Archive for the 'planning discourse' Category

‘THE GREAT RESET’

Thorbjørn Mann

The ‘Great Reseat’? 

Another new, evil bugaboo if not just  one more disguise or reincarnation of ‘socialist’, ‘neoliberalist’, but essentially authoritarian tyrnanny schemes?

I happened  lo listen to a lecture urging resistance against the WEF-driven ‘Great Reset’ that is using humanitarian crises like the Covid-pandemic as levers for unprecedented transitions toward capitalist-state-controlled Big Brother tyranny. Using well-intentionet benevolent mass protection directives (or means that can be presented as necessary mass protection tools, like wearing facemasks, social distancing, vaccination) as opportuntities for getting people used to more freedom-destroying oppression. Getting strong impressions that these warnings and concerns are either perhaps well-intentioned but based on thoroughly misunderstood misrepresented  nature and causes of the attacked evils, or just political ‘propaganda’ messages against the current administration — the very thing they accuse  

Assuming for a moment the interpretation of well-intentioned misunderstanding, but getting the direction of forces wrong:  Some key considerations. (Numbered for conveninece in responding, not to indicate any order of importance) 

1. Must not ANY initiative for improvement — well-intentioned or equally just power-hungry for the sake of power — pursue some degree of POWER  (‘empowerment’) to spread its ideas and get them adopted? Which also applies to any initiatives for resisting such initatives? 

2. Must not ANY adoption of ‘new’, ‘innovative’  or ‘restoring’  (repairing, returning to previous good states) initiatives and provisions at governance level (requiring adherence by all members of a community) run up against some degree of RESISTANCE by ‘opposition’ groups perceiving loss of status, power, well-being, profit from the change?  

3. Must not such opposition be expected, the more DECISIONS for adoption have been reached by decision methods  that inadvertently or deliberately ignore or override the concerns of such  segments of society, now feeling disadvantaged? Decision modes such as ‘leadership’  dictates or even majority voting, no matter how well justified as the very essence of democracy? 

4.  Are not most if not all current governance tools aiming at common ADHERENCE  to agreements (‘laws’) even by disavantaged parties, based on the notion of ‘ENFORCEMENT’ —that is, punishing violations by force (implied in the very term ‘enforcement’) or threat of force? 

5.  Will such opposition resistance not have to seek and adopt reciprocal force against ‘law enforcement’ means  — the more so, the more the very decision modes for law adoption  prevent or distort or ignore other means  of expressions of concerns by the disadvantaged parties? (Does this not include the ‘propaganda’ means of reckless mutual disputing / misrepresenting the intelligence, honesty, civil-mindedness, ethics, patriotism etc.?) 

6.  Will this reliance on force and counter-force not lead to a continuing escalation of the tools (weaponry) of ‘enforcement’ and ‘resistance’?  Escalation that can lead to internal civil war and revolution, and, given the increasing destructiveness of modern weaponry,  utterly ‘MAD’  outcomes on the larger, international level? 

7. Do these mechanisms not, potentially, apply to ALL historical and current forms of governance — not just to ‘socialist’ or ‘facist’, ‘chinese communist’ or ‘chinese capitalist’  but also to the ‘democratic’  regimes that are increasingly bought by the big corporations and oligarchs, or taken over by the military? The common denominator being the LACK OF EFFECTIVE CONTROLS  OF POWER? 

     Note that this conclusion does not imply nor justify the wholesale rejection of power: there are many situations in which effective public decisions will have to be made ‘fast’, without the benefit of thorough public discourse: On a ship encounering an iceberg in the ocean, one decision must be made ‘fast’ — pass the iceberg on the port or starboard side, with all necessary intemediate means for adopting the new course being followed by all affecte members of the crew?  

8. Regardless of the answers to these questions, does criticism of current ways of doing things not imply some responsibility of engaging in and encouraging a better PUBLIC DISCOURSE, supporting, even requiring, efforts of developing and discussing alternative, better ways?  Should mere complaints and attacks on ongoing or proposed change,  without concrete suggestions of better ways to  deal with the problems, just be seen as political  ‘propaganda’  in the interest of gaining politicsal power but under the same basic conditions that generated the problems? 

9. It would be presumptuous and preposterous for any single person to claim to have all the  answers. It can be argued, instead, that as a collective species, the global humanity as much as smaller local communities, WE DO NOT HAVE A CONVINCING, UNIVERSALLY ACCEPTABLE MODEL FOR SURVIVAL – YET.  It could even be argued  that humans are a designing, planning species  with every generation wanting to develop its own ‘NEW’ definition, vision, design, plan for what it means to be human, and that it should be ‘empowered’ to do so, and that any ultimate ‘RESET’ model would be the wrong answer. 

