Archive for the ‘Collaboration Theory’ Category

When problems are complex, solutions are imperfect.  Actions taken in the face of complexity inevitably come to be associated with a hard to separate mixture of gains, losses, and ambiguities.  These gains, losses, and ambiguities, furthermore, are understood and experienced from a variety of perspectives, none of which can justifiably claim to command a total view.  Thus, not only are solutions to complex problems imperfect, there are no definitive criteria by which to interpret or evaluate the imperfection. (more…)

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Over lunch the other day, colleague Harry Lambright and I were discussing his interest in the connection between space exploration and environmental problems, particularly climate change.  In his view, a main problem with a great deal of environmental thinking and policy-making is that it doesn’t take a big enough perspective. Environmental problems – the most pressing ones at least – are problems that must be understood at the scale of the planet.  To deal with them effectively, we need to “Think like a Planet.”


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In a recent article in the journal Nature, Andy Stirling argues that scientists giving advice to policy-makers should, when issues entail ambiguity and uncertainty, forego the urge to provide definitive answers and instead strive to “Keep it Complex.”  That is, scientists should acknowledge and help policy-makers understand the  “intrinsically plural, conditional nature of knowledge.”  I shared the article with Sociology Professor Allan Mazur, and a brief email dialog ensued – please share your own thoughts on these issues in the comment space below. (more…)

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Today’s most pressing problems – terrorism and security, environmental degradation and sustainability – both require and resist collaborative problem solving. These issues motivate the attention of citizens, researchers, and practitioners with a wide variety of theoretical approaches, methodological starting points, and practical goals. When people with different perspectives come together to solve these problems, however, they sometimes approach the issues in such different ways that developing a shared understanding – let alone a shared plan of action – seems all but impossible.

Today’s problems are much thornier than the proverbial elephant problem, in which a group of blind people is asked to reach out and touch something and describe what they are touching. (more…)

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