Integration of Problem Structuring Methods: A Methodological Proposal for Complex Regional Decision-Making Processes

Integration of Problem Structuring Methods: A Methodological Proposal for Complex Regional Decision-Making Processes

Maria Franca Norese (Department of Management and Production Engineering, Politecnico di Torino, Torino, Italy), Diana Rolando (Architecture and Design Department, Politecnico di Torino, Torino, Italy) and Elena Fregonara (Architecture and Design Department, Politecnico di Torino, Torino, Italy)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 26
DOI: 10.4018/IJDSST.2015040104


A high level of complexity usually characterises public projects that involve extended area and several actors with conflicting objectives, and are related to decision processes that continuously change the action space. This complexity should induce local authorities to use Problem Structuring Methods (PSM) in the project definition, to have a clear, complete and unambiguous overview of the context, with the main decision problems and the associated uncertainties, and the actual roles and potential interests of the actors potentially affected by the project. The paper proposes an approach based on the integration of two PSM and finalized to create a knowledge framework of the project context and to control uncertainties and complexities. The methodology is illustrated in relation to a public project in north-west Italy, in which this integrated approach is required because it is difficult or premature to involve the actors in the concept phase, but knowledge of the potential negative/positive impacts on them is essential to structure the decision process and to activate the project.
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A decision-making process involving several public authorities with different roles in a complex project is not linear and includes steps that aim to reduce uncertainty and conflict in regard of the political role of a specific decision within the multiple related decision processes.

At the regional level, one of these steps is called “feasibility analysis” and it is always developed when a political action is associated to a project that can present implementation difficulties, not only in political terms but also from some technical points of view. Several political and technical decisions have to be made and often they are unclear and need to be identified, analysed and structured.

This kind of project feasibility is tested before the presentation of the political action to the actors of the decision process, and therefore before any decision. The procedure is activated to facilitate the decision process and a new and more detailed feasibility study can be developed after the decision, to facilitate and activate the implementation process.

Regional projects, which involve several towns and impact different functions of the territory (such as transport, tourism and local development, as in the analysed case), often present specific and serious uncertainties that can slow down or block the decision-making process and the implementation of the project itself. In such cases a preparatory phase needs to be implemented, in order to identify and reduce the risks associated with technical issues and their consequences at political level in the decision context. Simple and clear guidelines are not available for these activities that are time consuming but should be developed as fast as possible and without explicit contacts and interferences with the decision processes of the territory.

Clear and consistent methodologies in the field of Problem Structuring Methods (PSM) can actively support public authorities during the preliminary analysis of a political action, when decision problems and processes have to be structured, uncertainties analysed and technical and/or organizational solutions developed and evaluated (Rosenhead, 1989; Rosenhead & Mingers, 2001; Mingers & Rosenhead, 2004; White, 2009).

The Strategic Choice Approach (SCA) (Friend & Jessops, 1969; Friend & Hickling, 2005) is a problem structuring methodology that is used to facilitate a team of actors who are involved in a complex and unstructured decision process. SCA can also offer useful support for decision makers in structuring and managing possible phases of the future decision-making process, when it is used to identify the key decision problems that need to be faced and to reduce uncertainties that make the decision difficult or impossible (Norese, Galliano, & Rolando, 2015).

But there is a limit in the use of SCA, which has been made to facilitate a team of cooperative actors and decision makers. The analysed procedure of “project feasibility” is related to a completely different situation in which the actors cannot be involved because their participation could create more problems than it would solve.

The operational and methodological proposal of this paper is an integration between SCA and a complementary approach, to facilitate problem structuring also without the involvement of the actors but with a deep and well oriented analysis of the system, in terms of all the public and private community sectors that could be affected by a complex public project.

Several integrations of methods and technologies are proposed in the literature (Belton & Stewart, 2002 and 2010; Franco & Montibeller, 2009; Kotiadis & Mingers, 2006; Mingers & Rosenhead, 2004; Petkov, Petkova, Andrew, & Nepal, 2007; Norese, Liguigli, & Novello, 2013).

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