     So my own attempts to offer some thoughts should be seen as efforts to respond to that responsibility of #8 above as encouragements to develop, engage in, and offering initial  contributions and proposals to the necessary public discourse, not as any ultimate panacea: Some urgently needed considerations and efforts:

10. There are many efforts, theories, initiatives, experiments and proposed ‘models’ already being developed and implemented all over the world. They are diverse, not all agreeing on the same principles and assumptions, and arguably not communicating well either with similar initiatives or a wider public. However:  should they not be encouraged and supported, by a global community?  Perhaps on some conditions: of 

10.1  Remaining ‘local’ (in the sense of respecting, tolerating neighboring and existing systems — until common larger, even global agreemenrts have been achieved by satisfactory and peaceful means;

10.2  Comprehensibly sharing their ideas and experiences (sucesses, obstacles, and failures) as well as proposals for wider adoption in a global repository for mutual learning, discussion  and evaluation;  

10.3  Refraining from any form of violent, deceitful, or otherwise coercive attempts to impose their provisions on other parties.

11  Encouraging the development of a ‘PUBLIC PLANNING DISCOURSE SUPPORT PLATFORM’  both to house and facilitate access to the respository of innovation / restoration initiatives, and the discussion of necessary ‘global’ agreements (common ‘road rules’ akin to the decision to dirve on the right or left side of the road…) 

12 Development of a PUBLIC (potentially global as well as ‘local’) PLANNING DISCOURSE SUPPORT PLATFORM aiming at common decisions based on the quality and merit of information and contributions to the discourse, containing:

12.1  INCENTIVES for wide and speedy public participation;

12.2   Standard INFORMATION SUPPORT (Similar incentives, reaearch etc.)

12.3   TECHNIQUES AND PROCEDURES  for structured discourse without excessive repetition, disruptive and flawed contributions but concise, effective overview of the whole spectrum of contributions;

12.4  Optional provisions for SYSTEMATIC EVALUATION  of contribution merit (e.g. the merit or proposals or proposal improvement ideas, or of arguments pro or con proposals);

12.5  Development and provisions for DECISION-MAKING  (Recommendations, agreements) based on contribution merit (rather than on shortcuts such as majority voting which systematically disregards minority concerns, and in itself is inapplicable to projects and problems transgressing traditional the boundaries of governance entities where the numbers of voters can be meaningfully defined…) 

13 Development of NEW tools for ENSURING ADHERENCE of desisions and agreements, as much as possible based on automatic prevention of violations (triggered by the very attempt of violation) rather than violent or coercive ‘enforcement’.

14  Development of better provisions for the CONTROL OF POWER, aiming at preventing the escalation of power and power tools and the corresponding intesity of opposition.

Tentative ideas for innovative techniques and tools related to the above items 10, 11, 12, 13,  and 14 have been proposed for discussion  in my papers on Academia.edu, FB, LI, books, and Abbeboulah.com blog; pfd files can be sent by email to interested people upon request (by LI message). 

CAN APPROACH ‘X’  BE USED TO SOLVE WICKED PROBLEMS?  PART 3

THE PARLIAMENTARY PROCESS

Thorbjørn Mann 2021

The claim we want to examine, as stated by proposed approaches (methods, techniques, perspectives): “This approach can be used to tackle WP’s” seems to accept the understanding of WP’s — the original Rittel/Webber one or a slightly different one of later interpreters, as well as a common understanding of ‘tackle‘ as not only ‘trying’ but actually achieving the development of a ‘solution’ to problems described as WP’s: ‘solving’ such problems. It was already pointed out in the first post of this series that of course any group is entitled to ‘tackle‘ (understood as ‘trying to solve’) any problem with any approach it deems appropriate. The question then is whether the claim actually can be seen as a believable promise that a problem with the WP properties will be solved usingthe approach or method. (The possibility that the very concepts of ‘problem’, WP, ‘solving’ these, etc. might themselves need critical scrutiny was be taken up in a the second post of the series).

So what are the criteria that might be used to determine the merit or validity of a claim of the above nature? Put crudely: what would make a client confident to hire a company using an approach X claiming that the approach will solve the client’s WP?  Would a first step be to look for answers to the question of how the proponents of the approach would respond to each of the mutually accepted and understood WP properties? Two questions: 

a) If the respective property is seen as a significant obstacle to the achievement of a solution‘ to WP’s, what will enable X to overcome / respond to that obstacle?

     and 

b) What if the WP property is serious, what are its implications for application of approach X? E.g.: If the property requires an adaptation of the approach or the general understanding of ‘solution’: what would those adaptations look like? 

