Decision Flowchart for Addressing When in Messes and Problems

Figure 11.8 shows our proposed decision flowchart for assessing if and when we should intervene in our mess in an effort to increase understanding about it. A discussion of the flowchart’s elements is as follows:

Element 1 urges us to ask, Is max(B/C) > 1 for our problem? Put another way, is our system too mature? This question arises from the material presented in

Decision flowchart for assessing intervention timing

Fig. 11.8 Decision flowchart for assessing intervention timing

Sect. 11.1. The key here is asking whether or not our system has sufficient life remaining to warrant us expending resources to intervene in it. If it is too mature (B/C < 1), then we move on to Element 2. If not, we move to Element 3.

Element 2 serves as a follow-up to Element 1. If we have deemed the system too mature under its current configuration, the question we must ask ourselves is, recalling Varghese and Thorp (1988), do we wish to move its basins of stability? That is, do we wish to shift the system in a manner that perhaps renders it unrecognizable to observers previously familiar with it (see Fig. 11.5 and its shifted B/C curves to conceptualize the potential result of a shift in the system’s basins, keeping in mind that intervention in a mess may result in either a positive or negative result). If the answer is no, we move to Element 5. If we do wish to alter it, we move to Element 3.

Element 3 encourages us to ask, Is our problem stable? While it is possible that no mess will ever exist here, we may decompose it further and explore its constituent problems. Stability can be thought of in the terms presented in Chap. 5; namely, if it exhibits simple or complicated behavior, then it is stable (or ordered, in Cynefin terms). If it exhibits complex or chaotic behavior, it is not (unordered in Cynefin terms). This can be checked by estimating current (i.e., unchanged) parameter values in our current scenario (using our FCM representation) and assessing scenario stability using a trivalent transfer function. If the scenario is stable, we should move to Element 4a. If it is not stable, we should move to Element 4b.

Element 4 (both 4a and 4b) represents our decision to act. Arriving here compels us to do something. Our resultant action is dependent on what effect we are trying to achieve, which is in turn influenced by the problem’s stability. If we have a stable problem, then we can reasonably act to achieve our problem’s objectives (Element 4a). If we have an unstable problem, we should act to increase our understanding about our problem (Element 4b). This action and its mechanisms are described in Part III of the text, starting with Chap. 12. While we offer no prescriptive advice regarding what action is to be taken at this point, we assert that an individual arriving at this element in the framework is compelled to do something. Failing to act, given the factors that led to this point, is likely to result in a Type V error (inaction when action is warranted). After acting, we move to Element 6.

Element 5 represents our decision not to act. If we have arrived here, our system, in its current form, is beyond help or we simply do not wish to try to salvage it. Thus, we choose to not act in order to avoid committing a Type IV error (taking inappropriate action to resolve a problem). This does not mean we are done with our mess; it merely means we will move on to observing without interfering with it. This stage continues to Element 6.

All elements eventually lead to Element 6. Element 6 asks us to observe. After acting (or not) based on the factors associated with our problem, we must observe the effects of our decisions. This may include waiting to see whether our mess becomes more orderly or attempting to realize the benefits of a programmed intervention in our system. Regardless of why we have arrived here, it is important to observe our system before the framework compels us to return to Element 1 and begin anew.

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