Five lessons to improve how models serve society

By Andrea Saltelli

andrea-saltelli
Andrea Saltelli (biography)

Models are mathematical constructs better understood by their developers than by users. So should the public trust models? What insights can help society demand the quality it needs from modeling?

Mathematical modelling is a multiverse, where each scientific discipline adopts its own styles of modeling and quality control. Very little in the way of ‘user instructions’ is available to those affected by modeling practices.

This blog post presents five lessons to improve modelling that were developed as a manifesto by a cross-disciplinary group of natural and social scientists (Saltelli et al., 2020).

Lesson 1: Mind the assumptions

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Judgment and decision making with unknown states and outcomes

By Michael Smithson

Michael Smithson
Michael Smithson (biography)

What issues arise for effective judgments, predictions, and decisions when decision makers do not know all the potential starting positions, available alternatives and possible outcomes?

A shorthand term for this collection of possible starting points (also known as prior states), alternatives, and outcomes is “sample space.” Here I elucidate why sample space is important and how judgments and decisions can be influenced when it is incomplete.

Why is sample space important?

When it comes to dealing with unknowns, economists and others traditionally distinguish between “risk” (where probabilities can be assigned to every possible outcome) and “uncertainty” (where the probabilities are vague or unknown). Both of those versions of unknowns assume that decision makers know everything about the sample space.

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Stakeholder engagement primer: 8. Generating ideas and reaching agreement

By Gabriele Bammer

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What skills for generating ideas and reaching agreement should every researcher involved in stakeholder engagement seek to cultivate? What key methods and concepts should they be familiar with?

The focus in this blog post is on generating ideas and reaching agreement, as well as recognising the “groan zone” between these two phases in a group process. Researchers will have diverse attributes and not everyone will be well-placed to cultivate the skills described here. Having an understanding of the skills can help in choosing the researchers best placed to undertake the stakeholder engagement.

Generating ideas: Brainstorming

For brainstorming to work well, it requires rapid-fire contributions, no holding back or self-censoring of ideas, and no discussion or criticism of the ideas proposed. It often involves a group of stakeholders (or stakeholders and researchers) sitting around a flipchart or whiteboard, with one person writing down the ideas as members of the group say them.

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A tool for transforming resistance to insights in decision-making

By Gemma Jiang

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Gemma Jiang (biography)

Do you encounter resistance from your team members, especially in regard to difficult decisions? How might decision-making processes be better facilitated to generate insights instead of resistance?

I describe a conceptual framework and an accompanying practical tool from Lewis Deep Democracy (2021) that can transform resistance to insights in decision-making processes.

The conceptual framework: Understanding how decision making generates resistance

It is important first to understand the consciousness of a team. If you think of a team’s consciousness as an iceberg, the ideas and opinions that are expressed are the conscious part above the waterline, while those that are not expressed are the unconscious part below the waterline. If decisions are made based only on the team’s expressed ideas and opinions, those below the waterline will likely form resistance. This is often what happens with “majority rules” democracy.

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A quick guide to post-normal science

By Silvio Funtowicz

silvio-funtowicz
Silvio Funtowicz (biography)

Post-normal science comes into play for decision-making on policy issues where facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent.

A good example of a problem requiring post-normal science is the actions that need to be taken to mitigate the effects of sea level rise consequent on global climate change. All the causal elements are uncertain in the extreme, at stake is much of the built environment and the settlement patterns of people, what to save and what to sacrifice is in dispute, and the window for decision-making is shrinking. The COVID-19 pandemic is another instance of a post-normal science problem. The behaviour of the current and emerging variants of the virus is uncertain, the values of socially intrusive remedies are in dispute, and obviously stakes are high and decisions urgent.

In such contexts of policy making, normal science (in the Kuhnian sense, see Kuhn 1962) is still necessary, but no longer sufficient.

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Principles for welcoming all voices

By Keith McCandless

author_keith-mccandless
Keith McCandless (biography)

Which principles would allow us to manage and lead groups that aspire to include all voices in shaping next steps and the future?

Liberating Structures is an approach to working together that puts innovative and facilitative power in the hands of everyone. It does this through 33 adaptable microstructures that allow groups of people of any size to be all-inclusive and to unleash everyone’s power.