What other critical question might be asked? The attempt to examine a few competing approach ‘brands’ might help improve this first set of questions. 

The examination of the answers — their generality or specificity, the strength of supporting evidence  or argument, and fit to the problem at hand —  might help to assess the merit of the claim, even if it may not be sufficient to establish a sound basis for preferring one approach X from a competing method Y. This is, in essence, an invitation to entities aiming to work on the world’s WP’s, to contribute their response.

Not being a representative or promoter of a particular ‘brand of this kind, but feeling obliged to offer an example of what answers to these questions might look like, I will sketch a few sample answers from a less controversial ‘approach’: the predominant political parliamentary process. The answers are not intended as a comprehensive set of possible responses, but to clarify what such responses might look like, and start the discussion:

Some potential responses of the ‘parliamentary process’ (‘PP’) as a problem-solving ‘approach’, to the WP properties: 

  • No definitive problem formulation

The PP accepts ‘problems’ on its ‘agenda’ as the justification for proposed ‘solutions’ in the form of proposed ‘bills’ that aim to remedy them. That is, problems statements dealt with as stated by the legitimate participants in the process (elected representatives of defined constituencies). Such statements may be questioned and debated in the subsequent discussion prior to a decision. That is, the issues of what problem formulations will be entered for discussion and consideration is entirely the task of the participants (though they may be responding to statements in the media and public domain).

  • Every wicked problem is essential unique:

Each ‘bill’ for legislative action is accepted without regard to its uniqueness or similarity to other cases, though it may have to be stated in formal terms defined by procedural rules, terminology, and conventions. 

  • Any ‘solutions’ for WP’s are not ‘correct’ (true) or ‘wrong’ (false) but, in the opinions of affected parties, ‘good’ or ‘bad’. 

The terms ‘true or false’, ‘good, bad’ etc. may be used in the discussion of proposed measures, but the outcome of the process is (sidestepping this issue?) is simply ‘accepted’ or ‘rejected’. 

  • Every WP can be explained in many different ways, but can also be seen as part of, or as a symptom of another problem or set of problems.

The debate offers the opportunity for presenting such considerations. The issue may best be included in provisions or justification statements for introducing bills for decision: these should include evidence of having explored different explanations or underlying problems of which the stated reason of the bill could be a mere symptom. 

While the issue of ‘tests’ (or their substitutions by systemic prediction or simulation models) may be and perhaps ought to be more forcefully entered into in the debate of a proposal, the viability of proposed legal actions is left to the judgment of each participant. (In theory, unless constrained by factors such as ‘party discipline’).

  • There are no immediate nor ultimate tests for the goodness or appropriateness of proposed ‘solutions’.
  • There are no well-described and finite sets of admissible operations that can be brought to bear on WP’s.

If this means that the process should deliberately be kept open to new ideas and ‘operations’, it of course applies to the phase of development of solutions before they are presented to the decision-making body for approval or rejection, which then does rely on agreed-upon procedural rules. The debate itself remains open to offering new ideas, or they may be assigned to special groups for more systematic analysis.

  • There is no enumerable set of potential ‘solutions’ to a WP: the ‘solution’ space is infinite and multi-dimensional.

In PP practice, solution proposals are simply presented to parliamentary bodies for approval. The debate may make claims of having explored the entire solution space, but the support for such claims and their counter-arguments must be judged by the participants. Claims of there being ‘no alternative’ to proposed solutions are always flawed and should be avoided: there is always at least one alternative: that of ‘doing nothing’. 

  • WP’s have no inherent ‘stopping rule for efforts to deal with them.

This being true for all possible approaches, the question becomes one of adopting meaningful and practical ‘problem-external’ stopping rules. Common examples in parliamentary bodies are the rule of ‘no more comments / objections’ serving as triggers for proceeding to the decision-making (e.g. voting) phase, or agreed-upon simple time limitations. Provisions like the ‘filibuster’, pretending to ensure that there will be enough time to present ‘all’ concerns for ‘due consideration’, should be amended with rules preventing mere repetitions of arguments already heard.

  • Every WP is essentially unique. 

This feature should be seen as a warning against relying exclusively on precedent cases for the justification of proposed solutions: again, it is a suggestion for the debate to explicitly examine the unique aspects of the problem the solution claims to address.

  • Every effort to deal with a WP is a ‘one-shot operation’ 

Like other WP properties, in the PP,  this should be seen as ‘stock’ reminder for the debate to address.

  • The WP-planner hasno right to be wrong’ (as in ‘trial and error’) but is liable for the outcomes of any actions taken. 

