A New Method for Handling Complex Spatial Problems
Dorien J. DeTombe
DeTombe, Dorien J. (2000) A New Method for Handling Complex Spacial Problems, A. Reggiani (Ed.) Spacial Economic Science. New Frontiers in Theory and Methodology. Advances in Spacial Science, pp. 212-240, Springer-Verlag, Berlin ISBN 3-540-67493-4
Dorien J. DeTombe
Chair Operational Research Euro Working Group
Complex Societal Problems
P.O. Box. 3286, 1001 AB Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Europe
Tel: +31 20 6927526
Questions on the theme of what spatial developments will be in Europe the next ten, thirty to fifty years can be considered to be questions on the field of complex societal problems. These problems need an integral approach based on analysis of the temporary situation with reflection on the past and a focus on new developments, trends, political values and ideas about the future. Analyzing the spatial developments in Europe should be done by analyzing on a micro level the states of Europe, on a meso level Europe, and on a macro level the world. Issues like finance, economy, infrastructure, internet, environment, employment, knowledge, education, health care, and technical developments are intertwined and should be analyzed in relation to each other in the light of the new legislative and political ideas. Complex spatial problems involve many actors, each with different powers, goals and emotions.
A new method has been developed to support the answering these kind of questions. The method supports the analysis of the past, the temporary situation and anticipating of the future, and allows for the integration of different aspects. This new method, the Compram method (DeTombe, 1994), is based on the idea that handling complex special problems is based on knowledge, power and emotion. Handling complex problems should be done with groups. The Compram method uses a six step approach starting with analyzing the problem with neutral experts from different fields, then analyzing the problem with the actors involved, then the different groups should picture together on a basis of several scenario’s the future developments and negotiate interventions. Societal reactions should be anticipated before implementing interventions. The last step is evaluating the implemented interventions in the view of the (changed) problem. Some aspects of the Compram method will be described in the paper in relation to questions regarding future developments of spatial areas in the Netherlands.
1 Predicting the future
Predicting the future is one of the most difficult things to do. From biblical times of the prophets, the Delphi oracle of the Greeks, fortune tellers at festivals, to contemporary consultancy bureaus and scientists, experts are asked to predict the future. Knowing what lies ahead makes it more fruitful to make decisions in the present. Europe Quo Vadis, the theme of the conference on regional questions in Vienna 1998 is a reflection of this feeling. People feel uncertain when they do not know what is going to happen in the future. This feeling is related to one’s personal life as well as the future of the company or the country (Kordon, 1990). Europe has suffered in the twentieth century two world wars, the negative effects of which even after fifty years are still visible. Europe is slowly recovering from the moral and economical damages of totalitarian systems, like that of the communism in East Europe and fascism in the West, meanwhile still suffering from relatively small but severe local national wars, e.g. in former Yugoslavia. This Europe faces a new century. The expected ideas about the future, at least at this moment, in the dominant European countries such as France and Germany, are towards a more central organized Europe, where there is more unity in legislation and in financial currency, with the Euro, than it was during the last century, although less centralized than it was during the first centuries A.D. at the time of the Roman emperors, and during the Spanish monarchy in the time of Charlemagne in the 16th century.
What will the future, the near future of the first fifteen to twenty years of the 21st century look like? What will the political and economical developments be and how will the spatial areas be developed. What will a more united Europe mean to the feelings of people towards their ‘own’ country, their own nationality. Will the national feelings grow stronger, or will the feelings of the people go more towards being a European?
The general governmental approach of Western European countries in the 20th century was concentrated on national thinking. Important issues discussed in politics were national issues. Individual goals as well as company goals were to become the number one in your own country. The borders of the nation were more or less also the mental borders. Beyond the borders was for companies and the government more or less the world outside. Now the focus is widened, which make the world more complicated, and the goals more difficult to reach. To survive in Europe, the European situation has to be examined. Instead of being number one in your own country where at least the rules and habits are familiar, one should now try to be to the best in Europe, the best university of Europe and the number one company of Europe. The national view has to be changed to a European view, which is per definition more complicated.
Take for instance the airport hubs. Hubs are the central places were the majority of the airplanes for freight and passengers arrive and depart. Several countries are fighting on a European level to become the main airport hub in Europe, among them the airports of Frankfurt in Germany and Schiphol in the Netherlands. Meanwhile the airport companies are, on national level, pretending that this fight is already won in their favor and are persuading the national government to invest in their airport as if it was already a fact that this airport will be the central airport for handling all passengers and freight in Europe (see the Dutch Schiphol discussion, Van der Riet, 1998; Rooze, 1998a, 1998b).
2 European changes in the near future
In the next fifteen years many things will change in Europe. Europe will probably go towards a more central-guided Europe. What exactly will be changed, when and how, is difficult to say. Each expert probably has on his or her own field probably some clues and ideas as to what will change in the field. What is happening in other fields is rather unclear. Developments in a field are not isolated from the development of other fields. Each field is dependent on others, a development in one field influences developments in other fields. European developments are influenced by national developments on one hand and by worldwide influences on the other. An example of international mutual dependency is the mutual interdependency of the financial world on the stock exchange, the world economy, and the world trade in relation to national trade protections. The mutual decrease of the interest rate at the same moment and presented as a mutual decision shows European dependency at the financial level.
In order to see what will happen in Europe, if it can be seen at all, the experts should discuss with each other and explain to each other what the developments in their own field will be. Then, each expert can interpret this new knowledge and see what the consequences of what these developments are for their own field. These consequences should then be discussed with experts from other fields,so that in an interactive discussion of several rounds experts discuss what they think what will happen in Europe. The same can be done with the actors involved such as the national governments, large national and international European firms and worldwide organizations. The actors can explain to the experts what their goals are, which direction they want to go in, what influence they can have, what their power is, and which emotions they have towards several developments.
Then, based on several scenarios, some careful predictions can be given. Action can be taken based on these predictions.These actions can, in turn, provoke new opportunities, and poase new threats and challenges.
3 Is the future predictable?
Predicting new developments for the future is an iterative and interactive process, in which knowledge, power and emotion play an important role. Prediction of future developments can be made based on development of the past, analyzes of the temporary situation and on a thorough analysis of the new trends and possible developments of the future described in several scenarios (Bahlmann, 1996).
