Transformative Approaches Project
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:
- Group A: Adaptive decision making (Arenas I-VI)
- Group B: Innovative decision making (Arenas VII-X), and
- Group C: Transformative decision making (Arena XII).
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
- (a) By row: Typically the knowledge resources row is collapsed
into the human resources row. In which case attention is focused primarily
on the social dimension rather than on the knowledge dimension. Both may
even be collapsed into the material resources row, as has been typical
of much of earlier discussion of development. Amongst the more scholarly,
there is naturally a reverse tendency collapsing the lower rows into the
knowledge resource row, thus de-emphasizing any attention to material and
- (b) By column: Typically the meta- and inter-paradigmatic columns
are collapsed into the cross-paradigmatic column, thus obscuring subtler
considerations which are characteristic of the emergence of alternative
styles of thinking and organizing. Again this has been typical of many
earlier approaches to development, and especially those which ignored alternative
cultural perspectives. Amongst alternative movements, there is a reverse
tendency collapsing the left-hand rows into those on the right, thus de-emphasizing
any attention to short-term considerations on which there is already a
considerable body of useful expertise.
- (c) Into a single arena: By collapsing rows and columns in combination,
all arenas may be collapsed into a single arena, typically Arena I (as
in situations in which decision-making is treated as a straight-forward
response to quantifiable variables). Many valuable change agents may similarly
be perceived as locked into the decision-making concerns of responsive
organization (Arena IX).
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