Decision Problem Structuring In Management Information Systems Information Technology Essay

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Imagine being faced with a chaos of 1000-piece puzzle. What would the first step in putting it together. If it was a square or a rectangle, a search is initiated for corners to create a structure. Then, a common strategy is to sort the pieces by colour and the major images will likely emerge. The jigsaw puzzle is usually considered a simple problem solving exercise. The object of problem solving is usually a solution, answer or conclusion.

A problem is an obstacle, a difficulty, or a gap between the present and some desired state of affairs, and its emergence is due to the result of an earlier decision (Adair, 2007; Evans, 1991). The jigsaw puzzle is a typical problem where all the elements of the solution are already there. All that you have to do is arrange or rearrange what has been given. In that sense, a problem is a solution in disguise. In contrast, imagine being faced with a problem of cyber-slacking. It is not hard to see why the Internet provides all kinds of productivity-frittering distractions: instant message socialising, eBay, pornography, and sport scores. What is dismissed as simple time wasting could be setting the company up for harassment, discrimination, copyright infringement, and other lawsuits. Lawsuits are not the only risk that employers face. Intellectual property and company secrets can make their way out of the office more easily than ever with the help of electronic communications. Such a problem tends to be complex, non-routine, and difficult to define. Potential alternative solutions, objectives associated with solving the problem, and the relevant decision makers and stakeholders are often not obvious. Yet, ill-structured problem such as the above requires a decision. A problem in which a decision is expected thus initiating a decision process is a decision-problem (Rousseau & McCarthy, 2007; Tsoukias, 2007).

Many elements of a decision-problem are components of a person's interpretation though they may not be organised in a coherent structure useful to initiate a decision process. A number of researchers have noted the importance of problem structuring as a prelude to decision making (Belton & Stewart, 2002; Corner et al., 2001; Rosenhead, 1996; Keller & Ho, 1988). A decision opens the way to changes of some kind or other. Some of these changes are planned, wanted, expected or are not. The skills of a problem-solver differ from those of a decision-maker. A problem-solver has to be clever with analytical skills which have been well honed on many other problems in that particular field. By contrast, a decision-maker needs a much wider range of skills and characteristics (Adair, 2007) as many real-world organisational problems are complex.

Structuring a decision-problem requires problem domain-related expertise knowledge. The domain for this study is Management Information System (MIS). There is no universally accepted definition of MIS. However, the term MIS can be seen as a database management system tailored to the needs of managers or decision-makers in an organisation. MIS is

A system using formalised procedures to provide management at all levels in all functions with appropriate information based on data from both internal and external sources, to enable them to make timely and effective decisions for planning, directing, and controlling the activities from which they are responsible (Argyris, 1991).

From the above definition, every aspect of management relies heavily on information to thrive. The emphasis is that information is an important resource needed to develop other resources. In essence, the processing of data into information and communicating the resulting information to the user is the key function of MIS. MIS exists in organisations in order to help them achieve objectives to plan and control their processes and operations, to help deal with uncertainty, and to help in adapting to change or initiating change (Adeoti-Adekeye, 1997).

Changing circumstances and environments have necessitated the need for proper dissemination of information at various levels of management. The major functional information systems are organised around the traditional departments-functions in a company: manufacturing (operation/production), accounting, finance, marketing, and human resources. Other information systems serve several departments or the entire enterprise and some information systems connect two or more organisations (Laudon & Laudon, 2006; O'Brien, 2004; Oz, 2004; Turban, Leidner, McLean & Wetherbe, 2006). Most information systems described in MIS help people to make decisions in one way or another (Turban, Leidner, McLean & Wetherbe, 2006). While these information systems do aid in decision-making, major organisational decisions are being implicitly made by managers (Rousseau & McCarthy, 2007; Turban, Leidner, McLean & Wetherbe, 2006). One of the information systems is the decision support systems which are designed to support complex decision-making and problem-solving (Gorry & Scott Morton, 1971; Shim et al., 2002).

