Messages Inline: 0 1

Note: New Standards for Management, Planning, Decision-making, etc.

Re: : Decision Making and Decision Support Systems (Mark Garland)
Keywords: Adaptive Management, Breakthrough Thinking, Systems
Date: Wed, 31 Mar 1999 21:57:53 GMT
From: Dave Iverson <diverson/>

In 1992 I suggested new Standards for Management and Decision-Making. These were based on "Adaptive Management" and "Breakthrough Thinking" ideas. They were also based on my personal observation of government planning and management that simply wasn't working: witness NFMA planning based on outdated ideas of governance. Maybe we can begin this discussion by referencing my case for Interrelated Systems and Adaptive Management.

In particular, we might ask how can we ever get agreement on questions of "purpose" and "value" that continue to divide the American people into warring camps fighting over public land use? That is, "How can we best help those who hold a stake in public land management outcomes find common ground?"

Idea: Moving from Analytic Approaches to Dialogic Approaches to Decision Making

Re: : Decision Making and Decision Support Systems (Mark Garland)
Date: Thu, 01 Apr 1999 18:13:51 GMT
From: Dave Iverson <diverson/>

Long ago I tired of what I'll call overly-analytic approaches to decision-making. Examples include practically all NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act of 1969) and NFMA (National Forest Management Act of 1976 -- which incorporates NEPA by reference) planning and project development exercises.

Some of my angst about overly analytical approaches can be found in my three-part series on economics that I developed in 1995. Part three is titled Economic Advice for Forest Managers. In that document my advice is to focus more on the qualitative than on the quantitative:

When making holistic decisions--decisions in context with nature and society--costs and benefits (described qualitatively for the most part) are weighed in a common sense cost-benefit test, where decision-makers subjectively assess the worth of projects and programs relative to the cost as measured in dollar expenditures and foregone opportunities. The decision itself is at best one that maximizes utility but, in reality, is probably more akin to "just muddling through": trying (1) to serve the public interest as defined by law, regulation, and policy, (2) trying not to waste the taxpayers' money, and (3) trying to learn from what we've done and from what we will endeavor to do in the future.

If we are to find value in "planning as social learning," I believe we will have to give up on the notion that there is one right answer to any socially complex problem--unless those who hold a stake in outcomes agree on that as being the right answer. Note that "Right answers" in adaptive management are agreed-upon hypotheses deemed worthy of testing by "stakeholders." Collaborative Stewardship requires that we work together to examine context, frame problems, develop alternatives, and decide on courses of action. Bliss would be that such "stakeholders" would agree on courses of action congruent with the environmental framing (ecological, political, economic, and social realities) See my previous message on Adaptive Management and Breakthrough Thinking.

We know that people often tend to stake out positions and defend turf. What we don't know is how much of that behavior is set in motion by the processes we use in trying to get to decisions. Still, NEPA/NFMA processes have been much maligned for divisiveness. Our charge is to come up with a process that works the other way--to help people find common ground. Then to get that process institutionalized to replace extant directive.

Years ago in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest plan folks tried an approach to decision-making that I found useful. After framing the issues/opportunities they began to explore alternatives. They used essentially a branch and bound model that allowed alternatives to be dropped from consideration and new ones added-in as new information surfaced, as the perception of the problem changed, and as an alternative was deemed unsatisfactory relative to others in consideration. The idea is that as we begin to frame "answers" we can compare and contrast proposed courses of action and sometimes close out paths of exploration. A key to making it work is consent of "stakeholders." It proves to be "key" because if, say, an agency closes out a path of inquiry prematurely (as perceived by some stakeholders) then that act itself sets the stage for bickering over "hidden agendas" and the whole process is likely to blow up. On the other hand if stakeholder engagement is used throughout, then any alternatives left by the wayside will be accompanied with reasons for leaving them there. That way decisions can be explained both in terms of how "final" alternatives are judged one relative to another," by how each was developed to be the best alternative along the path of that particular alternative, and what paths were closed out in the journey.

Before this gets too long-winded I'll return to my main theme of moving toward more dialogic forms of decision-making. Please take some time to explore Jim Saveland's Internet Links on Dialogue. I believe that as we begin to understand Dialogue better we will at least have a chance to frame a new decision-making process. My dabbling in the strictly analytical realm over the last 20 years has lead to dead end after dead end.

News: Chief Dombeck's 3/16/99 Congressional Testimony on NFMA Committee of Scientists Report

Re: Idea: Moving from Analytic Approaches to Dialogic Approaches to Decision Making (Dave Iverson)
Date: Wed, 07 Apr 1999 17:47:54 GMT
From: Dave Iverson <diverson/>

US Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck's 3/16/99 Congressional Testimony highlighed the need for much better communication and for collaborative decision-building. I've included part of that testimony here:

"Based upon the Committee of Scientists' recommendations, ecological sustainability will lay a critical foundation for fulfilling the intent of laws and regulations guiding the public use and enjoyment of national forests and grasslands.
"To promote vibrant ecological, social, and economic environments, our proposed planning regulations will deliver a collaborative planning process designed to engage the public and apply the best available scientific information.
"We will build upon over two decades of experience and advice regarding the principles and practice of land and resource planning and management.
"We will simplify and streamline the current planning process. It will facilitate conversation rather than confuse; encourage rather than impede communication."

