Friday, October 3, 3:00 p.m.

Making Decisions in Complex Situations - Research and Results

Anne-Marie Grisogono
Research Leader, Defence Science and
Technology Organisation
Adelaide, Australia

ABSTRACT: For the last ten years, we have conducted a blue-sky research program into the science of complex adaptive systems, and its application to defense problems. The centerpiece of the program was based on two challenging underpinning problems - developing a more thorough conceptual understanding of the processes that generate, modify and maintain structure and organization in complex adaptive systems, and developing better ways to deal with the causal and influence networks that characterize complex systems, since simple causal reasoning is not adequate, plus a more practical thrust on methodologies, tools and techniques. Before long it became apparent that it was necessary to add another focus: the human observer, or meddler, or actor, in the complex system or situation, who is just trying to make sense of it, or perhaps also trying to bring about improvements in the situation, although often inadvertently making it worse.

This was the genesis of the complex decision-making research program. We have learned a lot about how things go wrong when humans try to manage them, and about how some of those failure pathways might be avoided. But success is not just the absence of failure - and there are far fewer successes to study than there are failures. However we have also learned some very important insights about the factors associated with sustainable success in managing a complex situation, and have some experimental evidence that it is possible to coach more effective complex decision-making.

I'll describe where we are, how we got there, and where we hope to go next.

BIO: Anne-Marie Grisogono spent the first part of her career as a regular physicist, with a PhD in Mathematical Physics and over a decade working in atomic, molecular and optical physics at various universities. She spent the next twenty years working for Australia's Defence Science and Technology Organisation heading up the development of a Synthetic Environment Research Facility, and at various times leading the areas of Systems science and experimentation, Simulation, and most recently, Human Sciences. In 2003 she initiated a blue sky research program into complexity science for defence applications which gained rapid traction with the Australian Army, who promptly operationalised and implemented many of the research outcomes generated by the program. 
The three initial research thrusts in the program - deeper conceptual understanding of the processes that generate, modify and maintain structure in complex systems, better ways of exploring, representing and understanding causal and influence networks (or networked causality), and better methodologies, tools and techniques for dealing with complex defence problems - led to a fourth which has become the prime focus for defence applications: researching how people make decisions in complex situations and how their effectiveness can be improved. Results of experimental trials have demonstrated that better complex decision-making can be developed, but have also raised a number of research questions. Other application areas include organisational design, adaptive organisations, design and engineering of complex systems, designing adaptive operations to deal with complex situations, and fostering more effective cooperation between diverse actors in complex situations.