Grounding Conversations with Improvised Dialogues (ACL2020)

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SPOLIN: a collection of improvised "Yes, and" dialogue turns

Effective dialogue involves grounding, the process of collecting mutual knowledge and assumptions that is essential for communication between people. Modern dialogue systems are not explicitly trained to build common ground, and therefore overlook an important aspect of communication. Improvisational theater (improv) intrinsically contains a high proportion of dialogue focused on building common ground, and make use of the "Yes, and" principle, a strong grounding speech act, to establish coherence and an actionable objective reality.

We collected a corpus of more than 68,000 "Yes, and" turns, called Selected Pairs of Learnable ImprovisatioN (SPOLIN), a backronym in recognition of Viola Spolin, the originator of Theatre Games that encourage the development of specific theatrical skills. We transcribed them from improv dialogues and later extracted them from larger, but more sparsely populated movie script dialogue corpora and subtitles corpora, via a bootstrapped classifier. We fine-tuned chit-chat dialogue systems with SPOLIN to encourage more grounded, relevant conversation and confirmed these findings with human evaluations.

What is a "Yes, and..."?

Yes-and examples

The yes-and principle is a rule-of-thumb of improvisational theatre that suggests that a participant should accept the reality of what the other participant has said (“Yes”) and expand or refine that reality with additional information(“and”). It does not require the response to explicitly contain the phrase "Yes, and".

Both explicit (top) and implicit (bottom) examples of "Yes, and" responses in the SPOLIN corpus are shown in the figure. The text highlighted in light blue reflects acceptance of the context established in the prompt ("yes") and the text highlighted in orange initiates a new relevant contribution to the dialogue ("and"). Note that in the implicit example that acceptance of the reality and adding more relevant information can be achieved in many different ways, which makes the task of determining "Yes, and" dialogue turns and generating them a non-trivial task.

I want to use SPOLIN!

SPOLIN is available for download through the Github repo, Huggingface datasets, ConvoKit, and ParlAI. Don't forget to cite our work if you use our data!


Chat with SpolinBot, a DialoGPT model fine-tuned with the latest SPOLIN corpus to generate "Yes, and" responses. Each response from the bot contains five options to choose from, which are ordered based on maximum mutual information (MMI) scoring. For the full demo, visit Not sure how to start? Check out some examples.


Here are some fun example dialogues with SpolinBot that people have submitted. You can also submit yours at the full demo!


USC Viterbi Magazine covered our work with a fun video demonstration featuring Mike Henry (Family Guy, The Orville). Check it out!
Other media coverage:


If our work inspires you, please cite us:
    title={Grounding Conversations with Improvised Dialogues},
    author={Cho, Hyundong and May, Jonathan},
    booktitle ={Proceedings of the 58th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics},


This material is based on research sponsored by the AFRL and DARPA under agreement number FA8650-18-C-7878. The views and conclusions contained herein are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as necessarily representing the official policies or endorsements, either expressed or implied, of the AFRL, DARPA, or the U.S. Government.


If you have any questions about the dataset, feel free to email us at "hd.justin at gmail dot com" or raise an issue on the Github page.