Note: Roadmap to USFS Decision Protocol

Re: : Decision Making and Decision Support Systems (Mark Garland)
Keywords: US Forest Service, Decision Protocol
Date: Thu, 01 Apr 1999 23:38:07 GMT
From: Dave Iverson <diverson/>

Some people in the US Forest Service have been studying decision-making and have come up with a "decision protocol" focused, I believe, at the project level. Their website is ROADMAP TO THE US FOREST SERVICE DECISION PROTOCOL.  

There is a bunch of info at this site, but I believe that we can get a general understanding by looking closely at their SUMMARY OF CORE QUESTIONS. Using their words:

The Decision Protocol is made up of five decisionmaking cycles. The process starts with a situation. The decision team's (analysis and deciding officer's) perspectives on the situation are clarified in the PROCESS, PROBLEM, and DESIGN cycles. From these perspectives, the team designs alternative solutions (DESIGN) and evaluates their relative effects in the CONSEQUENCE cycle. The team makes and explains its selection of alternatives and plans its implementation in the ACTION cycle.

The "cycles" still appear to be tied too much to linear thinking for most decision contexts and stakeholder engagement is allowed but not championed. This is not meant as criticism. From what I understand the "protocol" was meant for simple, technical decision-making at the project level. Our quest is to find methods for complex and politically charged "wicked" problems that arize from interrelated-problems at program, policy and law levels of decision-making.

More: Decision Protocol can handle "wicked' problems

Re: Note: Roadmap to USFS Decision Protocol (Dave Iverson)
Keywords: US Forest Service, Decision Protocol
Date: Mon, 05 Apr 1999 16:49:42 GMT
From: <jcarbone/wo>

Thanks for picking up on the Decision Protocol Dave. The protocol is designed to be used for a variety of problems or opportunities. If the protocol questions are answered honestly by team members, decision makers, and stakeholders with diverse perspectives, the questions can and should bring out the policy, technical, and legal aspects of decision-making. The Decision Protocol is an important tool for those dealing with complicated "wicked" problems. I encourage its use in solving complex problems at program, policy, and site-specific levels.

Feedback: Yes the "Decision Protocol" can help us break out of old thinking, but will it?

Re: More: Decision Protocol can handle "wicked' problems
Keywords: US Forest Service, Decision Protocol
Date: Thu, 08 Apr 1999 22:01:10 GMT
From: Dave Iverson <diverson/>

OK, Joe. I agree with you. The "Decision Protocol" can be used to address "wicked problems" but will it given our cultural heritage of keeping "stakeholders" at arms length and of focusing narrowly on the immediate problem at hand? I was probably a bit hasty in chastising the "Protocol" in terms of it being too "linear." Obviously, right-thinking people can use the "Protocol" in useful ways. But we need to ask what USFS ID teams, planners, and managers will do with it? Consider this snippit from my Review of Adaptive Management and Breakthrough Thinking

"[H]ow to apply the seven principles of Breakthrough Thinking to find effective solutions for your problems by following a deliberate, orderly and yet iterative approach or pattern of reasoning:

1. "With appropriate others, in specific terms, first examine your purposes for solving the unique, immediate problem. Don't ask, What's wrong here? What's the matter? Instead, ask, What are we trying to accomplish here? What are we trying to do?

2. "Expand the scope of your investigation to examine ever-bigger and more fundamental purposes and goals. A truly effective solution will address both the immediate and the larger purposes.

3. "Of the many purposes you can identify, generate ideas for solutions-after-next around the largest purpose you can practically achieve.

4. "Form these ideas into several alternative solutions.

5. "Within a systems framework, detail and install the alternative that fits the real world, while coming closest to your ideal target solution-after-next.

6. "Supplement that solution and provide for its continuing change and improvement."

Notice how the initial focus in Breakthrough Thinking is on determining "Who ought to be at the table" and on looking to expand the scope of the inquiry to "identify the largest purpose" that can be achieved by "stakeholders," effectively looking to expand the inquiry to resolve interrelated problems at appropriate scales.

Is there enough emphasis on those aspects in the "Protocol" as it now sits? If not, our USFS cultural biases of focusing on the problem at hand and doing so pretty much by oursleves instead of letting "stakeholders" own both problems and resolutions are likely to allow us to continue to follow old habits. No?

Note: Untitled

Re: Feedback: Yes the "Decision Protocol" can help us break out of old thinking, but will it? (Dave Iverson)
Keywords: US Forest Service, Decision Protocol
Date: Tue, 01 Jun 1999 19:57:39 GMT
From: Rhey Solomon <rsolomon/>

Dave/Joe -- The Decision Protocol is not the "answer" in the sense that it is not intended to be a "silver bullet" in thinking or analysis. It is a beginning that tries to blend the linear thinking culture of our agency with a more progressive way of decisionmaking. Dave Cleaves, Susan Yonts-Shepard and I were looking for a tool that could enable many of our employees and interest groups to begin asking the right kinds of questions concerning the natural resource decisionmaking that goes on in the agency. I would charaterize the Decision Protocol as a tool in its infancy, it needs alot of care and feeding and molding to make it useful to the agency, the public, and decisionmakers. I believe from experience that the culture of this agency can change, but incrementally--I've seen major changes in the last 10 years, so I know the agency can change. But I also observe that these changes are most effective when done incrementatlly. we have had a great deal of resistance to the Protocol, principally from traditionalist. This is not surprising. Our goal is better decisions. If we accomplish nothing else that the Protocol causing people to "think" and to interact, we would have accomplished a great deal. We fully intend the Protocol to mature into a useful tool -- because right now, the agency really doesn't have a "decisionmaking model". The reliance on the NEPA process as our default decisionmaking process has greatly limited our ability to solve problems and work with interest groups, regulators and the general public -- We need a better tool, we believe we have a start.