Analyzing the past and the contemporary situation, knowledge experts should discuss together which phenomena and mayor issues are involved and how they are related and depend on each other. Using a simulation model of the basic ideas of System Thinking (Forrester, 1961, 1969, 1990) it is easy to show, just by drawing some feedback loops, that developments are iterative, and the more complex the situation is, the more uncertainty there is in the model, and because all the phenomena interact, the amount of uncertainty can grow quickly. The apparently linear relations are actually non-linear relations. These non-linear relations are difficult to predict (see Van Dijkum & Kuijk, 1999). How this can influence the predictive value of the model is described in several articles and books about application of chaos theory on models of complex societal problems (Verhulst, 1985, 1990; Lorenz, 1989; Tennekens, 1990a, 1990b; Van Dijkum & DeTombe, 1992; Metz, 1990; DeTombe & ‘t Hart, 1996).
Chaos theory alerts us to the unpredictability of future developments as does knowledge of socio-cybernetic theory (Geyer & Van der Zouwen, 1986, 1991a, 1991b). The socio-cybernetic concept of self-organization clearly indicates why future prediction is only to a certain extent and under certain circumstances possible; which circumstances is often not so clear at the start. The concept of self-organization, which is one of the main concepts of socio-cybernetic, can be applied to the behavior of the different actors involved. The socio-cybernetic concept of self-organization can be described as ‘free will’ (see DeTombe, 1997a). This means that the prediction whether one actor will react and in what way an actor will react can not be derived only by goal and power analyses. An actor will react depending on the actor’s own circumstances like goal and power, but also money, time, and interest. In the case of the future developments of Europe there is an large number of local and national governments, organizations, national and international firms to deal with. These actors can organize themselves in their own way depending on their own ideas, and emotions towards their own goals. This process can only be guided and structured to a certain extent; it is even more difficult to predict. Of course, the national government and the European government try to influence European developments as much as possible with legislation, rules, and subsidies. This influence, however, can only have effect to a certain extent.
This is, for instance, clearly shown by the European legislative influence on drug use, cocaine smuggling, pornography, and pig farmers. In the Netherlands pig farmers were first subsidized and a manure problem was created, which ended with swine fever and subsidizing the farmer to kill the pigs (DeTombe, 1993; Termeer, 1993).
The theory of complex societal problems (DeTombe, 1994; 1997a,1999b; DeTombe & 't Hart, 1996) shows that in these kind of complex societal problems, of which spatial problems are often a subset, many phenomena, and actors are involved. There are white spots and blind spots, data is missing or in contradiction which each other. The changes in these kinds of problems move so fast that it is very difficult to obtain and maintain an overview. This theory shows that predicting the future is very difficult, and only possible to a certain extent.
Chaos theory, the concept of self-organization from socio-cybernetic, and the theory of complex societal problems show that future prediction is only possible to a certain extent.
Psychology theory points to emotions, which play a role in complex spatial problems, often more then problem handlers know or like to admit. These emotions can ruin a well-structured problem handling process in such a way that the outcome can be quite different than expected. See, for instance, several fusion processes between large companies which due to dislike of each other, suddenly break off. The process of dividing Internet allowances was held up for a long time because the dominant players had emotional problems which each other (Kets de Vries, 1996a, 1996b, 1997).
Predicting future developments is difficult. Nevertheless sitting back and doing nothing would probably not be the right thing to do. People do like to be in control as much as possible and to guide their own future. To predict the future developments and to guide the developments is only possible to a certain extent; however we can make a picture, or at least try to make one, of past developments, and see what this means for the future, analyze the contemporary situation and the possible future trends all on the basis of several scenarios e.g. of different economic and ecological scenarios.
4 The Compram method: guiding the process of future developments
A way to handle predicting future developments of complex spatial problems is to let knowledge experts and the different major actors, such a as multinational firms, governmental and non-governmental organizations, and world wide organizations, discuss these future developments with each other. This discussion should be well organized and structured. A way to structure and guide such discussions is described in the Compram method. The Compram method is a method that supports the problem handling process of complex societal problems. Compram stands for Complex Problem Analyzing Method. The method has been developed by DeTombe (1994), and is based on the idea that complex interdisciplinary societal problems should be handled cooperatively. Teams of different composition must explore and analyze the problem and make recommendations for changes. Future developments of spatial areas can be considered as a subset of complex societal problems. This means that the methodology for handling complex societal problems can be applied for handling complex spatial problems. The Compram method can be applied to all types of complex societal problems for instance to problems of environment, infrastructure, communications, transportation, and to future developments of spatial problems in Europe.
The Compram method distinguishes six steps in the problem handling process.
The first step is to consider the problem as a knowledge problem. Therefore a team of ‘neutral’ content experts will analyze the problem. They should try to get a clear unbiased picture of the problem. These experts should be selected based on their knowledge of one of the domains involved, or their knowledge of one of the actors involved.
The second step is to consider the problem as an interest and power problem. Each actor involved in the problem should discuss the problem at group level. The third step is to combine the various view points, knowledge and power. A representative selection of all the actors should work together to arrive at a set of possible interventions that are mutually acceptable for the actors involved. The fourth step is to anticipate the societal reactions which the selected interventions may provoke. The fifth step is to guide the process of implementation. The sixth step is to evaluate the resulting changes.
The Compram method has a strong emphasis on communication, to stimulate knowledge exchange between the participants of the problem handling process. In order to support the communication several special communication tools have been developed one of which is the seven layer schema in which the problem can be expressed in different models and languages is one of them (see DeTombe, 1994).
The Compram method is interdisciplinary in two ways by the type of problem, the problem involves many domains, phenomena and actors, and by the input from different scientific fields the method requires.
A facilitator, who uses special group facilitation tools to support information exchange, supports the problem handling process. The facilitator should not use only one method, and apply the method by default. It is necessary to apply additional methods depending on the phase of the problem handling process, the available money, the composition of the group and the kind of problem.
The Compram method is a framework. This means that it is used within the constraints of the method, depending on the problem, the amount of time, the money available, and the group of problem handlers. A good facilitator has extensive methodological knowledge of the methods and tools that can be used to support complex problems and of methods and tools that can support group processes (see DeTombe, 1994). Knowledge, power and emotion are the basic tool elements in handling complex spatial problems (DeTombe, 1997b, 1998c). How the Compram method works is described in detailed in several articles and books (see DeTombe, 1993, 1994, 1999d, 2000).