According to Ehie (2002), MIS is one of the few interdisciplinary fields that integrate knowledge of information technology with business. MIS combines the theoretical work of computer science, management science, and operations research with a practical orientation towards developing systems solutions to real-world problems and managing information technology resources. It also pays attention to behavioural issues surrounding the development, use and impact of information systems raised by sociology, economic, and psychology (Laudon & Laudon, 2006; O'Brien, 2004; Oz, 2004; Turban et al., 2006). With its interdisciplinary nature, a decision-problem in MIS tends to be convoluted with large amount of information, and much of the problem complexity is derived from conflict in belief, value, interest, desire and perspective, ethics, and reasons to define the context of the problem. In short, the goal of MIS is to ensure that accurate and appropriate information is in the right form and available to decision makers in a timely fashion (O'Brien, 2004; David & Olson, 1985).

The establishment of a decision-problem structure is a precursor to the decision-making process. Precisely, decision-problem structuring stops short of the evaluation of alternative action plans or strategies. It was envisaged that the decision-problem structuring in MIS must satisfy two requirements: first, the vast amount of information in MIS must be accessible; and second, the structure of the decision-problem should encapsulate the richness of the information across multiple problem dimensions of beliefs, interests, values, and perspectives of the decision-problem. The novice may have been in employment in some part of the management structure where issues are not clear cut, data are ambiguous and it is often the case that the information which is presented is neither necessary nor sufficient for the problem. It is rare that novices are able to provide it by simple questioning, notwithstanding the fact that novices are more prone to misunderstand materials presented to them (Kuusela & Spence, 1998).

1.2 Statement of the Problem

Management science or operations research is a recognised and established discipline that tackles a wide scope of decision-problems with sophisticated approaches (Paucer-Caceres, 2008). Management science is also being viewed as the application of classical (hard) operational research, (OR), in the practice of management to aid managers make better decisions (Markland, 1989). OR techniques, methods and methodologies have been applied to a large variety of management situations (Markland, 1989; Paucer-Caceres, 2008). They both concur that management science has been influenced by frameworks and models from areas of management, systems engineering, systems analysis, and social science.

The approaches of classical OR relied on the assumption that the decision maker acts in full possession of rationality or 'bounded rationality (Simon, 1947), and the ability to choose between alternatives generated in full knowledge of what the problem is (Checkland, 1999). Classical OR methods and techniques in management science are governed for their willingness to optimise operations or best course of action (Markland, 1998). Complementing the hard OR is the design approaches of problem structuring methods (Ackoff, 1993; Rosenhead, 1996). These problem structuring methods (PSMs) attempt to dissolve systems of problems or 'messes' as opposed to the hard OR that aim to tackle the context or environment where the mess takes place.

Problem structuring methods (PSMs) are characterised as a family of methods for supporting decision-making by groups within a complex environment to agree on a problem focus and make commitments to action (Rosenhead & Mingers, 2001; Rosenhead, 1996). These are usually applied to unstructured problems characterised by multiple perspectives, conflicting interests, and uncertainty. A key feature of PSMs is the use of a model to represent alternative scenarios or versions of the problem, combined with facilitation to help group members plan a course of action (Rosenhead & Mingers, 2001; White, 2006). The descriptions and applications of the various PSMs, as presented in Rosenhead and Mingers (2001; 2004) include statements about how they might be used. Rosenhead and Mingers presented a wealth of insights into the processes of acquiring information, interacting with clients, as well as constructing and analysing representations of the problem. Their presentation provides the basis for identifying those tasks that would be carried out, in some form and order, in any problem structuring exercise by the experienced users.

However, most of the PSMs tend to be set in the context of the experienced user of the respective PSM although novices also need to understand the issues of problem structuring and how to address them pragmatically (Rosenhead & Mingers, 2001; 2004). There is a lack of focus upon how novices can become skilful in problem structuring (Clark & Fincham, 2002). Unlike the experienced users, novices, despite having basic domain knowledge, do not find the PSMs to be of subsequent aid to them. Evidently, the structure of the decision-problem only makes sense with respect to the concerns of the novices. This aligns to Phillip's (1982) idea of requisite decision-making recognises that in real world situations, decision makers are to think more clearly about the problem in question, and not as a means to identify an 'optimal' or 'correct' course of action.

