexible approaches to the capture and analysis of captured models e.g. for extraction of models from natural language, detection of and/or tolerating inconsistency. They may provide flexible visualization approaches as well as or instead of editing.

Workshop Focus

The focus of the workshop will be on challenge problems in the area of flexible modeling and visualisation. In burgeoning fields, it is valuable for the community to identify key, difficult problems that help to define the research area and serve as a means of evaluating the success of proposed solutions in that area. The concrete goals of this workshop are to identify a foundational set of challenges and concerns for the field of flexible modeling, and to propose promising directions for addressing each of these identified challenges. To that end, it will bring together people who understand tool users' needs, tool usability, cognitive issues, user interface design, tool design, and tool infrastructure. Work drawing from other fields with similar flexible modeling challenges e.g. other engineering disciplines, architecture, and industrial design, are very welcome.


Prospective participants are invited to submit 2-5 page position papers on any topic relevant to the dichotomy between modeling tools and more free-form approaches. Papers posing flexible-modeling challenge problems and papers describing solution approaches, in terms of the challenges they address, are particularly welcome. Position papers must conform to the ICSE 2011 Format and Submission Guidelines and must be submitted through CyberChairPro by the submission deadline noted below. Position papers will be judged based on novelty, insightfulness, quality, relevance to the workshop, and potential to spark discussion. Accepted position papers will be posted on the workshop website. Depending on the number and quality of submissions, a magazine or journal special issue may be organized post-workshop.

Workshop Format

The workshop will consist of a few, brief presentations and/or demonstrations based on a subset of the accepted position papers, and considerable discussion. The primary focus of the discussion will be to elicit challenge problems and to propose promising directions for addressing these challenges. To fuel this discussion, all participants will be asked to come prepared with problems/challenges they believe to be important, and whether they have already been "solved", partially-solved, or remain unsolved.

Important Dates

Submission deadline: Friday, January 21, 2011
Notification of acceptance: Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Workshop: Sunday, May 22, 2011


* Harold Ossher, IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, USA,
* André van der Hoek, University of California, Irvine, USA,
* Margaret-Anne Storey, University of Victoria, Canada,
* John Grundy, Swinburne University of Technology, Australia,
* Rachel Bellamy, IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, USA,
* Marian Petre, The Open University, UK,

Program Committee:

To be posted on the workshop website shortly
The Open University is incorporated by Royal Charter (RC 000391), an exempt charity in England & Wales and a charity registered in Scotland (SC 038302).

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