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PHD-DESIGN  November 2012

PHD-DESIGN November 2012

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Subject:

Bridge papers - reply to Don part 1

From:

Terence Love <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

PhD-Design - This list is for discussion of PhD studies and related research in Design <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 5 Nov 2012 23:39:10 +0800

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

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Hi Don,

Thanks for your message. Yes, of course I read the Bridge papers. From your
comments, obviously my email wasn't as clear as it might be.

There were two issues I was pointing to. The first was:

Things have been moving slower than they need to  in the area that the
papers were discussing. There were similar articles in the 70s and early
1980s  - some even in the 60s. 

The articles in the Bridge edition have a similarity to each other in the
ways the authors view, talk about conceptualise  difficult socio-technical
'problems'. It's a culture of viewing problems that seems to me now quite
out of date because there are approaches that go well beyond. It’s a
problem there continues to be a widely held cultural view by many  that the
approaches described in the Bridge are the only way. That's hog wash - there
are many ways to see and predict the behaviour of situations and the dynamic
effects of interventions. It’s a problem though that one can't see the newer
approaches  if one wears blinkers from the culture of viewing
socio-technical problems in the ways described in the Bridge articles. 

One of the difficulties of the point of view echoed in the Bridge articles
is a tendency to lump all  difficult problems into the messy 'wicked'
problem bucket of problems that cannot be resolved. A crucial  issue is
whether it is possible to predict the behaviour of outcomes. Many of the
problems described in the Bridge are amenable to well-established approaches
that predict the behaviour of outcomes.

One of the most bizarre and erroneous viewpoints in this 'difficult problem
discourse'  (and the viewpoint is presented by one of the authors in the
Bridge)  is to argue that mathematical approaches  are only useful for
simple rational problems and not for difficult socio-technical situations.

The opposite is more often found.  The more difficult socio-technical design
problems are the ones best addressed by mathematical approaches rather than
by human decision making.  It is the simpler problems that can often be
solved best by humans using intuition, feeling or group discussions, i.e.
without mathematical approaches

Another way of looking at  this situation  is the only essential aspect
addressing a  problem situation  is to be able to predict the behaviour of
the outcomes of the situation and the changes in outcome behaviours due to
any interventions in that situation.  

From that point of view, socio-technical problems can be grouped into (at
least) 7 different types:

*  Easy - not much thinking required to  predict behaviour of outcomes and
identify solutions. Often feeling or intuition is successful enough. 

*  More difficult - more thinking required and some benefits are found  in
using expertise of multiple people to  predict behaviour of outcomes and
identify solutions

*  Very difficult type A - problems that have many different aspects but
intrinsically it is possible using thinking and  expertise of multiple
people to predict the behaviour of outcomes and identify solutions, perhaps
with some assistance from visual  or methodological tools 

*  Very difficult type B - problems that have many different aspects and are
intrinsically IMPOSSIBLE  to predict the behaviour of outcomes and identify
solutions by using thinking and  expertise of multiple people

*  Very difficult type C - problems that have many different aspects and are
intrinsically IMPOSSIBLE  to predict the behaviour of outcomes and identify
solutions by using thinking and  expertise of multiple people, but POSSIBLE
to predict the behaviour of outcomes  using mathematical (or in some cases
analogical) modelling methods.

* Very difficult type D - problems that have many different aspects and are
intrinsically IMPOSSIBLE  to predict the behaviour of outcomes and identify
solutions by using thinking and  expertise of multiple people, and POSSIBLE
to predict the behaviour of outcomes  using mathematical (or in some cases
analogical) modelling methods, BUT there is an willingness or lack of
expertise to do so,  and instead  an attempt is made to guess outcomes or
attempt to persuade people to choose between possible interventions without
them having adequate knowledge.  The outcome prognosis for this approach is
usually poor.

* Impossible - problems for which it is INTRINSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE to predict
the behaviour of the outcomes of the  situation and changes in outcome
behaviours due to any interventions in that situation.   An example might be
the behaviour of a perpetual motion machine.

Confusion between these types of socio-technical problem is common in
practice and in the literature. It is especially common to see  methods for
one type of socio-technical problem applied inappropriately to another.   On
one hand, there are problems that are too difficult to   be resolved  only
because of the  approaches that are used. On the other hand are problems
that CAN be resolved using mathematical methods yet are assumed to  be
'beyond' any way of understanding the problem or solution.  

These latter are both often situations for  which distinguished committees
are inappropriately appointed  and  'no decision' or 'kick the can along'
are outcomes.

I was suggesting it is possible  to do things differently - that there are
ways of identifying the behaviour of outcomes that differ from those that
that the authors in the Bridge assume as a backdrop to reasoning about a
situation.  Some of the newer methods we can already see being used behind
the scenes in high-stakes decision making, for example in military strategy.

Perhaps it is time to stop appointing distinguished committees as a matter
of course - at least until the behaviour of the outcomes and potential
interventions have already been identified.

Best wishes,
Terry


-------
Which reminds me: I never responded to Terry's (tongue not in his cheek)
comment about my posting of articles from the American National Academy of
Engineering on decision making for wicked problems.  He asked why each
discipline didn't know what others had done, implying that he found the
articles devoid of content.   I fear he didn't read the papers.

The best paper (the one i recommended) pointed out that in the face of
complex problems, the most common decision is no decision:  to delay action,
even when it is known that delaying action is the worst of all possible
courses of action.

See global warming. See energy crisis. See healthcare. see educational
reform. See disposal of nuclear waste. See preparation for predicted natural
disasters. See paying for the maintenance of infrastructure. See reform of
tax systems. ...

This is the political reality of the world we live in. All the formal design
methods, all the theories, all the work by clever people in multiple fields
(some readers of this list) does not erase the truth of real human decision
making when faced with a set of unattractive options, especially when strong
political forces are attached to each of the contradictory
options: stall, delay, make no decision.

So I urge all of you to read the real papers.   '

Yes we have 501 methods to solve problems. But for really difficult
problems, we always appoint distinguished committees to read the multiple
reports of the previous distinguished committees, to make recommendations,
and to provide us with yet another thick, detailed report. The result is
that we end up applying method 0: do nothing and hope the problems can be
put off during our lifetime, leaving it for the next generation of people to
solve.

Don
(In a hotel in São Paulo, Brazil. At a User Experience, South America
conference.)


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