University of Earth
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Transformative Approaches Project (Explanations)

Discontinuity: Conserving decision-making diversity

Transformative Approaches Project


1. Distinguishing decision arenas

One of the dangers in advocating "new thinking" is the easy implication that everything that preceded it should be scrapped as inadequate. It is therefore useful to clarify the arenas in which conventional decision-making remains appropriate in contrast with those arenas where new approaches may prove more useful.

Table I is a tentative exercise in isolating 12 decision arenas or contexts. These are grouped into three clusters:

Most decision making tends to be associated with Group A. The argument here is that there are concerns which are more appropriately dealt with in the second or third clusters. The potential of the third cluster, Group C (especially Arena XII) is considered here as largely unexplored.

2. Collapsed decision-making

Part of the difficulty in giving space to "new thinking" is the manner in which the arenas in Table I tend to be "collapsed" or conflated. Several forms of collapse can be noted:

3. Complementarity of forms of decision-making

The point to be stressed is the complementarity between the different decision arenas in Table I. It is as much a mistake to apply complex tools to straight-forward decisions as it is to apply simple tools to complex decisions. Each arena reflects a necessarily different decision-making style. Problems are compounded when efforts are made to project the validity of approaches in one arena onto the preoccupations of another. The challenge is to understand this ecology of decision-making styles and the mutual dependence of its parts.

The argument of this paper is that the innovative group (Group B), and especially the transformative group (Group C), are inadequately reflected in current approaches to the more intractable problems at the international level. From this perspective, many of the obstacles to the emergence of more appropriate decisions result from the failure to make use of decision making styles associated with these two groups. There is thus an imbalance in the pattern of decision-making. The merit of Table I is to accord space to thesegroups, without in any way denying the significance of the predominant adaptive group. Table I thus identifies the locus of relevance of "new thinking". There may be merit, in ecofeminist terms, of considering Group A as the dominant patriarchal approach to decision-making, in contrast with a more balanced feminist approach associated with Group B (to be articulated). Table I can be used to avoid the trap of "B is better than C". Indeed Group C can be understood as the mode through which those of A and B are "married", or reconciled.

4. Transfer between arenas

In practice it is difficult, if not impossible, to rely solely on the decision-making style of a particular arena. Certain issues prove unresolvable leading to a decision-making crisis. Reliance on the approaches to decision-making in a particular arena are then recognized as inadequate to the challenge. The arenas may then be understood as "feeding into" each other. These processes are indicated by the arrows between the cells of Table I. Thus concern with resource optimization (Arena I) in practice leads quickly to preoccupation with issues of human resource management (Arena II), and from there to issues of know-how development (Arena III), with the reverse process then determining new options for resource optimization. A similar chain from resource optimization through economic development (Arena IV), and on to issues of sustainable development (Arena VI) has been the preoccupation of the Brundtland Commission. The concern of the UNCED Conference (Rio de Janeiro, 1992) was with articulating the kinds of decisions appropriate to Arena VI, and their implications back down that chain to Arenas I and IV.

5. Cultivating transformative patterning

The basic argument here is that in the light of Table I, discussions about sustainable development will prove to be merely adaptive ("tinkering") and of limited significance unless they are fed by insights into new forms of transformative patterning (Arena XII) and the appropriately innovative styles of organization and programme to reflect that understanding (Arena X). However, those who are currently enthraled by the articulation of the concerns of Arena XII, need to register the challenge of the need for more appropriate styles of organization in order that their insights should prove of value in dealing more appropriately with the issues of sustainable development. It is not surprising to note that little of the available expertise on "organizational transformation" (Arena X) has as yet responded to the challenges of sustainable development -- just as those preoccupied with sustainable development have failed to register the need for any such alternative organizational approaches. As an ecology, this suggests that there is a dangerous breakdown in the "food chain" between species of preoccupation.

From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

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