5 Using groupware as one of the tools of the Compram method
One of the communication and group facilitation tools the Compram method includes is the groupware tool Group Systems V. Group Systems V supports, among other things, electronic brainstorming, idea generation, ranking and mutual discussion on topics. The groupware is used in a Group Decision Room. A Group Decision Room is a room in which about fifteen computers are connected with each other in a U-form. These computers are sunk into the table so that the participants still can see each other, when discussing verbally.
The groupware Groups Systems V can be considered to be a text writer, with a simple arithmetic tool included. The software makes it possible for all the participants to write on the same file. Each the participants can see and react to the things the other participants have written.
In the last five years the author has used the groupware Group Systems to support complex spatial problems during several phases and moments of their problem handling processes, such as from awareness phase 1.1 to phase 2.6 evaluating the interventions (see Figure 1 and 2). The groupware is used to generate ideas, for brainstorming, to support knowledge elicitation, to select phenomena or ideas or to get consensus among the participants. The way the electronic discussion tool is used is a combination of a ‘normal’ meeting, a non-computer supported brainstorming session, the first two phases of Delphi research and a survey. Using the groupware has several advantages. The groupware:
- speeds up the discussion
- prevents group think, because it allows anonymous discussion
- diminishes, temporarily the bureaucratic hierarchy because the discussion is anonymous
- saves all data automatically
- makes it possible that all participants are active
- equalizes the participation of all participants
- the tool supports fast knowledge elicitation by making it possible that all participants react at the same time.
- the mutual discussions which the tool supports stimulates knowledge exchange.
- the tools allows this to be done while the participants are in the same room and while still remains anonymous. Anonymity encourages knowledge exchange and knowledge elicitation which is very important for selecting and suggesting new ideas. By making it possible to discuss anonymously the usual bureaucratic hierarchy is (temporarily) overruled: in this way the tool temporarily equalizes the hierarchical power among the participants.
When it comes to real expert knowledge anonymity in mix participants groups, which is mostly the case can be less preferable. When the expert knowledge is anonymous, it is not easy to distinguish the words of experts from those of laymen. This might lead to misunderstandings in the discussion or in analyzing the data.
For the researcher the groupware has the benefits that all data are saved and thus easy to analyze. Another benefit is that the tool attracks problem owners so that real life problem handling is possible.
The optimal size of a group to support with this groupware tool is between eight to fifteen people. Smaller or larger groups are possible, however, for handling these kinds of problems are not optimal (see DeTombe, 1994, 1999a, 1999c).
The author mainly used the groupware for facilitating workshops with ten to fifteen participants. In most cases the participants were asked to answer about five to eight questions during one morning or afternoon. The questions are prepared in advanced in cooperation with the problem owner and a content expert. The participants are located in the same room, in the workshops guided by a facilitator.
6 Preparing a groupware session
The workshops in which the tool Group Systems V is used are prepared very carefully, because the time the participants have to react on the questions is limited. Preparing the workshop starts when the problem owner asks the facilitator to support a part of the problem handling process. The problem owner invites a content expert to join the preparations. The facilitator, the problem owner and the content expert gather to prepare the workshop. In the first meeting the preparation team discusses the problem.
On basis of a two hour during in-depth interview the facilitator ask the problem owner and the content expert questions about the history and the contemporary situation of the problem. The problem owner is invited to explain the problem handling process and the content expert is invited to explain the problem and the different concepts. Based on these data the facilitator advises which method and tool can give an optimal support of this phase of the problem handling process. When questions have to be answered, when ideas have to be generated or selected groupware Group Systems V is a good tool for support. When a groupware supported workshop has been decided upon, the next step in the problem handling process is to decide which participants should be invited for the workshop. The first preparation meeting ends with rudimentarily formulated questions and a rough time schedule for the workshop. Then the preparation team takes some time to reflect.
After some days of reflection the team meets again to prepare the workshop in detail. The discussion questions are formulated, and a realistic time schedule is made.
In this second preparation, the different roles of the preparation team in the workshop are discussed and divided. The information about the problem, the goal of the workshop and the questions will be sent to the participants beforehand, together with the agenda of the workshop so that the participants can prepare themselves for the workshop.
7 A workshop
Most workshops have a rather general model evolved from experience during the five years the tool has been in use. Each workshop includes an introduction of the problem handling process by the problem owner and the goal of the workshop. The content expert will introduce the problem and explain, if necessary, the phenomena and the concepts. The facilitator guides the workshop. She or he introduces the participants to each other, presents the questions and asks the participants to answer them one by one. A general schema consisting of four steps is used for answering the questions. First each participant answers the question without regarding the others. Then the participants are asked to read the answers of others, then they are invited to react on each other’s answers and then to read the reactions. The question is concluded by one of the participants who summarizes verbally the answers that are given, and should also include the white spots and if possible, some blind spots of the discussion. This schema has evolved over the years and works very well. Answering a question this way takes about thirty minutes. After answering all the questions, the workshop finishes with an overview of the results of the workshop, and some remarks about the data analyzes. The total amount of time for a workshop should not exceed a half-day.
8 Phases in the problem handling process
The problem handling process of complex spatial problems can be divided into several phases. Each phase ends with a product. Although problem handling process is an iterative process the phases are sequential (see Figure 1).
The first sub-cycle of the problem handling process: defining the problem
Phase 1.1 becoming aware of the problem and
forming a (vague) mental idea of the problem
Phase 1.2 extending the mental idea by hearing, thinking,
reading, talking and asking questions about the problem
Phase 1.3 gathering data and forming hypotheses about the
Phase 1.4 forming the conceptual model of the problem
The second sub-cycle of the problem handling process: changing the problem
Phase 2.1 constructing the empirical model, desired goal and scenarios
Phase 2.2 defining the handling space
Phase 2.3 developing hypotheses and suggesting interventions
Phase 2.4 constructing and evaluating scenarios
Phase 2.5 implementing
Phase 2.6 evaluating interventions
the two cycles of the problem handling process
The groupware Groupsystems V can be used several times and for several goals in the problem handling process of complex spatial problems (see figure 2).
first sub-cycle second sub-cycle
Phase 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 || 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6
activity -ixo-v-x-i-o--v-x-o-i v-x-i-x ||-o-v-xi-o—i-vx--o-v-x-i-o-v—i-x---v-x
v = idea generating, i= brainstorming, o= knowledge elicitation, x = selecting
Ways using the groupware Groupsystems V at several times in
the problem handling process
9 Examples of real life problem handling
Three real life cases of spatial problems will be discussed in which the Compram method was used for theoretical reflection of spatial problems. Based on the theoretical ideas of the Compram method the problem was analyzed, and tools for support were selected. In these examples the selected tool is the groupware Group Systems V, which is used in a Group Decision Room.