Question: Should we adopt "Breakthrough Thinking" decision-making principles?

Re: : Decision Making and Decision Support Systems (Mark Garland)
Keywords: US Forest Service, Decision-making, systems, people, purpose, information
Date: Tue, 01 Jun 1999 23:17:48 GMT
From: Dave Iverson <diverson/>

Over a decade ago, I read and was impressed with a classic Journal of Forestry article titled "Complexity, Wickedness and Public Forests," April 1986. In the article, authors Gerald M. Allen and Ernest M. Gould, Jr. argue that the forestry profession, in US Forest Service Planning in particular, confused "complexity" with "wickedness." Their evidence: "In 1980, [Gerald] Nadler argued that using schemes designed to answer innocent questions is a weak approach to public planning. He found such an approach counterproductive because 'it seeks measures for measures sake, restricts creativity, wastes professional resources, and generates defensiveness in people. Inward-looking, the research approach's conventional methods are elitist through reliance on experts and emphasis on analytical techniques.' This may be especially true in forestry, where the wicked problems tend to be legitimate political questions."(pp. 22-23)

Wicked problems, they say, share characteristics. "Each can be considered as simply a symptom of some higher problem. ... Each wicked problem concerns an assemblage of resoruces combined with effective demands in ways that are unique in time and space. ... Solutions are generally good or bad, rather than true or false; their validity cannot be tested objectively. Wicked problems ... do not necessarily deal with systems where inputs, outputs, and intermediate actions or reactions occur in a scientifically predictable manner." (p. 22)

Later, after digging through the "suggested reading" and extrapolating a bit, I found Gerald Nadler and Shozo Hibino's Breakthrough Thinking (St.Martin's Press, New York, 1990). It has been near at hand ever since. Breakthrough Thinking provides some basic principles and practices designed to help us better navigate the terrain between complexity and wickedness. Here are the seven principles.

Breakthrough Thinking Principles (pp.6-9):

"The Uniqueness Principle: Whatever the apparent similarities, each problem is unique and requires an approach that dwells on its own contextual needs.

"The Purposes Principle: Focusing on purposes helps strip away nonessential aspects to avoid working on the wrong problem.

"Think about purposes at different levels (p.27-8). Then arrange the purposes "as a progression from small to large, from immediate to long-range, from minor to major. This ranking or ordering, of purposes, is called a purpose hierarchy."

"For groups, "defining purposes and developing ideal solutions disclosed points of agreement, encouraged positive feelings, and created a sense of mission. Individuals within the group could see more clearly how they could contribute to a solution." (p.24)

"The Solution-After-Next Principle: Innovation can be stimulated and solutions made more effective by working backward from an ideal target solution. (Having a target solution in the future gives direction to near-term solutions and infuses them with larger purposes. (p.88))

"The Systems Principle: Every problem is part of a larger system. Understanding the elements and dimensions of a system matrix lets you determine in advance the complexities you must incorporate in the implementation of the solution. ("[S]olving one problem inevitably leads to another. Having a clear framework of what elements and dimensions comprise a solution assures its workability and implementation." (p.88))

"The Limited Information Collection Principle: Knowing too much about a problem initially can prevent you from seeing some excellent alternative solutions. ("Excessive data-gathering may create an expert in the problem area, but knowing too much about it will probably prevent the discovery of some excellent alternatives." (p.88))

"The People Design Principle: The people who will carry out and use a solution must work together in developing the solution with Breakthrough Thinking. The proposed solution should include only the minimal, critical details, so that the users of the solution can have some flexibility in applying it. ("Those who will carry out and use the solution should be intimately and continuously involved in its development. Also, in designing for other people, the solution should include only the critical details in order to allow some flexibility to those who must apply the solution." (p.88))

"Each person's interest in or commitment to any issue or change is different. Every individual has a unique profile involving achievement desires, creativity, political attitudes, values, psychological needs, and mind-set, as well as a unique personality profile in terms of style, openness, and concern for others. Because of this diversity, Breakthrough Thinking stresses purpose clarification, continuous interaction throughout an effort, and multichanneled solutions to meet individual perceptions, needs, and expectations. (p.54)

"The Betterment Timeline Principle: A sequence of purpose-directed solutions is a bridge to a better future. (The only way to preserve the vitality of a solution is to build in and then monitor a program of continual change; the sequence of Breakthrough Thinking solutions thus becomes a bridge to a better future. (p.89))

As we think about this in 1999, what should be "our" management decision-making principles? Should we adopt Breakthrough Thinking Principles just as they are? If not, then what?