The issue of accountability for actions taken or not taken by parliamentary bodies is a perennial one. Traditional provisions of holding representatives or officials by the threat of denying re-election, or (for more egregious issues: removal from office) arguably are in need of improvement. Especially in view of other rules such as term limits: If representatives can only one serve a single term, or two terms, there is no accountability remedy for flawed actions during the ‘last’ term. There is no logical reason against the parliamentary system making such improvements. 

     * The ‘distributed information’ feature of WP’s:

This admittedly serious issue is one that should — and arguably can — be addressed in the provisions for preparation of action proposals (bills) to parliamentary bodies.

* Nonlinearity, ‘loops’ and counter-intuitive patterns in the behavior of the system affected by a proposed action:

Like some other assessment aspects (such as quantitative measures of performance of proposed solutions), this issue may not be sufficiently well dealt with in traditional parliamentary debate: Rhetorical debate arguments tend to focus on simple cause-effect relationships, and — for quantitative issues — highly aggregated but therefore abstract indices such as ‘growth’, ‘Gross National Product’ or ‘Deficit spending’. Systemic analysis and representation of complex systems aspects should be made required components of the preparatory justification documentation of proposed bills, together with provisions for sending proposals ‘back to the drawing board’ to include new and insufficiently detailed concerns brought up during the debates, or in outside public comments accompanying the debate.

   * The ‘doorknob’ syndrome: 

This aspect is related to the ‘WP as a symptom of other problems’ feature. It should properly be dealt with in the preparation phase of bills, with a summary of its treatment in the justification documentation. 

   * Making decisions on behalf’ of others, such as actually affected parties: 

In the PP, this question is addressed by the assumptions 

a)   that by constituencies electing their leaders and representatives, thereby entitle them to make decisions on their behalf, and 

b)  that conflicts of interpretations in the constituency as well as conflicts in the decision-making body are adequately settled by majority rule voting. 

It must be admitted that these provisions do not meet the aim of ‘acceptable’ or ‘desirable’ design for all parts of the constituency. In fact, the majority rule (in all its variations to ensure more fairness) allows all concerns of the voting minority to be summarily dismissed. The remedies for this are seen in the ‘re-election’ provisions — calling for efforts to develop better ‘accountability’ tools (as discussed above).

   * The ‘making a difference’ syndrome:

Contributing to the uniqueness of WP’s, this aspect can be seen as not adequately served by the rules of the PP. It must of course be balanced against the necessity for agreed-upon procedures that can be fairly and equitably applied to all similar public projects. Such common rules include the principle of separating the ‘projects’ of generating and reaching agreement on general project rules from the specific planning projects to which those rules apply. Specific ‘unique’ aspects of individual projects may require exceptions or modifications of the general rules. (To prevent conflicts that could derail constructive planning projects, the general rules must and can contain provisions for such possibilities). Individual participants’ desire to ‘make a difference’ will mainly be constrained by such rules in the main decision-making phases of the PP, but arguably can find opportunities for creative application in the preparatory and support activities.

Summary observations:

This tentative discussion suggests that while the Parliamentary Process as practiced may fall short of adequate provisions to avoid pitfalls related to some WP properties, but that needed improvements are quite possible. A common denominator is that such improvement provisions will be situated in preparatory activities such as developing the specifics of plans and other support functions, before the final plans are presented for approval in the main decision-making phase. This may remain a problem, because any such supplementary functions may or may not be called upon, at the discretion of the ‘official’ members of the main decision-making assembly. 

Another potential problem of the parliamentary process — common to many other ‘approaches’ — is that the final decision-making tools such as majority voting have the potential of marginalizing or entirely ignoring many of the contributions and insights achieved in supporting and preparatory activities, and even overriding key concerns of minorities, in the main decision body. This feature of common planning and policy-making is not addressed in the WP ‘properties’: Should this issue be included in that set, or be seen as a separate but ubiquitous wicked problem that affects many or all other WP’s? 

The Parliamentary Process, in its many forms, currently is a main governance planning tool, up to the highest international institutions. Can it be expected to be easily and smoothly replaced by a ‘better’ system any time soon? The main competitive ‘approach’ currently being authoritarian rule, which arguably offers few assurances for meeting the PP promises of ‘listening to all concerns and give them all due consideration’ in making decisions, much less guarantees for attending to WP pitfalls. (But it may deserve a chance to present its case, not just to violently take over?) 

Barring convincing demonstration that a better approach will emerge, is the best hope we have that meaningful improvement provisions such as those related to the concerns expressed in the WP (and others!) can be integrated into the PP structure? A wide, structured, and thorough discussion of other competing ideas is urgently needed, and it should include the response of each approach to the Wicked Problem features. 

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