Complex methods of inquiry: structuring uncertainty

University dissertation from Lund University Press

Abstract: Organizational problem spaces can be viewed as complex, uncertain and ambiguous. They can also be understood as open problem spaces. As such, any engagement with them, and any effort to intervene in order to pursue desirable change, cannot be assumed to be just a matter of ‘complicatedness’. The issue is not just a need to cope with dynamics of system. It is also the perceptual ‘boundedness’ of multitudes of assumptions about scope of whole and limitations of organization as system. Furthermore, explicit attention to complexities of feedback loops is an extremely important aspect of any systemic discussion. How can we help teams of competent professionals to engage purposefully with such uncertain and ambiguous problem domains? The author suggests that we can only address this effectively through pragmatic efforts to incorporate a multitude of boundary-setting assumptions, explored as part of active (self-) reflection and practical engagement. This must be undertaken without resorting to an overly simplistic application of convergent thinking in our efforts to support problem solving. Instead, we need to pursue divergent thinking and ‘complexification’ in our effort to support problem resolving. The main contribution of this thesis is to present a collection of principles that taken together, provide support for this engagement ntervention. A core feature of this result is the framework for Strategic Systemic Thinking, which includes examples of pragmatically useful methods and tools.