chapter  2
8 Pages

How to define problems: a systemic approach

WithDirk Vriens, Paul Hendriks

Research into decision-making seems to suffer from two related weaknesses. The first is the lack of attention to the dynamic nature of the decision process and environment. Research attempts to encompass dynamic features are sparse. The second weakness is the allegation that decision alternatives can be discerned on an a priori basis, thus facilitating the use of a choice rule to pick the ‘optimal’ or ‘satisficing’ alternative (this is the basic assumption of the prevailing rationalistic approach of decision modelling). However, the assumption of an a priori conception of alternatives is not realistic, since it ignores the fact that the exploration and elaboration of alternatives forms an integral part of the decision process. Although several attempts have been made to overcome these problems, a coherent theory seems to be lacking. This chapter explores the possibilities of systems theory as an offset for new decision modelling. Among the many different approaches to systems theory, those that allow systems to have ‘adaptive’ properties are worthwhile because they can handle dynamics. Furthermore, the use of adaptive, dynamic systems leads to a solution for the problem of the ‘disembodied’ conception and choice of alternatives, since the choice options automatically follow from the defined system and may change because of its dynamic nature. The important question is how a system can be defined in order to capture the dynamic nature of decisionmaking. In order to answer this question, the chapter starts with a short overview of problems with traditional modelling in decision-making and systems theory. Next, it will be argued that the crux of defining Decision Support Systems in Urban Planning. Edited by Harry Timmermans. Published in 1997 by E & F N Spon. ISBN 0 419 21050 4 systems that are capable of dealing with complex problems is to define them with regard to the goals that enter the decision process. An outline of a method to do this will be given. In the last part the consequences for computerized decision support will be stated.