Case I: The North Sea Case, spatial planning of the North Sea
Preparing date: Fall 1997
Problem owner: The Department of Public Works. This department deputized two employees as problem owner.
Problem: Finding a legal and accepted division and use of
the North Sea for different actors.
Problem specification: What is the spatial use of the North Sea by actors, what are the conflicting needs and what might be a solution.
Who is and who should be in charge of the North Sea?
Problem handling process: 1996-1998
Supported problem handling phase: Part of the problem definition (phase 1.2-1.4), part of the solution (phase 2.3), and the awareness administrative power dilemma (phase 1.1).
Problem end: Report for the minister about the use of the
North Sea, the actors, the conflicts, and suggestions for a solution.
Support requested: Facilitating a group to discuss the problem in Group Decision Room.
Software: Group Systems V
Participants Thirty participants for two workshops of, fifteen participants each. The participants were different actors of the North Sea, and people from the governments and scientists, and users of the North Sea
The Dutch government Department of Public Works, which is responsible for water protection, traffic and water affairs in general, asked for support to answer the question: How can different actors use the North Sea for their purposes without conflicts? The contents of the request for support were formulated vaguely.
After contacting the facilitator, a preparation meeting was arranged between two problem handlers, acting on behalf of the problem owner. In the first meeting the problem owner gave a description of the problem.
Problem description: Different actors use the North Sea, with sometimes conflicting needs. There are actors that use the North Sea for tourism, for nature and for health purposes. Fishermen use the North Sea to fish, road builders use the sea sand, chemical plants use the sea to dump their polluted garbage, the offshore industry drills for oil and gas, cargo ships and liners use the sea for traveling, and environmentalists want to protect nature.
During these last decades the use of the North Sea has been, from political point of view, except for some international fishing rights quarrels, reasonable unproblematic. Things however have slowly changed. The division of space and the use of the water are coming under pressure. The direct reason for discussing the spatial use of the North Sea was the plan to build a new airport in the sea. This new possible use, added to the already intensive use of the North Sea, caused the government to make decisions.
The problem handling process regarding the use and the spatial division of the North Sea started one year ago. The problem handling process was guided by a person from a small consultancy bureau. The consultant had made, based on interviews, a model of the actors, that used the North Sea. The formulation of the problem by the problem owner, the government Department, about the goals they wanted to reach in the workshop were rather vague in the beginning, however after two meetings of two hours of discussion with the facilitator the problem owner and a content expert, the goal of the workshop, the relation of the workshop to whole problem handling process, and the questions became clear.
The selected participants were representatives of the different actors using the North Sea.
In the workshop the participants were asked to answer the questions. The question could be divided into three parts.
The first two question of the workshop concerned the kind of actors, and the use of the North Sea. This is, according to the Compram method, part of the problem definition. There were doubts whether the interviewed, described and modeled actors were the only actors that were using the space. The problem owner wanted to confirm the data of the interviews. She wanted to know whether the selected actors in the model were all the actors, and she also wanted to know how the actors use the North Sea. The third goal of the first two questions was to promote a kind of recognition and awareness in participants about this issue. The questions that were asked were:
1 Which other actors are using the North Sea?
2 For which purpose are they using the North Sea?
Then the problem owner wanted to see what kind of problems the participants perceived, and how they perceived these. The third and fourth questions were designed to draw up of statements of affairs of the problems as perceived by the participants. This is an attempt to confirm (future) problems. The questions were:
3 What are the possible bottlenecks between the different kinds of spatial interaction and spatial use of the North Sea?
4 What are the conflicted interests, and why are these interests conflicting?
Then the problem owner wanted to see which problems were the most important in the view of actors. The questions were:
5 Which problems are, in your opinion, the most important, considering its impact to the value of the North Sea and why do you find these the most important problems.
After indicating and giving arguments, and discussing with each other, or trying to convince each other, the actors were invited to make their choices visible by indicating important, more important and very important. For this goal the voting part of the groupware was used for this aim.
For political reasons, the problem owner also wanted to have direct results. Therefore the actors are asked to indicate what kind of solutions they see for the problems; starting with the problems that seem to be easy to handle. This pragmatic approach of the problem owner resulted in the questions:
6 Which problems are in your opinion easy to handle? What kind of solutions would you suggest?
The last questions of the workshop concerns power and guiding instruments. In preparing the workshop it became clear that several Departments are in charge of the North Sea, such as the Department of Economics (freight shipping), the Department of Agriculture (fishing), the Department Vrom (environment & houses), the Department of Public Works (travel & water quality). The division of power over several departments was one of the major perceived problems by the actors. The department of Public Works, which was the problem owner, of the workshop hoped that the actors would suggest that only one department should be in charge that their the department would be selected to do the job. The question as to which was asked, focusing on the problems that seem to be easy to handle:
7 Who is responsible for taking action in the problem?
Continuing with the discussion about who is or should be the authority, in the North Sea:
8 Do you consider the administrative control / guidance of the North Sea area to be a problem and why is it in your opinion a problem?
While answering the last question of the workshop the participants were asked to reflect again on the report Plan 2010. This reports states that many actors perceive control or the vagueness around control of the North Sea a problem
The participants were then asked for suggestion regarding improving administrative changes for the North Sea, and to suggest some creative solutions. The question was:
9 In what directions regarding administrative solution or change do you think you might find a solution for the administrative problems?
The workshop was closed with a summary of the results and a discussion about the data analyses and the further handling process.
Case II: The Schiphol case: spatial planning of an airport
Preparation date: January 1998
Workshop: February 1998
Tittle of the workshop: Measuring standards of airplane sound
Problem owner: Department of Housing, Special Planning and Environment (Vrom) and the Department of Public Works
Problem: Measuring the noise of airplanes
Problem specification: Is the Kosten standard still useful or should it be changed? If it should be changed then how and when?
