SDD Process Review

Critical assessment and limitations of the Structured Dialogic DesignSM method

A SDD co-laboratory is specifically designed to assist a group of stakeholders to deal with a complex problem in a reasonably limited amount of time (Banathy, 1996; Warfield and Cardenas, 1994). It uses structured democratic dialogue to enable the integration of contributions from individuals with diverse views, backgrounds and perspectives. The process is inclusive and collaborative (for a complete review see Christakis and Bausch, 2006). It has been applied to over 600 complex problems around the globe. According to one of its founders, Aleco Christakis, the level of success in these co-laboratories was over 90%, therefore securing a very high confidence level. The methodology is, however, bound to fail if either one of its six laws is violated, or if the stakeholders are not truly engaged. Indeed, the first author, working with Christakis, has recently proposed a new constrain (i.e., the ‘ Law of Requisite Action’), according to which ‘the capacity of a community of stakeholders to implement a plan of action effectively depends strongly on the true engagement of the stakeholders in designing it.’ In other words, disregarding the stakeholders is not only unethical, but moreover it guarantees that the plans are bound to fail.

The SDD is scientifically grounded on seven laws of cybernetics recognized by the names of their originators. If any of these laws is violated in the process, the results will deteriorate. Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety (Ashby, 1958) calls for appreciation of the diversity of observers (i.e., invite ‘ observers’ with diverse views). Miller’s Law of Requisite Parsimony (Miller, 1956; Warfield, 1988) emphasizes the fact that humans have cognitive limitations, which need to be considered when dealing with complex multi-dimensional problems. This is secured by the fact that participants are asked to focus on one single idea or one single comparison at a time. Boulding’s Law of Requisite Saliency (Boulding, 1966) calls for comparisons of the relative importance across ideas proposed by different people. This is secured through the voting process. Peirce’s Law of Requisite Meaning (Turrisi, 1997) says that meaning and wisdom can only be achieved when the participants search for relationships of similarity, priority, influence etc. within the set of ideas. Tsivacou’s Law of Requisite Autonomy in Decision (Tsivacou, 1997) guarantees that during the dialogue, the autonomy and authenticity of each person contributing ideas is protected and distinctions between different ideas are drawn as a method of deepening our understanding of each idea. Finally, Dye’s Law of the Requisite Evolution of Observations (Dye et al., 1999) tells us that actual learning occurs during the dialogue as the participants search for influence relationships.

The SDD method is designed to fully implement the first six laws, but if they are compromised, the results are bound to suffer. The recently discovered seventh Law of Requisite Action (Christakis and Laouris, 2007) asserts that the capacity of a community of stakeholders to implement a plan of action effectively depends strongly on the true engagement of the stakeholders in designing it. The accompanying Engagement Axiom (Özbekhan, 1969, 1970) states that designing action plans for complex social systems requires the engagement of the community of stakeholders in dialogue. Disregarding the participation of the stakeholders is unethical and the plans are bound to fail. In accordance with the Tree of Action the first six Laws are necessary, sufficient and ethical requirements for satisfying the Law of Requisite Action (Laouris et al, 2008).

In sum, a SDD co-laboratory provides an excellent opportunity for experts, to not only expand their shared understanding of the current problématique, but moreover to develop a roadmap for their future work and achieve a consensus as to how to move forward.

SOURCE OF EXCERPT: (pages 178-179)  Innovating for and by users, in European CoOperation in Science and Technology EUR 23473.    Edited by: Jo Pierson, Enid Mante-Meijer, Eugène Loos and Bartolomeo Sapio,  2009.  CHAPTER 14:  A systemic evaluation of obstacles preventing the wider public benefiting from and participating in the broadband society.  Yiannis Laouris, Marios Michaelides and Bartolomeo Sapio.

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