Common Ground, Complex Problems and Decision Making

Problem solving2Common Ground, Complex Problems
and Decision Making

Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management, Delft University of Technology/Education Technology Expertise
Center, Open University of the Netherlands


Education Technology Expertise Center, Open University of the Netherlands


Research Centre for Interaction and Learning, Utrecht University/Education Technology Expertise Center, Open
University of the Netherlands


Department of Educational Development and Educational Research, Maastricht University


Organisations increasingly have to deal with complex problems. They often use multidisciplinary teams to cope
with such problems where different team members have different perspectives on the problem, different individual
knowledge and skills, and different approaches on how to solve the problem. In order to solve those problems,
team members have to share their existing knowledge and construct new knowledge. Theory suggests that nego-
tiation of common ground can positively affect team decision making on the solution of complex problems, by
facilitating knowledge sharing across perspectives. In a small scale study with student groups, external representa-
tions supported by a specific negotiation ontology were used to facilitate negotiation by encouraging participants
to make their beliefs and values explicit. Results showed that the external representations supported clarifying
contributions to group members and increased group participation in discussions.

The many-sidedness of complex societal problems underlines the need for rich problem conceptualisations, and thus the need for multidisciplinary and multi-stakeholder approaches.However, forming heterogeneous teams to solve complex problems is no guarantee for a good solution since, especially in the case where teams are formed to include different perspectives, team members can have difficulties in understanding each other and in sharing knowledge. Bromme, Rambow and Nuckles (2001) found that people tend to make biased
estimates about the knowledge of their discussion partners, which may result in ample explanations of what is widely known, or ignorance or misunderstanding. Bechky (2003) found that problems on the work floor caused misunderstandings between workers from
different departments due to their different perspectives. Bechky noted that in order to solvethe work floor problems, different workers would first negotiate some common ground (i.e.,a common frame of reference) to bridge the differences in perspective and be able to share knowledge from their different viewpoints.

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