More: Wicked Problems Revisited

Re: Question: Should we adopt "Breakthrough Thinking" decision-making principles? (Dave Iverson)
Keywords: US Forest Service, complexity, wickedness,systems, people, purpose, information
Date: Tue, 08 Jun 1999 17:34:12 GMT
From: Dave Iverson <diverson/>

Bruce Shindler and Lori Cramer, Oregon State University, recently revisited the concept of "wicked problems" and the US Forest Service in a very good article titled Shifting Public Values for Forest Management: Making Sense of Wicked Problems. Wicked problems are those, of course, that spawned Breakthrough Thinking principles, mentioned in the last message.

I hyperlinked to that article in a set of 7 Guidelines for the NFMA Regulation Rewrite Effort that I posted on another Eco-Watch forum this morning. Both items may be helful in this discussion.

Question: Untitled

Re: More: Wicked Problems Revisited (Dave Iverson)
Keywords: US Forest Service, complexity, wickedness,systems, people, purpose, information
Date: Tue, 24 Aug 1999 14:43:52 GMT
From: Phil Freeman <pfreeman/>

At the risk of sounding like one of those "old dinosaurs" mentioned elsewhere on this website, I must admit to some deep skepticism about the value of much of the public involvement we have been conducting. I just read Shindler and Cramer's article, and I think an important point made there is that we must have well-defined objectives for our public involvement. It seems to me that there's a tough balancing act required in weighing things like the interests of local and vocal segments of the public with the interests of the nation as a whole, the interests of future generations, the interests of those who don't speak up, and values that are not human-centered. In our politically charged atmosphere, it is really difficult for us to resist the temptation to be unduly swayed by local segments of the public that are well-organized, very vocal, and/or politically active. I'll admit that I just don't know the answers. I am not at all suggesting that the answer is to go back to the philosophy that "the Forest Service knows all, just get out of our way", but I am perplexed by how we should conduct public involvement in a society that is becoming increasingly heterogeneous, fragmented and contentious, and then by the question of what we should do with the results of that involvement. When I read papers about public involvement, they often conjure up images of New England Town Meetings where the "stakeholders" (I hate that word) discuss the problems and possible solutions. But, the kind of homogeneous society in which that was workable probably doesn't exist today even in many New England Townships, much less in the nation as a whole. And, our "stakeholders" include everyone in the nation and those yet to be born.

Having said all of that, I do see great educational value in getting people to discuss issues - much as this forum has that value within the Forest Service (our workforce is getting pretty heterogenous too). Question: Is anyone aware of a Forest or other Government agency that has developed a forum like Eco Watch with which to foster debate among the general public? If so, has it worked well or quickly become a managerial nightmare? I am on a core team working to revise the Forest Plan for the Chequamegon-Nicolet N.F., and it seems to me such a forum could be useful given the kinds of debates we are having about several issues - both internally and externally.

Note: Collaborative Stewardship Demands Leadership

Re: Question: Untitled (Phil Freeman)
Keywords: US Forest Service, complexity, wickedness,systems, people, purpose, information
Date: Fri, 27 Aug 1999 15:28:37 GMT
From: Dave Iverson <diverson/>

In a previous message, Phil Freeman suggests that:

In our politically charged atmosphere, it is really difficult for us to resist the temptation to be unduly swayed by local segments of the public that are well-organized, very vocal, and/or politically active. I'll admit that I just don't know the answers. I am not at all suggesting that the answer is to go back to the philosophy that "the Forest Service knows all, just get out of our way", but I am perplexed by how we should conduct public involvement in a society that is becoming increasingly heterogeneous, fragmented and contentious, and then by the question of what we should do with the results of that involvement. When I read papers about public involvement, they often conjure up images of New England Town Meetings where the "stakeholders" (I hate that word) discuss the problems and possible solutions. But, the kind of homogeneous society in which that was workable probably doesn't exist today even in many New England Townships, much less in the nation as a whole. And, our "stakeholders" include everyone in the nation and those yet to be born.

It is a difficult task to engage "the people" in collaborative stewardship. A very good primer on that subject -- the subject of leadership -- is Ronald Heifetz's Leadership Without Easy Answers. A short synopsis of Heifetz's philosophy can be found in The Leader of The Future"

Finally, Freeman asks, "Is anyone aware of a Forest or other Government agency that has developed a forum like Eco Watch with which to foster debate among the general public? If so, has it worked well or quickly become a managerial nightmare?" My answer it that very few exist and I've not seen one that really works well. I think a main problem is that moderators don't keep people's interest and in our attention-deficit society keeping people interested is a must.

Idea: A new standard for information sharing: smashing the balck boxes.

Re: : Decision Making and Decision Support Systems (Mark Garland)
Keywords: NRIS information collaboration
Date: Thu, 03 Jun 1999 18:46:12 GMT
From: Jim Fenwood <jfenwood/>

It's great to hear the Chief testify that "proposed planning regulations will deliver a collaborative planning process designed to engage the public and apply the best available scientific information." I hope I'm wrong, but suspect, however, that the likelihood of seeing those regulations in effect any time soon is pretty small. Of course, the current regulations aren't what's stopping the agency from fully engaging stakeholders.