Decision-problem structuring (DPS) is a process that comprises activities which are initiated when there is a problem requiring a decision to be made. DPS is characterised by the participants, their concerns and the resources committed by the participants on each concern. Different levels of commitment and the varying interest of the participants characterises the structure of the problem. Thus DPS is a temporal instance where the analysis of the different concerns leads to the establishment of the points of views. These represents the different dimensions under which novices observe, analyse, describe, evaluate and compare concerns. With the presence of different scenarios to the problems, poor or missing information, ambiguous definition or linguistic nature of the problem, the appearance of inconsistencies due to conflicting information embedded in the problem, novices have to create a structure or a representation for the problem (Tsoukias, 2007). Establishing a structure for the decision-problem enables novices to focus on the appropriate PSM and procedures to be used and avoid wasting time in trying to force the information on irrelevant ones.

Understanding DPS requires a perspective that appreciates DPS is socially negotiated and may not have any underlying distinction (Keys, 1998; White, 2006). Keys (1998) has pointed out that DPS is a complex relation between the social and the technical aspects, and between the theory and practice aspects. He argues that research should go beyond the technical and theory aspects of DPS and on how a DPS process be incorporated in a PSM. This point reinforces White's (2009) and Tsoukias' (2007) view that the decision-problem has to be structured before choosing a PSM. Besides that, there is little attention given to novices in decision-problem structuring in the OR/MS literature and in PSMs.

While in the business environment, Cohen and Thompson (2001) note that conditions are unlikely to produce the same situation more than once given the rapid shifting technologies, markets and competitive landscapes. Consequently, a manager is repeatedly required to reason through the evaluation of complex systems and information, and to detect, predict and recommend appropriate courses of action based on the inferences drawn from changing business environments.

Fragmentation of management into specialist functions such as purchasing, production, marketing, training, personnel, distribution, while in vertical integration created problems of complexity. Complex system, economic, technical, human, political, internal power struggles muddied problem structuring. When important economical, technical or social issues are to be resolved, groups rather individuals are employed to make decisions. In essence, decision in the modern business enterprise is the product not of individuals but of groups. The groups are either informal or formal, and subjected to constant change in composition (Galbraith, 1971). These groups may take the form of committees, expert boards, commissions, project groups, advice teams, think tanks, or multidisciplinary and multifunctional teams. Novices at the job entry level may be required to participate in group decision-making. A point to make is that MIS graduates are novices in decision-problem structuring as they do not have work related experience and they could be members of a decision-making committee of an organisation when they join the workforce.

1.3 Purpose of the Study

In the deployment of a PSM for a decision-problem, groups of experts will engage in information gathering and the generating of strategic options. The experts will also structure and evaluate the relative advantages and disadvantages of different strategic options before negotiating a problem focus and/or a course of action (Franco & Meadows, 2007). Pursuant to this, users and proponents of PSMs have placed increasing emphasis on the importance of problem structuring in the process of building an evaluation model (Belton & Stewart, 2002; Rosenhead & Mingers, 2001). Consequently, decision-problem structuring makes substantial demands of the knowledge, skills and the cognitive efforts of the decision makers in any PSM before the PSM can be effectively deployed (Franco & Meadows, 2007; Montibeller et al., 2008). The cognitive efforts are confined to activities such as providing, processing, and understanding information.

Before any PSM that can be subsequently deployed effectively by novices is developed, it is reasonable to expect novices to provide their own structure to the decision-problem in this instance. Thus, a study was undertaken to understand the way novices construct or make sense of the decision-problem in which they are engaged.

The objective was to understand how, in a given context, the different meaning and value produced by novices fit into the larger patterns of PSMs within which problem structuring is embedded. Thus, this research aims to

Identify the strategies that novices use to equip themselves for decision-problem structuring specifically in the field of Management Information System.

According to Simon (1973), a group of novices were likely to use a variety of simplifying strategies to help address decision complexity. Novices have no work experience where similarity of previous problems can aid in structuring the problem. Neither do they have large amount of potentially relevant information acquired from long services in the organization. There is no prototype, typical or causal pattern to draw upon for references. Neither is there a ready menu of options and actions for decision-making. Therefore, novices have to employ strategies for structuring the decision-problem in Management Information Systems (MIS) which can either be a program or a course in itself.