Problem handling process: Discussing the old and some new options for sound standards for airplanes
Supported problem handling: A part of phase 2.3 selecting interventions for extending Schiphol
Problem end of the workshop:
Report with suggestions for the standardization of airplane sound for the three involved Departments, the two problem owners of this workshop: the Department of Environment and Houses (Vrom), and the Department of Public Works and the third Department involved the Department of Defense.
Problem end: Enlarging the capacity for use of airplanes in the Netherlands
Support requested: Group Decision Room
Software: Group Systems V
Introduction to the problem
Solutions for major complex societal problems are discussed together with representatives of the government, the industry and the unions in the Netherlands. This kind of corporate behavior is known as the ‘poldermodel’. The poldermodel is a, rather popular, vaguely defined term, which is mainly used to indicate intensive co-operation between several actors involved in a problem, and because the poldermodel is used in a time of economic wealth in the Netherlands, this way of handling societal problems has become very popular and well-known. Much of this way of corporation between government, business and the unions focuses on phase 2.3 and 2.4 of the problem handling phases: finding solutions and evaluating scenario’s of the problem handling process (see figure 1).
One of the goals of working so intensively together is to prevent major obstructions from society and from the employees regarding policy. The poldermodel is rather successful in preventing obstruction, however this way of handling complex societal problems takes much time, because many actors are involved, thus costing considerable amounts of money. Consultancy bureaus can also earn high fees. Reflecting on the problem, and the time the problem takes to be solved, it seems that nobody really cares too much that it takes so long, with the possible exception of the airport owner and the airplane companies.
Schiphol is too small?
The subject of the workshop was supporting a part of solving the Schiphol problem using the Group Decision Room. Already for many years there has been a political discussion about the Dutch national airport Schiphol. Schiphol seems to be too small to handle all the passenger and freight flights it is offered to handle, so the airport authority wants to expand. In an overpopulated country such as the Netherlands extending an airport is a major complex societal problem. It is far more than just building some new lanes (airstrips) for the planes or allowing more flights to arrive and leave.
In the Netherlands, the minute plans are discussed to extend the national airport everybody jumps on to the problem bandwagon. In a democracy, it is a legal right that people living in the neighborhood, and environmentalist, etc. should become involved in spatial planing when it interferes with their ideas of society and social needs. The reasons for and the way in which different groups take part in the process are different. Some groups get involved to protect their own property and way of living, some to protect a part of the general society and environment. Some get involved as individuals, using the media to give their opinion a voice, others are organized into actors groups and hire, when they have enough money, a consultancy bureau to write reports regarding the way they analyze the problem and see their goals.
The Schiphol case has attracted much political attention, and many actors are involved. Many actors can afford to hire a consultancy bureau to analyze the problem for them and hopefully protect their goals. These reports from the consultancy bureaus, when stacked, exceeded more than two meters in height. Nevertheless many things are still unclear about the Schiphol case and the many studies mostly act to contribute to the confusion around the Schiphol case, instead of making it clearer. The discussion regarding Schiphol already has lasted more than five years and resulted in a pile of reports of all kind, from private persons and official actors, produced by themselves or aided by a consultancy bureau. These reports are all written within the frame work of the problem definition and the goal and the desired solution of the actors involved, thus they are not objective reports and as such, are not easy to compare (Siddiqui, 1998).
The discussion around the Schiphol airport focuses primarily on solutions. The basic question is seldom raised, ‘Why should Schiphol be enlarged?’. In the Schiphol case, only the marginal discussion is centered on the reasons why Schiphol should be extended. The airports of Frankfurt or Paris are very nearby and have also plans to extend.
Everybody assumes that there are urgent economic reasons to enlarge Schiphol and that the reasons alone are enough to justify enlarging of the airplane capacity in the Netherlands. Allowing some actors to earn more is an economic reason to enlarge Schiphol. The government argues that enlarging Schiphol is good for employment, and moreover, it fits in the idea of the Netherlands as a transit land. These are vaguely defined arguments. What is not specified is where does the money go after earning it in Schiphol, or, how many employees will get work, and why should the Netherlands be a transit land, and if this still is possible in a era of Internet and air travel. These vaguely described arguments seem to be enough to convince almost everybody to extend the airport capacity in the Netherlands. The reason why is not an issue of discussion. This phenomenon often seen in politically centered debates about complex societal problems. Actually the whole discussion is centered round solution and nobody argues about the problem any more, finding a solution is the only problem that is discussed. Everybody, the ‘pros’ as well as the ‘contras’, seem to be convinced that this is the way to find a solution to an urgent problem. The only discussion is on where and how, and what kind of solution will be implemented. The same way of handling complex societal problems can be seen in the discussion on the high speed train track (HSL) from Paris to Amsterdam (see DeTombe, 1997a,1998a).
It seems to be more or less certain that the Netherlands want to enlarge it airport capacity. The discussion is now focused on should Schiphol be enlarged, or stay as it is, or should a second airport be built and if so, where? In the North Sea or Markerwaard or in the east of the Netherlands?
Objections to suggested solutions:
Suggested solution around increasing the Dutch capacity for air transport are more or less concentrated on the plans for increasing the capacity of Schiphol by creating new lanes (runways) and/or by using the space that is already there more intensively for more flights, especially at night.
Enlarging or developing a new airport has spatial consequences and involves a high costs. There are many actors that object to these plans. From the point of view of environmentalists, a new airport increases pollution of the ground, air and space even more than espansion of Schiphol will.
Plans to increase the frequency of flights including more night flights or to enlarge the flight lanes have resulted in enormous opposition from the people living near the airport, supported by the environmental movement. Objections from the environment or the people living in the neighborhood are legitimated by law.
The Department of Public Works calls increasing the amounts of flights ‘benutting’ (using this word is the latest political concept). There is space enough to create new runways (lanes) but this is objected by the people living in the neighborhood, and by the environmentalists.
Increasing the frequency of flights increases many things. It increases the danger of air collisions, kerosene, ground and air pollution will rise, and noise levels will increase. Out of all these phenomena noise pollution receives most of the attention reaching a type of group think that shows blind spots for other kinds of pollution.
The people living in the neighborhood and the environmentalists complain about the terrible noise made by the planes make. They are afraid that enlarging the airport with more runways or increasing the frequency of flights will increase the amount of noise. The media feeds this discussion; the arguments pro and contra are frequently alternated in the daily newspapers.