Implementing some of the new ways of approaching decision-making discussed in this forum will require not just new thinking, but new tools. As the implementation of the Natural Resource Information System (NRIS) ( moves us to a more corporate approach to managing the information we use to help us make decisions, we are beginning to establish the mechanisms for giving stakeholders full access to this information. Just as the implementation of DG e-mail revolutionized the way information flowed inside the Forest Service, NRIS is likely to revolutionize information flows in and out of the agency.

Of course, many in the agency may be appalled at the prospect of opening the lids on all of the black boxes that hide the data behind our maps, models, and planning documents. Some will desperately attempt to "hide the telescopes" from a populace that might discover that the earth isn't really flat after all. Others will embrace the belief that "The truth will set you free" and will look for ways to get as many telescopes (and microscopes) in the hands of as many people as possible.

To fully do the NRIS job will mean big commitments of money and people-- not an easy sell in the current environment, but something I believe we must do and something that I believe will facilitate more change than all the regs. and directives we can write.

More: That's BLACK boxes!

Re: Idea: A new standard for information sharing: smashing the balck boxes. (Jim Fenwood)
Keywords: NRIS information collaboration
Date: Thu, 03 Jun 1999 18:48:31 GMT
From: Jim Fenwood <jfenwood/>

Idea: Untitled

Re: More: That's BLACK boxes! (Jim Fenwood)
Keywords: This is what ima do
Date: Tue, 20 May 2003 03:09:10 GMT
From: <unknown>

Hmm y dont i keep your here for so time

Note: DSSResources.COM

Re: : Decision Making and Decision Support Systems (Mark Garland)
Date: Wed, 05 Jan 2000 23:46:48 GMT
From: Dan Power <>

You are invited to visit DSSResources.COM. I would appreciate feedback on the content especially the DSS Hyperbook.

Dan Power

Idea: Managing Organizational Ignorance

Re: : Decision Making and Decision Support Systems (Mark Garland)
Date: Thu, 01 Mar 2001 22:05:06 GMT
From: Dave Iverson <>

Here's an inquiry question I ran into sometime back:

Ignorance is always correctable. But what shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge? —Neil Postman

It would prove interesting from an organizational psychology perspective to ask whether or not the Forest Service or any other bureaucracy ever admits to mistaking "ignornance" for "knowledge."

It would prove equally intersesting to see whether or not "decision framing" even allows for owning up to organizational ignorance. In Managing Organizational Ignornance Michael H. Zack identifies four facets of ignorance: "uncertainty, complexity, ambuiguity, and equivocality."

  1. Uncertainty: not having enough information;
  2. Complexity: having to process more information than you can manage or understand;
  3. Ambiguity: not having a conceptual framework for interpreting information;
  4. Equivocality: having several competing or contradictory conceptual frameworks.

Zack suggests that we can begin to better understand these facets of ignornace if we approach them as "knowledge problems." He says that uncertainty and complexity can be approached through more traditional problem solving for "convergent problems." Convergent problems "deal with distinct, precise, quantifiable, logical ideas that are amenable to empirical investigation. Convergent problems are solvable problems; as they are studied more rigorously and precisely, answers tend to converge into a single accepted solution."

Ambiguity and equivocality on the other hand require much different techniques designed for "divergent problems." Divergent problems "are not easily quantifiable or verifiable and seem not to have a single solution. The more rigorously and precisely they are studied, the more the solutions tend to diverge, or become contradictory and opposite." (convergent and divergent problem quotes are from E.F. Schumacher, A Guide for the Perplexed as referenced in Zack's article)

Zack begins his "Managing Organizational Ignorance" with:

"The value of managing organizational knowledge has been widely discussed. I propose that it is more important for organizations to manage their ignorance. Knowledge management strives to locate, map, collect, share, and exploit what the organization knows. Ignorance management, on the other hand, recognizes that it is never possible to know everything, or even a lot of things, well. Acting from an assumption that the organization knows enough may represent hubris at best and bad management at worst.

"Business organizations, however, have historically operated as though their competitive environments were known, describable, and relatively stable and predictable. Rigid planning processes, routine operating procedures, hierarchical structures and vertical command-and-control communication patterns reflect this belief. Even organizations that have adopted more flexible and responsive network forms to better deal with unpredictable environments still assume that the world is understandable and understood consistently and coherently across the organization. Those assumptions are not valid when the environment and the challenges it poses are vague, inconsistent or even unknowable."

Sound familiar? Anybody willing to bet when, if ever, such thinking will begin to filter into USFS decision framing? Wouldn't it be refreshing to have Forest Service practitioners admit to the depths our our collective denial, even blindness as to our ignorance? Wouldn't it be refreshing to see it clearly identified as a management, or "business need"? dave. PS. Although the topic for a different message, I have no patience for ceaseless chatter about "business needs" when our organizational needs should rightfully be framed as "governance."