The second objective of this study is to

Identify the decision- problem structuring process used by novices in Management Information System domain.

What activities were engaged in a decision-problem structuring process? Is there a specific sequence of steps that should be taken in decision-problem structuring? Do novices structure decision- problem in different ways?

1.4 Research Questions

The objectives can be identified through the respective questions

(i) What are the strategies that novices use to equip themselves for decision-problem structuring specifically in the field of Management Information Systems?

(ii) What is the decision-problem structuring process used by novices in Management Information Systems domain?

In this study, decision-problem structuring is conceptualised to be a process consisting of activities characterised by the decision-makers. It is a process of identifying relevant variables in the problem situation, as well as establishing relationships among the variables. Precisely, the structure of the problem is what the decision-makers believe the problem to be. Decision-problem structuring is to redefine the initial problem state to a problem state known as a structured problem where options and criteria can be generated for a decision process. The structuring of a decision-problem sometimes involves simplifying or broadening the perspectives of the problem. For instance, if we look at the problem as requiring a mathematical solution, we might find that none exists. On the other hand, if we look at the problem from a behavioural or qualitative perspective we might be able to come to a decision. This differs from changing the problem in that it is not the problem per se that is being considered. It is how we look or understand the problem - this is decision-problem structuring.

Decision-problem structuring is a starting point that involves the articulation of the decision-problem. It is a critical step before the decision process. It is a point to decide what the problem is and making sense of it. The activities mainly consist of gaining an understanding of the decision-problem from the differences in perceptions by individuals.

For this study the knowledge domain of Management Information System (MIS) is contextualized through five case studies. Each case study presents a complex problem for four teams of novices to brainstorm.

1.5 Conceptual Framework

Theoretically, this study relied on general systems theory as the guiding framework for conceptual development. General systems theory views the organisation as a complex collection of subsystems that interact with each other at their interface (von Bertalanffy, 1968). The subsystems, in turn maintain their respective boundaries that are essential for their survival (Katz & Kahn, 1978). These subsystems are linked to diverse environments such as national, cultural, legal, and political. For example, the multiple memberships characterising the human resource system is articulated in the form of multiple employee groups. Some groups are members of various subsystems simultaneously. As an illustration, an executive from another department is in the decision-making team of the MIS department. There are others who are members of one particular subsystem. For instance, graduates at the job-entry level who are known as novices in the decision-problem structuring process is an example of one particular subsystem. With that the researcher posited that systems theory provides a foundation that can facilitate the understanding decision-problem structuring by novices in MIS domain. This is justifiable as systems theory focuses on the relationships between parts and the properties of a whole, rather than reducing a whole to its parts and studying their individual properties (Senge, 1990; Ackoff, 1971). In addition, systems theory has been applied in MIS such as innovation (Shen et al., 2009), information systems change (Lyytinen & Newman, 2008), knowledge management (Chun et al., 2009), and supply chain management (Helou & Caddy, 2006).

A system is defined as "an entity which maintains its existence through the mutual interaction of its parts (von Bertalanffy, 1976, p.298). Ackoff (1971) has translated von Bertalanffy's original definition of a system to the organisational context. Hence, a system is composed of at least two elements and a relation that holds between them. At any given time, a system or one of its elements exhibits a state, defined as its relevant properties, values or characteristics. A change in the state of a system is called an event which is an occurrence, something that happens.

An important classification of events called behaviours is the focal point of this study. Behaviours are events that initiate other events. A process is a sequence of behaviours that constitutes a system closer to its goal. This goal may not be reached. Instead, it may be accompanied by other unintended goals. Thus behaviours and processes can lead to either desirable or undesirable system states.

Decision-problem structuring is a process consisting of two behaviours: strategies in problem structuring, and structuring the decision-problem. The strategies were those used by novices to equip themselves in structuring the decision-problem which was constructed out of the case study. The case study issues and concerns in MIS add to the complexity brought about by the multiple perspectives and preferences of the novices. Structuring the decision-problem was an activity by the novices to transform an initial state (complex problem in MIS) to a goal state (structured problem).

