Title: Creating decision spaces to support collaboration
Other Titles: practices for coping with ambiguity and conflict
Authors: Brugnach, Marcela
Craps, Marc
Bouwen, René
Taillieu, Tharsi
Issue Date: Jul-2012
Conference: International Association for Conflict Management (IACM) Conference edition:25 location:Stellenbosch, Cape Town, South Africa date:11-14 July, 2012
Abstract: Creating decision spaces that support collaboration: what type of practices can better support coping with ambiguity and conflict? Brugnach, M., M. Craps, R. Bowen and T. Taillieu During the last decade, involving multiple stakeholders in decision making processes has become increasingly common in natural resources management. This trend has been supported by new policies, like the Water Framework Directive in Europe, that claims that stakeholder integration should be considered as an essential prerequisite to management. However, despite the benefits that integration can bring, collective decision making processes also pose many challenges. One of these challenges is that decision choices must be able to accommodate a diversity of perspectives, frames and interests. In a collective decision making process there can be simultaneously many different, and valid, ways of interpreting a problem and finding solutions, which may result in ambiguity regarding how the problem is defined and the type of solution sought. Under the presence of ambiguity it is not clear if there is a problem or what the problem or its solution might be. Ambiguity is often the result of unrecognized contextual, methodological and substantive differences among knowledge frames (Brugnach and Ingram, 2011). For example, stakeholders involved in a participatory process may subscribe to different scientific disciplines (e.g., social and natural sciences), or come from very different knowledge traditions (e.g. indigenous communities and expert advisors), or have different stakes on the situation (e.g., farmers associations and governmental agencies), or have different types of expertise and experience regarding the problem (e.g., lay people and scientists). In collective decision making the presence of ambiguity can have diverse implications. On one hand, a diversity in frames can offer opportunities for innovation and the development of creative solutions. From this point of view, a certain degree of ambiguity is desirable to foster collaborative work (Dewulf et al. 2005). On the other hand, the presence of ambiguity can be a source of tension or conflict in a group and it may hamper collaboration (Gray, 2004). When this happens, ambiguity can result in a polarization of viewpoints and the incapacity of a group to create a joint basis of communication for finding a solution. In short, whether or not ambiguity constitutes an advantage depends on the capacity a group has to cope with it. Paying attention to how ambiguity issues are resolved is key to guarantee an effective integration of different knowledge frames. Handling ambiguity in a way that is inclusive requires the creation of a view on the problem situation that is shared by all parties (Brugnach et al. 2011). This can be done through a process of re-framing, in which the meaning of a situation is negotiated among the participants and a new knowledge frame that is satisfactory for all is created (Bowen and Taillieu, 2004). In this way, participants can influence all aspects of the decision making process increasing the acceptability of management actions. Doing so requires the capacity of integrating a multiplicity of knowledge frames that may be very different in nature while at the same time resolving differences and controversies constructively. In this presentation, we explore the type of decision space and practices that are needed to facilitate an inclusive resolution of ambiguity. We suggest that the adoption of relational practices (sensu Bowen, 2001) can facilitate handling ambiguous issues so that frame differences and exclusion are recognized at early stages of the decision making process. We illustrate these concepts with different case studies in natural resource management. References Bouwen, R. (2001) Developing relational practices for knowledge intensive organizational contexts. Career Development International 6/7, 361–369. Bouwen, R., Taillieu, T. (2004) Multi-party collaboration as social learning for interdependence: developing relational knowing for sustainable natural resource management. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology 14, 137–153. Brugnach, M., Dewulf, A., Henriksen, H-J and van der Keur, P. (2011) More is not always better: Coping with ambiguity in natural resources management. Journal of Environmental Management 92(1), 78-84. Brugnach, M. and Ingram, H. (2012) Ambiguity: the challenges of knowing and deciding together. Environmental Science & Policy 15 (60-71). Dewulf, A., Craps, M., Bouwen, R., Taillieu, T. and Pahl-Wostl, C. (2005) Integrated management of natural resources: dealing with ambiguous issues, multiple actors and diverging frames. Water, Science and Technology 52, 115-124. Gray, B. (2004) Strong Opposition: Frame-based Resistance to Collaboration. J. Community Appl. Soc. Psychol. 14, 166-176.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IMa
Appears in Collections:Department of Materials Engineering - miscellaneous
Research Centre for Economics and Corporate Sustainability, Campus Brussels
Faculty of Economics and Business (FEB) - miscellaneous

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