The support for a part of the real life problem handling process of the complex spatial problem of Schiphol also focused on noise pollution. The support was requested by two departments of the Dutch government departments, by the department of Housing and Environment (Vrom) and the Department of Public Works. These departments had to evaluate, and maybe change the Kosten standard. The Kosten standard is a standard for measuring the noise a plane makes. The central issue of whether Schiphol can be enlarged or whether the frequency of flights can be increased is focused around noise pollution. Especially noise for the people who are living in the neighborhood of the airport. This narrows down the discussion of a complex spatial problem to a concrete easy to measure issue. When there is not too much noise pollution, enlarging or increasing the frequency is allowed by law, and thus Schiphol can be enlarged or flight frequency can be increased. This is what the majority of the actors want. One might think that when noise is as an important issue as it is, it at least is measured correctly, however, the amount of noise for humans, which is the central issue of the discussion about enlarging Schiphol or increasing the amount of flights is not measured but calculated. The noise for humans can easily be measured using sound measuring points at the height level of the houses in the neighborhood, however this has not been done.
Preparation for the workshop. In the first meeting for the preparation for the workshop the two governmental problem owners were accompanied by a consultant from a small consultancy bureau.
When the two problem owners explained the problem to the facilitator it was rather obvious to the facilitator to ask why the noise level is not just measured now that it is so political important, and as it is rather easy to see that Schiphol is developing fast how could it be allowed, by the Department of Housing and Environment, one of the problem owners, to build so many houses in the areas around Schiphol in the last five years. All within the ranch of expected noise pollution. This way of neglecting future developments happens frequently in the Netherlands. It frequently happens that houses are built on places where it can easily be seen that building houses in these places is calling for trouble. For example building houses on the floodplains of the rivers, which are frequently flooded and building the houses around Schiphol within the area of high noise pollution. This could be example of mismanagement by the (local) government, combined with ignorance and the idea of privatizing the profits and socializing the costs. After the project developers has taken their profits, when trouble comes in the form of floods or a need for protection from noise pollution in the form of double glazing for the houses, or even worse, when it comes to deteriorating the houses, the costs are socialized to the government in casu the tax payer. Being right in the middle of a problem for many years one becomes blind to the weirdness of it all. This is one of the reason that the Compram method prescribes the handling a complex societal problem by a facilitator, or getting advise of an expert, who is an relative outsider regarding the subject. He or she still can see some of the blind and white spots in the problem handling process.
The term Kosten unit is even more confusing, because in normal Dutch Kosten also means money, so one could easily think this value is expressed only in terms of money.
The reason for holding this particular workshop was that the Kosten standard, which can be expressed in a Kosten unit, should maybe be changed. The Kosten standard is a standard for expressing the amount of noise made by planes however this standard is not measured but constituted out of several things: a calculation of flight noise derived for plane noise, a value of a variable derived for the administration of the airline companies, flight frequency, and the time of day. This is then combined with interviews of the people living in the neighborhood about their perception of noise levels. Measuring noise pollution this way is so confusing that it takes the problem owners about half an hour to explain how the standard is constructed and why it is constructed this way, and even then, the rational behind the Kosten standard was not clear. This not only means that the Kosten standard is not very transparent, it also shows that using such a composed standard in a public debate can only lead to confusion. As the problem owners felt that the way noise levels and the standard for noise level, should be changed, they asked for support on this issue in the workshop. Having a confusing standard can have benefits when one likes to conceal something or to confuse other actors, however, in a democracy such a central issue of a public debate should be as transparent as possible.
Three, two hours discussion sessions with four people were used to prepare the workshop, and to decided on a list of potential participants. The participants could be divided into two groups; one group of general experts on the issue, these participants were more political oriented and less technical oriented; and one group that were more technically oriented. It was decided to use a whole day for the workshop to allow time to answer all the questions put forward. Thus participants were invited to stay for a day. In the afternoon the group was spilt into a technical group and a political group, so that each group could answer the questions relevant to their own experience.
The questions asked in the workshop were:
1 What is your opinion of the Kosten unit as a unit of noise pollution and why it is so?
There were some options given by the facilitator these options were:
- The Kosten unit reflects or does not reflect the reality
- The Kosten unit is complicated and not transparent or the Kosten unit is easy and transparent, anything else....
2 What kind of criteria should, in your opinion, be a standard for noise pollution and why? How much confidence do you have in the Kosten unit?
3 Are there standard units for noise pollution that fulfill your criteria? Which are they? What are the benefits of those units?
4 Which criteria should a standard unit fulfill? Why or why not?
The participants were asked to answer all the suggestions that were given. The suggestions were:
A standard unit should fulfill:
- Scientific proof of effect
- Correlation to subjective noise pollution
- Public acceptance
- Administrative acceptance
- Possibility to control
- Possibility for use for airport, and planes,
- Possibility for use for urban planing for international agreement
5 Should there be one standard unit or several and why?
Suggestion for the participants were:
- One standard unit for all noise sources
- One specific standard unit for airplane sound
- More standard units for airplane sound because there are different kind of airplanes
- Day and night differences and different use of areas
6 How should the standard unit be arranged standardized, on the basis of scientific reasons, societal reasons, economic reasons, otherwise...?
7 Which reasons are, in your opinion, most important?
8 Would it be mentally preferable to have a standard?
9 Is it possible to implement another standard unit norm neutral thus having the same limitations?
10 How else could we do this?
11 At which moment of the year should the data for the standard be gathered?
12 Should a differentiation be made between night and day noise, weekend and holidays, etc.?
13 Should other parameters than those used now be implemented into the model of noise standardization?
The questions for the technical experts where:
14 Should all type of planes be included or only the noisiest planes?
15 Is the relation between the amount of plane movements different in the Kosten standard then in the Leaq standard? The Leaq standard is an other noise standard. Which standard relates the best to the noise?
16 Should the ground noise be added to the air sound of the planes?
17 In your opinion is widening the lanes an effective way to minimize the noise, why or why not?
The questions to the more general expert were on management strategy.
18 Which goals has the calculation of the noise? Here a pre-selection of choices was given.
19 The law restricts very carefully noise levels and the areas in which lanes are allowed. Should these rules be more flexible?
20 Sound is calculated in the Kosten standard. Sound can also be measured. What is your opinion of measurement? Should measurement be used to verify the calculations and for evaluation of the model, or something else...?