Feedback: More questions than answers

Re: Idea: Managing Organizational Ignorance (Dave Iverson)
Date: Mon, 05 Mar 2001 21:18:22 GMT
From: Bruce Erickson <unknown>

An example of how FS admits ignorance vs knowledge. Several years ago biologists "knew" that woody debris in streams were fish passage barriers. Millions of dollars were spent cleaning stream channels. Later, biologists learned that woody debris was critical for fisheries habitat. Suddenly we saw reports blaming shortages of stream woody debris on logging. It isn't exactly a lie, since logging was the tool used in many cases to reduce costs. It isn't the truth either, since the debris was removed based on what was "known" at the time.

I'm not sure where you are coming from with the comment about USFS practitioners never admitting ignorance. I've only been in the business for twenty years, but I know lack of knowledge was acknowledged well before I started. Millions of dollars are spent every year on forest research. Every year practitioners submit requests for research to figure out something they need to know about. Informal trial and error add to the knowledge base and subtract (usually) from the ignorance base all over the country.

How does one manage anything based on what is not known about what is not know? As with any business, in the FS decisions must be made based on inferences from what is known. Flexibility must be inherent in planning and implementation to react to unknowns as they are discovered. Standard operating procedure, I think. Am I missing your point?

More: Yes, "More questions than answers" and our 'Process' should address such

Re: Feedback: More questions than answers (Bruce Erickson)
Date: Tue, 06 Mar 2001 20:53:45 GMT
From: Dave Iverson <>

I'm not convinced that FS Research asking for more money is the same as admitting to organizational ignorance. To me there is an element of "milking a cash cow" at work in FS Research money requests.

Let's look at the four facets of ignorance: "uncertainty, complexity, ambuiguity, and equivocality."

Uncertainty: not having enough information:

That one we traditionally try to deal with or at least "dance around" via various "science" sidesteps and/or "administrative" sidesteps like large-scale assessments. We often tend to approach small problems with weaponry more appropriate for nuclear warefare in part because we fail to look carefully at other aspects of "ignorance." Instead, we employ the "bigger hammer" theory. It's either that or we are just stalling when we do things like ICBEMP.

Complexity: having to process more information than you can manage or understand:

Complexity theory and Chaos Theory can help for ecological and social systems. When was the last time you saw such employed in USFS decisionmaking.

Ambiguity: not having a conceptual framework for interpreting information:

I'll have to think more on this one, but it reminds me of Einstein's addage about not being able to solve problems using the same thinking that created them. If we attempt to do so, we end up generating more problems than we solve.

Equivocality: having several competing or contradictory conceptual frameworks:

This one is especially intriguing to me, particularly when looking at our collective problems through lenses of Governance rather than Resource Management. When dealing with governance we have to simultaneously deal with "ends" and "means." Ethics and justice are at center stage. NEPA and NFMA deal with environment and economy for example. We ought to know that we are dealing with equivocality here but we tend not to address it as such and go about our naive "rational analysis" decisionmaking.

I'm hurried in this response and "outta here" for a few days. Maybe I'll add more later. cheers, d.

Feedback: Still don't quite follow ya

Re: More: Yes, "More questions than answers" and our 'Process' should address such (Dave Iverson)
Date: Thu, 15 Mar 2001 21:18:04 GMT
From: Bruce Erickson <unknown>

The Forest Service I know operates in a continual atmosphere of ignorance, chaos, uncertainty, etc. It permeates everything we do. Everything is a dance of probabilities, likelihoods, and risk management around our knowledge and experience. It is sort of like the medical profession. Doctors know they are going to get sick, but they don' know what of. They take reasonable precautions against known and unknown sources of disease. They don't obsess about it. When we visit a doctor, we aren't hosed off with disinfectant and placed in a plastic bubble, only to be attended by a physician in a hazardous materials protective suit. Likewise,the Forest Service is never going to operate in a state of perfect knowledge or absolute risk mitigation.

So what would be the solution to your wanting the FS to admit to this? Would it work if the Chief said we don't know everything? He has said it many times in many different ways. He has even said that earlier generations didn't know anything and couldn't do anything right. (he was wrong - part of the ignorance you wrote about)

Feedback: Process-blind as to Ambiguity and Equivocality

Re: Feedback: Still don't quite follow ya (Bruce Erickson)
Date: Sat, 17 Mar 2001 00:36:33 GMT
From: Dave Iverson <>

Since the days of "New Forestry" the Forest Service has admitted that natural systems are very complex. Jack Thomas was fond of Frank Egler's saying that ecosystems are not only more complex than we think, they are more complex than we can think. Most "line officers" know too-well that politics is wickedly complex.

As I see it, the problem is that our procedure and practice deny this reality over and over. We pretend that we have problems to solve, and that science-based approaches will solve them. Admittedly we are beginning to talk, however superficially, about collaborative approaches. We are beginning to get beyond "denial" on this matter and our "anger" is not as keen as it used to be when our expertise in political administration is challenged.

But we are still very much caught up in "bargaining" over our perceived loss of professional power, and only in special cases have we entered into the "resignation" and "acceptance" phases of the grieving process. For the most part, we haven't even studied real-life collaboration in politically wicked settings.

Look at the way we approach process "decision framing" and "decision making" in assessment, planning, program development, budgeting, project development, and administration. We go out and "scope" the issues, construct alternatives, evaluate them and choose an alternative. Such is "classic problem solving" methods for convergent problems, dealing with complexity and uncertainty as defined by Michael H. Zack in "Managing Organizational Ignorance".

