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 International Conference on Complex Systems (ICCS2007)

Addressing Apparently Intractable Problems: In-depth Analysis to Understand Multiple Underlying Conditions in a Problem Space

Eve Mitleton-Kelly (Prof.)
London School of Economics, Complexity Group, Dept of Sociol

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     Last modified: June 29, 2007

Many real-world organisational problems appear intractable and are difficult to resolve. Part of the difficulty arises when only single causes are sought, when such problems arise from the interaction of multiple, underlying, inter-related conditions.

Two practical examples will be discussed. One was a project which attempted to understand and capture a successful attempt to create an enabling environment that improved its socio-technical alignment significantly. The presentation will illustrate some of the multiple, inter-related and co-evolving causes that together created the enabling environment which facilitated improved alignment. It will offer an alternative way of learning from success. Making sense in an organisation is part of understanding the full context in which decisions are made; while mono-causal approaches offer impaired sense-making and thus tend to lead to ineffective decisions.

The other example was part of a project, which looked at systems integration. Two years after a major acquisition the organisation was suffering from significant lack of social and organisational integration and all problems were attributed to a single cause. The LSE research team, working with 16 volunteers from the organisation, identified a set of inter-related causes that would have seriously threatened the wellbeing of the company if not addressed. The outcome was a set of 12 work-streams implemented by the company, to address each critical issue identified. The presentation will show how to analyse a problem space to identify the multiple underlying and interacting conditions, and why mono-causal explanations are inadequate when facing volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous problems in organisations.

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