phases handling process of complex societal problems and issues

Compram method (DeTombe, 1994)




Before a societal problem can be managed, there must be an awareness of the problem at the societal level. Awareness of a problem depends on the cultural circumstances. Many issues now considered in a modern democracy as a social problem were often accepted historically as ‘the way things were’ and not considered as a problem. The awareness of a problem is influenced by the amount of power an affected group has. This can be real power (or powerlessness) or imaginary power (or powerlessness). A significant example is the position of women in the world. The low-level of influence women have on politics is in contradiction to the huge amount of work they perform. The political influence women have is reflected in their own view of their value and social worth. Because of this self-perception, it took ages before women became aware of their own value and, correspondingly, of their shocking position in society. Gender inequality, now rightfully considered a major issue was not considered as a complex societal problem for a very long time

Another example of the long time it takes before people become aware of a complex societal problem is the flood problem in The Netherlands. The Netherlands contains the deltas of the rivers Rhine and Maas. These two large rivers have much higher flow-rates in early springtime, when there is much rain and snowmelt, than in the rest of the year. Sometimes the volume of water is so great that there is widespread flooding. In the past these large floods were considered as the punishment of God. In the 17th century, the Dutch government wanted to control this flood problem. It sent civil servants to the local authorities to convince them to take action. Only after much effort, which took decades, could the civil servants convince the local people that the floods were not the punishment of God, but should be considered as a societal problem that could and should be managed (Lintsen, 1980).


The HIV/AIDS issue is a similar example. In the early 1980s, HIV/AIDS was considered a homosexual matter. Many people, especially in the USA, saw it as a punishment of God. This meant that, in the beginning at least, the heterosexual majority was not willing to consider this problem fully (Shilts, 1986).


Prof. Dr. Dorien J. DeTombe
Founder and Chair International - , Euro - , West-Euro- & Dutch Operational Research Research Group Methodology of Societal Complexity
Sichuan University, Chengdu, P.R. China
Chair International Research Society on Methodology of Societal Complexity
多莉恩·德通教授 华人民共和国四川省成都市 一环南路一段24 四川大学
Amsterdam, The Netherlands, EuropeTel: +31 20 6927526