We can debate the efficacy of our scientific and managerial approaches to complexity and uncertainty another time. Today I argue that we pretty much have blinders in place when faced with ambiguity and eqivocality. We don't even know they exist.

First some background. Let’s appeal to Zack to help us better understand ambiguity and equivocality,

"Ambiguity means the inability to interpret or make sense of something. ... If uncertainty represents not having answers, and complexity represents difficulty in finding them, then ambiguity represents not even being able to formulate the right questions. No framework for interpreting or applying potential answers is available: the ability to know what clarifying questions to ask is lacking."

...Ambiguity cannot be resolved by gathering more information. It typically requires repetitive cycles of interpretation, explanation and collective agreement. Hypotheses are iteratively created and discussed until some plausible explanation emerges. Rich, interactive face-to-face conversation among a socially familiar and well-connected yet intellectually diverse set of individuals is the key organizational activity for reducing ambiguity.

Equivocality refers to multiple interpretation of the same thing. Taken singularly, each interpretation is unambiguous, but they differ from each other and may be mutually exclusive or in conflict. Equivocality also describes situations where there is agreement on a set of descriptive criteria ... but disagreement either on their boundaries or on their application to a particular situation....

Managing equivocality requires coordinating meaning among members of an organization, and is an essential part of organizing. Equivocality arizes because everyone's experiences are unique; individuals and communities develop their own sets of values and beliefs and tend to interpret events differently.

Equivocality also may result from unreliable or conflicting information sources, noisy communication channels, differing or ambiguous goals and preferences, vague roles and responsibilities, or disparate political interests. Unless equivocality is managed, interpretations tend to diverge over time. ... Like ambiguity, equivocality requires cycles of interpretation, interactive discussion and negotiation, but to converge on a definition of reality rather than create one.

This stuff of "divergent problems" is where I believe we are quite blind. Only through collaborative process that goes beyond simpleton public involvement can we hope to deal with divergent, politically wicked problems that plague forest management. Just for spice let's throw in this, "sustaining equivocality may be useful for avoiding premature closure, maintaining commitment, and addressing conflicting goals."

You tell me.. Have you ever been to a USFS training session where such was even discussed, whether or not in the terminology used here? You tell me how much time and energy we spend internally or at the internal/public interface dealing with problems of ambiguity and equivocality.

In my frame of reference we don't do it, and we seem unaware of the political science and management literature that deals with it. As we continue to fail to appropriately frame problems we will continue to wonder why disagreement, appeals, and litigation continue to be rampant. And we will sometimes continue to pretend that "we must be doing something right because everybody is mad at us."

There are, of course, no "silver bullets" here either. Some time we’ll have to have a discussion on James G. March’s works A Primer on Decision Making: How Decisions Happen and Democratic Governance, coauthored with Johan P. Olsen. Only when we begin to get a clue as to how decisions happen in the real-life work of political organization can be begin to craft a strategy on collaborative stewardship.

Feedback: Equivocality in a Ski Resort Expansion Proposal

Re: Feedback: Process-blind as to Ambiguity and Equivocality (Dave Iverson)
Date: Fri, 06 Apr 2001 21:04:58 GMT
From: Dave Iverson <>

Suppose you are faced with a proposal to expand a ski resort sited on a national forest

The proposal can be viewed as:

  • Accommodating demand for new recreation under Multiple Use
  • The next battle in an epic struggle between commercial development and preseration
  • The next "Californication" of rural America
  • Growth and development of rural America
  • Development of a upscale receation experience amid scenic splendor
  • Destruction of natural surroundings and wildlife habitat
  • Abdication of "use policy" by higher authorities, leaving "field" personnel to make policy decisions that ought to be made, or at least framed, more centrally.
  • Rightful policy decision-making wherein appropriate local context can be sorted relative to broader contexts.

This is an example of equivocality as I understand it: multiple interpretations of the same thing, looked at differentially depending on who is inquiring into what.

Do we have blind spots in US Forest Service decision making regarding equivocality? I believe so. What might we do to address such? I dunno. But I would love to talk about it with some of those who deal with organizational dysfunction.

Idea: Ignorance and Ethics: Learning from Socrates

Re: Idea: Managing Organizational Ignorance (Dave Iverson)
Date: Mon, 12 Mar 2001 16:21:45 GMT
From: Dave Iverson <>


Nietzsche called Socrates the most problematic character among the ancients. Notoriously, Socrates claimed to know nothing. Thus, many people think Socrates was a moral skeptic or, worse, a relativist who believed there was no right or wrong. Nothing, or course, could be further from the truth. Remember that Socrates died for his beliefs and, when offered a chance to escape from prison, refused--hardly the actions of someone without a moral compass.

No, Socrates confronted the relativists of his day (the sophists) and found their arguments wanting. But he also spent time with those who were convinced that they knew right from wrong, and he made an interesting discovery. They, too, had no idea what they were talking about. Socrates concluded that humans are destined never to have ultimate answers in ethics; these are available to God alone. But if we can neither live in a moral vacuum of relativism nor attain absolute moral answers, what are we to do?