Liberating Structures is based on ten principles that help guide choices and keep a community together while moving toward their set purpose.

Liberating Structures practice and principles come alive through active engagement. The path is co-evolving, iterative, and mutually shaped. As shown in the table below, each principle is couched as follows: When Liberating Structures are part of everyday interactions, it is possible to…

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System redesign toward creating shared value

By Moein Khazaei, Mohammad Ramezani, Amin Padash and Dorien DeTombe

authors_moein-khazaei_mohammad-ramezani_amin-padash_dorien-detombe
1. Moein Khazaei (biography)
2. Mohammad Ramezani (biography)
3. Amin Padash (biography)
4. Dorien DeTombe (biography)

How can services that are provided to citizens be overhauled so that they will survive, be competitive and be fair (eg., accessible to all)? Is there a systematic way in which shared value can be created? By shared value we mean combining social and environmental interests with corporate interests.

We have developed a methodology that we call “System redesign toward creating shared value” or SYRCS. It comprises 4 stages, shown in the figure below. They are:

  1. emancipation and critical thinking
  2. problem structuring
  3. multi-criteria and quantitative decision-making
  4. creating shared value.

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Gradients of agreement for democratic decision-making

By Hannah Love

hannah-love
Hannah Love (biography)

How does your team make decisions? Do you vote? Does the loudest voice usually win? Does everyone on the team generally feel heard? Does your team have a charter to provide guidance? Or maybe there is often just silence and the team assumes agreement?

The next time your team makes a decision, here is something new you can try! Kaner (2014) proposes using a gradients of agreement scale. The gradients of agreement, also known as the consensus spectrum, provides an alternative to yes/no decision-making by allowing everyone to mark their response along a continuum, as shown in the figure below.

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The art of non-decision-making

By Anthony Judge

author_anthony-judge
Anthony Judge (biography)

Do you get frustrated when decision-makers avoid doing their jobs? Do you wish you could identify the techniques they use to avoid making decisions so that you can better hold them to account?

Here I identify 14 aspects of the art of non-decision-making based on my experience serving in, and observing, a range of international organisations.

1. Definitional games: This is the process of defining categories in one way in one document or organizational unit, and then defining them in another way elsewhere or at some later time. The art is to use this approach to obscure opportunities or to selectively advance particular strategies. At the same time competing definitions may be used to justify apparently incompatible strategies.

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Eight grand challenges in socio-environmental systems modeling

By Sondoss Elsawah and Anthony J. Jakeman

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1. Sondoss Elsawah (biography)
2. Anthony Jakeman (biography)

As we enter a new decade with numerous looming social and environmental issues, what are the challenges and opportunities facing the scientific community to unlock the potential of socio-environmental systems modeling?

What is socio-environmental systems modelling?

Socio-environmental systems modelling:

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How can resilience benefit from planning?

By Pedro Ferreira

author - pedro-ferreira
Pedro Ferreira (biography)

Improved resilience can contribute to the ability to deal with unknown unknowns. Dealing with uncertainty is also at the core of every planning activity. The argument put forward here is that planning processes should be considered a cornerstone for any given resilience approach. An outline of planning and resilience is given, before presenting fundamental aspects of planning that should be strengthened within a resilience strategy.

Planning

From attempting to do as much as possible within a day’s work, to launching rockets into space or managing a nation, everything requires planning.

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Detecting non-linear change ‘inside-the-system’ and ‘out-of-the-blue’

Susan van ‘t Klooster and Marjolijn Haasnoot

authors_susan-van-t-Klooster_marjolijn-haasnoot
1. Susan van ‘t Klooster (biography)
2. Marjolijn Haasnoot (biography)

Change can be expected, envisioned and known, and even created, accelerated or stopped. But change does not always follow a linear and predictable path, nor is it always controllable. Novelty and surprise are inescapable features of life. Non-linear change can involve threats or opportunities.

Although it defines the world we live in, who we are, the outlooks we have and what we do, we often do not relate to non-linear change in a meaningful way. What is holding us back from engaging with it? How do we deal with non-linear change? And what are promising ways forward?

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