21 When we decided to take another standard unit when do you think introduction will be possible.
22 What are, in your opinion, the consequences of moving from one standard unit to an other and can we deal with these consequences?
The data of this session are summarized in a report by the consultant (Spanjerberg & Pe, 1998; DeTombe, 1998b). This report functions as an input for further discussion about sound standards for planes.
Case III Future development of transportation in the Netherlands
Preparation date: Winter 1998
Problem owner: The Counsel of Transportationand Water. The advice counsel for the Ministry of Transportation and Water affairs
Problem: How to plan and guide future transportation in the Netherlands
Problem specification: Which dilemmas, bottlenecks, primary causes and solutions
can be indicated for transportation. A discussion for future
planning, for long term management for transportation.
Problem handling process: Part of the problem definition concerning the bottlenecks,
and a part of the solutions
Supported problem handling phase: Mix of problem definition and solutions phase
1.3-1.4 and phase 2.3
Problem end: Advice report for the Minister of Transportation and Water
Support requested: Facilitating a group of experts on transportation to brainstorm
about bottle necks and solutions in the Group Decision Room
Participants: Forty eighth participants in three sessions of sixteen participants
each. The participants were actors from the transport business of goods and persons, scientists in the field of transportation and civil servants of the national government.
Software: Group Systems V
The Counsel for Transportation was asked to give advice to the Ministry of Transportation regarding future plans for transportation. This advice should be discussed by the government and should result in new plans and actions in the field of transportation.
In December 1997 the facilitator was approached to support idea generation in a mixed group of experts discussing with each other new ideas on transportation. In the preparation of the workshop it was decided to ask experts from different background to discuss which bottlenecks they predict for transportation of people, goods and data, and to ask the experts to brainstorm some solutions. The experts were selected from different backgrounds such as business, science and public management. In each session different questions were asked.
The goal of the three workshops was to determine what dilemma’s, bottlenecks, causes and directions for solutions there are for future transportation in the Netherlands. The workshop was prepared by two problem owners (secretaries) of the Counsel for Transportation together with the facilitator. During the preparation meeting it was decided to invite many experts and to let each group answer different questions. The idea was brainstorm on bottlenecks, causes, and solutions. The ideas generated in the workshop were used as the input for the report to the minister.
Questions that are asked in the first session:
1 What are the most important problems in the area of transportation in the next five to fifteen year?
The first question was as wide as possible to prevent a too narrow focus being taken at the beginning. This way the experts would feel free to answer what ever they wanted. In answering this question the experts were invited to consider the different modalities that can be used for transportation such as water, air, roads on, above and under the ground, rail roads on, above and under the ground and tubes or pipes on, above and under the ground and electronic data transportation.
Reflecting the above transportation modalities the next question was:
2 Which problems would you predict concerning these types of transportation?
Then the experts were invited to reflect specific on what is going to be the future for transported goods, persons and data by answering the question:
3 Which problems would you predict concerning these kind of transports.
4 Which problems are considered to be most important in view of their effect on the transportation problems?
After selecting the ten most important problems the next question was:
5 What are the causes of these problems?
Because congestion on the Dutch roads is a major problem the following question was:
6 Which problem do you find the most easiest to solve, and what percent of the congestion would be solved this way?
A common question in many government instigated workshops is:
7 Who do you think should be responsible to solve which problems and why?
Referring to the above mentioned problems the experts were required to argue who is responsible for a solution. The last question of the first workshop was:
8 Which questions should be asked in the next two sessions?
In the second workshop more discussion questions ware asked:
For the first question the experts were invited to reflect on the behavior of people. The experts were invited to discuss issues signaled in previous research:
1 Why is there a need for transportation?
Why is the car also used for short distances?
How can transportation behavior be changed and guided?
How can we get consensus about inventions in this area?
The second question reflects the negative aspects of the growth of transportation:
2 What negative effects in the traffic -jams of transportation do you see? On the field of economic growth, mobility and spatial use?
What effects have environmental planning on mobility?
What ideas do you have about spatial division for living, industry, agriculture, recreation, nature and transport and why?
The third question also refers to solutions:
3 How can we use the infrastructure?
How can the modalities be changed and what would be the result?
What would be changed by more business on rails and water transport?
What do you think about European rail cooperation?
What is your opinion about public transport in crowded areas?
Which societal trends do you notice in the need for transportation?
How much increasing of air flights do you see in the next five to fifteen years?
The fourth question concerns electronic data exchange:
4 What are the possibilities for using electronic data exchange?
What does this mean for the economy and the society?
Which kind of increasing or decreasing of transportation would this be?
What does this mean for transportation? Does this mean solutions or problems?
For the fifth question the experts were invited to reflect on some of the latest ideas described in recent studies and discussion. The experts are asked to give their opinion in relation to the above mentioned problems about:
5 An almost car free city
To use for the transportation of the same person or good more than one modality
The idea of a 24 hour economy
Free public transport
Home working, teleworking and video conferencing
To suppress car ownership
The use of information and communication technology (ICT).
The last question concerns the responsibility, in casu the management of the problems and solutions:
6 What management responsibilities are there for the different kind of transportation modalities?
In the third and last workshop the questions were asked:
1 How can the need for transportation be decreased?
2 Which kind of transportation is necessary and which kind can be avoided, and if so how can it be avoided?
3 What is the power of the government, how can the government guide these problems what guiding instruments does the government have.
4 What do you expect of the solutions?
5 Should we increase the solutions or the problems?
6 In which direction of the managerial changes do you expect to find solutions? Can the department of Public Works and Transportation handle these problems alone or should it be done in cooperation with other departments? If so, which ones?
The data of the workshop resulted in an advisory report to the Minister of Transportation in April 1998.
Only some parts of the problem handling process of complex spatial problems are described here. Spatial planning always includes the future. In the first case, the North Sea case, spatial planning was done to avoid future conflicts and make it possible to direct/ to guide use of the space. This initiative was based on the prediction that without interfering there will be conflicts in the future.
In the Schiphol case the Compram method was not used to guide the problem handling process. Had it be so the Schiphol case would have been first analyzed in a rational, logical way according the prescription of the method by neutral experts. Experts with knowledge of the different aspects involved in the problem. Aspects like ecology, economy, technical aspects, law, and experts with knowledge of the actors involved. The actors involved in this problem are the people living in the neighborhood, the environmental lobby group, BV Schiphol, the government and the fleet owners of the airplanes. The problem will be modeled, and defined in a discussion among the experts.