Socrates suggested a third way, one I believe we desperately need to resurrect. We should search for the truth and arrive at our best answers always recognizing the fact that we might be wrong. Acceptance of ethical fallibility is the insight behind Socrates' claim of ignorance. If we acknowledge that we might be mistaken in ethical matters, we may be more likely to enter into dialogue with those who differ from us, less likely to demonize our opponents and dismiss their opinions, and more willing to cooperate.

Given the polarized state of politics in this country and around the world, the Socratic recognition that ethical humility is not inconsistent with a search for the truth is a message that seems especially timely.

--Peter Vernezze, Philosophy

Vista 6(1): Winter 2001, p.7
Weber State University

Idea: Owning up to "Complexity in Political and Social Life"

Re: : Decision Making and Decision Support Systems (Mark Garland)
Date: Tue, 10 Apr 2001 20:16:45 GMT
From: Dave Iverson <>

If you want a treat, get and read Robert Jervis'book SYSTEM EFFECTS: COMPLEXITY IN POLITICAL AND SOCIAL LIFE.

If we could talk about the games we play, socially and politically, in efforts to grapple with so-called (mistakenly called) natural resource problems, we might spend a bit less of our time "mistaking the finger pointing at the moon for the moon" and coincidentally less time gathering data, and spend more time working with people to try to create meaning and understanding of both the complex systems that enfold us and also about our own behavior as actors within those systems.

Note: Getting Past No – Building Relationships!!!!

Re: : Decision Making and Decision Support Systems (Mark Garland)
Keywords: collaboration, leadership, Forest Service
Date: Mon, 07 May 2001 17:35:34 GMT
From: Dave Iverson <>

Some years back Roger Fisher and William Ury’s Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (1981) was the rage among Forest Service collaboration enthusiasts. Building public agreement looked easy to many then. Later Fisher collaborated with Scott Brown on a sequel titled Getting Together: Building a Relationship the Gets to Yes (1988). Among other things, Getting Together helps us understand that we get nowhere good without building relationships since the same actors meet over and over again in decision making arenas. Every moment spent building relationships yields dividends for many years to come.

William Ury’s Getting Past No: Negotiating with Difficult People (1991) is the third book in the series and gets closer to the heart of the problem faced by the Forest Service. As we enter the 21st Century, trust is so low that often the problem faced by Forest Service managers is in proposing “anything” that will not be vetoed by someone through appeals and litigation.

If we were to frame our collaboration as “Getting Past No” we might get beyond what I like to call “simpleton collaboration strategy” wherein practitioners believe that if they just ask people to come into their sand pile to play, stakeholders will gleefully begin the journey toward “yes.” Or the shadow side of this strategy that says that if practitioners go through the motions of attempting collaboration as dictated by “regulation,” then they are free to make power plays via “politics as usual,” make tough stands in court, etc. If we would take to heart Ury’s advice in Getting Past No, we might begin to better understand the need for building both relationships and understanding in the face of diversity of thought.

In Getting Past No, Ury acknowledges Ronald Heifetz’s work. As you are working up your list of collaboration classics don’t forget to include Heifetz’s book Leadership Without Easy Answers (1994). I’d also recommend that practitioners be familiar with Robert Keagan and Lisa Laskow Lahey’s How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation (2001). In addition to helping us better understand the importance of language, Keagan and Lahey help us better understand how our defense mechanisms keep us from changing our behavior toward building better relationships. All these books can help us better understand why relationships are overwhelming important and help us begin to build better relationships on the path to collaboration.

Now if only we could find a way to help Forest Service folks learn that reading is as important as the many training sessions they attend, perhaps more important. Twenty years of my prodding have yielded few results on that score. Dave Iverson

Question: Senerios Help!!

Re: : Decision Making and Decision Support Systems (Mark Garland)
Date: Sat, 07 Feb 2004 07:33:40 GMT
From: Jimmy <>

Emmy’s husband, Buddy, is retiring from his position as a district manager for a chain of hardware stores. For several years, he has been doing market research for the stores. He is systematic in the way he approaches problems and has long used mathematical formulas to project sales and so on. Although her business has been doing well in the last year and a half, Emmy is getting too bogged down in backlogged orders to use the decision support system you built for her. Buddy has agreed to take over the management aspects of her shop so that she can concentrate on artistic aspects.

(i) How would you characterize Buddy as a decision maker? Explain in a paragraph.

(ii) What features could you include in a DSS to support Buddy’s decision-making style? List five of them and explain in detail to support each feature.

Anyone knows how the above problems have to be solved?

Question: how to begin in DSS studying?

Re: : Decision Making and Decision Support Systems (Mark Garland)
Date: Fri, 02 Apr 2004 21:13:46 GMT
From: asmaa <>

being a student in studying DSS recently, how to start, what even are the right questions to ask or shall i delay questions to a later period where i had already constructed a deeper background on DSS. Thanks :)

Idea: New Web-log: Forest Policy - Forest Practice

Re: : Decision Making and Decision Support Systems (Mark Garland)
Date: Thu, 05 May 2005 14:21:12 GMT
From: Dave Iverson <>

Try our New Web-log, "Forest Policy - Forest Practice" at

Add message to: "Decision Making and Decision Support Systems"

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