Then each actor is invited to model and defined how they see the problem and to specify their goals and handling space. By modeling the problem in the same way, it is possible to compare easily the different views of the actors on the problem. Then the problem will be approached as a power problem by letting the experts and the actors discuss the problem together to find some consensus about a solution.
The Schiphol problem was not approached as a logical rational problem, but was approached as a political problem, in which many rather irrational issues play a part. The handling of the problem by the many actors involved resulted in a pile of reports. These reports contain an enormous amount of data, facts, wishes, hopes, and plans. There is much data involved of an uncertain status. Even the simplest data, like the Kosten standard, is complicated.
One could wonder is this unbelievable mix of data and actors is mend to confuse, like in a political game, or is it a sign of a plain incapability to handle these kind of problems.
The third case is directly related to future prediction: the prediction of future possibilities and solutions for transportation. This part of the problem handling process and predicting the future was done by raising the questions and trying to answer them.
The Compram method was not used to guide the whole problem handling process. A very obvious reason was that the problem owner before consulting with the facilitator did not know of the existence of the method, however the part of process that was handled by the facilitator, the part described here in the cases, was guided on basis of the ideas of the Compram method. The intake and discussion with the problem owner in the preparation meeting was structured on basis of the ideas of the Compram method.
The theory of the Compram method functions as a guideline to structure the discussion. The theory indicates that most problem owners formulate their problems and requests for support rather vaguely, and more in the way of solutions than problems. In order to give good support the facilitator should be free to restructure this moment of the problem handling process. Restructuring can be done by in-depth interviews held by the facilitator with the problem owners about the problem handling process and the problem. The facilitator should be independent and neutral towards the outcome of the process. The facilitator should be a relative outsider who has only some knowledge about the problem on the level of a good daily newspaper like the Frankfurter Zeitung or the New York Times. The facilitator should repeatedly asked the problem owner in the first meeting ‘Why have you done this?’ and ‘How is this related’, and ‘What does this mean?’ till every thing is clear for the facilitator. This way, some blind spots and the white spots of the problem handling process will be noticed, the problem owner becomes aware of weak points in the problem handling process.
Analyzing a problem based on the ideas of the Compram method can result that a problem is more complicated than was expected, however many things will have become clearer. In asking ‘What is the matter?’ the facilitator functions as a mirror for the problem owner. By asking all kind of silly questions the facilitator forces the problem owner to explain the problem and the problem handling process carefully. For instance in the Schiphol case questions like ‘Why is the sound standard so unclear, so complicated?’ and ‘Why do you still build houses on the space near the airport, of which it can easily be seen that this will created future problems?’ can make the problem owner aware of irrational behavior.
In the workshop the idea of the Compram method was followed in that complex spatial problems were discussed by a group of experts. Based on the interview in the preparation meeting the facilitator decide which method or tool should be selected. In order to do this correctly the facilitator should have a thorough knowledge of methods.
The cases described in this paper were selected based on their support in the Group Decision Room. In other cases the support can consist of data analyses, studying literature, doing a survey, making a model, or having regular meetings. The kind of support that is needed depends on the moment of the problem handling process, the problem, the time and money available for support.
As indicated above predicting the future is very difficult if impossible, however it is sometimes necessary to make some attempt. In these cases it would be fruitful to use the Compram method. This way the problem owner and facilitator will be guided, step by step, through the different phases of the problem handling process. In the Netherlands several major spatial projects, some as a part of an European project, are going to be developed, such as enlarging the harbor at Rotterdam, Maasvlakte I and II, constructing a high speed railway (HSL) from Paris to Amsterdam, and from Rotterdam to Germany and increasing the airport capacity in the Netherlands. The problem handling process of these projects can be guided along the lines of the Compram method. The goal of the Compram method is to create clearness out of confusing. The Compram method is a rational method, however it takes into account power and emotion, and irrational decisions as an essential part of the problem handling process (see DeTombe, 1997b, 1998c). For an optimal result of the problem handling process the Compram method should be followed step by step, however based on the theoretical ideas of the method some moments in the problem handling process can also be supported. Knowing how a problem handling process of complex spatial problems works in reality, knowing which mistakes are often made, and what an optimal way to handle these kind of problems is, can be a guideline for supporting either the whole or just a part of a problem handling process.
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 See e.g. the Jewish Gold the Nazis kept in the Swiss banks of Switzerland, and the Jewish war victims, who experienced terrible treatment, which has its effect on the second and sometimes third generation (Friedman, 1993).
 See the developments of nationalism by people that want to talk their own language officially and be taught in their own language, or even in their local dialect, no matter how difficult this will be for future schooling and development, e.g. the small group of people in the North of The Netherlands the Friezen would like to speak their own language officially.
 See the mutual decision taken to decrease interest in Europe on the 3rd December 1998 ( NRC, December 4th 1998)
 See e.g. the discussion about ecology based on the Reports of the Club of Rome (Meadows, Meadows, Randers & Berends, 1972).
 The farmers were subsidized with national and European money.
 The groupware is developed at the University of Arizona and is called Group Systems V.
 The groupware is mostly called a brainstorming tool. Unfortunately both the term brainstorming and the term Group Decision Room are rather misleading, however now commonly used in this field.
 The Department of Public Works is a Department of the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management, that is in charge of transport, infrastructure and watermanagement (Verkeer en Waterstaat).
 The problem end is in these cases the end of task the problem owner is given. In most cases the problem end is the start for a following group to answer the further development of the problem.
 An actor is here a person who has direct interest in a certain outcome of the problem in casu the division of use of space of the North Sea.
 The discussion on how to extend the Dutch main and national airport Schiphol, by enlarging or building a new one, has been on the political agenda for more then five years, see also case two.
 The Department of Public Works is a Department of the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management that is in charge of transport, infrastructure and watermanagement (Verkeer en Waterstaat )
 This is in popular political terms called: benutting, which means using more intensively.
 Raad van Verkeer en Waterstaat and Public Works
Dr. Dorien J. DeTombe, Ph.D.
Chair Operational Research Euro Working Group Complex Societal Problems
P.O. Box. 3286, 1001 AB Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Europe
Tel: +31 20 6927526
Ó Dorien J. DeTombe, All rights reserved, update September 2003