The environment of the system consists of the elements and their relevant properties that are not part of the system. Systems that interact with their environment are called open systems. Open systems exchange information, energy or material with their environment (Senge, 1990; Kast & Rosenzweig, 1972). A dynamic system is one in which events occur and whose state changes over time. If the elements of the open system change and respond to the environment then it is an open dynamic system.

Novices interact with the environment for information, expertise, experience, and advice while forming their strategies towards structuring the decision-problem. These elements (information, expertise, experience, and advice) are not part of the system. The decision-problem took shape after brainstorming by the novices for two weeks, the time duration as determined in the study. The final state of the decision-problem was the representation brought about by the consensus of the group participants. Thus, the system proposed for this study was an open, dynamic system.

Open systems interact with other systems. This interaction has two components: input which enters the system from the outside, and output which leaves the system for the environment. The system and the environment are in general separated by a boundary. The transformation of input into output by the system is called the throughput. The input, throughput, and output are the basic components of a system as it is understood in systems theory.

A conceptual framework for this study is shown in Figure 1.1.

Decision-problem structuring


Structured Problem


Complex Problem in MIS


Figure 1.1 Conceptual Framework

Problems of MIS embody large amounts of information spanning across the various functional units of the business enterprise. Much of the problem complexity is derived from conflict in belief, values, interest, desires, and worldviews that require ethics, and reason to define the context of the problem. In short, the decision-problems of MIS involve multiple and conflicting objectives, and uncertainties. Consequently, the structuring approach in MIS problem must satisfy two requirements: first, it needs to be able to make the vast amount of information more accessible; and second, it must structure the problem to encapsulate the richness of information across multiple problem dimensions of beliefs, interests, values, and worldviews. Evidently, different worldviews define different situations of a problem.

Georgiou (2008) has defined the problem situation precisely. In essence, a problem situation implies an undesirable state which needs to be transformed into a desirable state. There must be a means to identify the transformations evidently required in the problem situation. The problem situation is first translated into a series of transformation in order to enable more exact understanding of the problem. Thus, DPS is a process of a decision making group coming to an understanding and determination of the contextual boundaries and information that is relevant to the situation (Georgiou, 2008; Brezillon & Zarate, 2007). Chatjoulis and Humphreys (2007) further add that DPS is a process that involves shifting toward a proceduralised understanding of what is required to structure the problem. In short, the transformations simultaneously define the problem and the desirable state.

In this study, the term "transformation" was taken as decision-problem structuring, which is conceptualised to be a process consisting of activities characterised by the decision-makers. It is a process of identifying relevant variables in the problem situation, as well as establishing relationships among the variables. Precisely, the structure of the problem is what the decision-makers believe the problem to be. Decision-problem structuring is to redefine the initial problem state to a problem state known as a structured problem where options and criteria can be generated for a decision process.

Participants such as novices in the DPS process often lack the resources for adequate 'know-how' before committing to a prescription for action. Studies comparing experts and novices suggest that experts have more highly developed cognitive structures as in the organisation of information in memory and the repertoire of rules for using that information which allows for effective problem structuring (Woolfolk, 2004).

The lack of literature reporting the use of PSMs by novices suggests there is a need to a more detailed understanding of the strategies and process of novices to structure a decision-problem that is complex in nature. In Whittington's (2001) processual framework of strategy, the environment is seen as arbitrary and unpredictable. Consequently, a wider range of individual and collective objectives can be accommodated. Individual can form groups and alliances to further their own interests, and promote the influence of their professional skills and crafts. The strategy is deliberate as far as the individuals and groups have a clear understanding of their own agenda. In practice, the strategy is emergent from the compromises between differing perceptions. Satisficing rather than achieving the main objective is the dominant motivation.

Research on problem structuring suggests that participants start by expending effort in transforming the complex problem into a desirable state. As Georgiou (2008) states, only rigorous interpretation of the decision-problem yields a firm idea of what may be deemed acceptable. Hence, the decision-problem structuring process is a way of conceptualising the chain of activities that lead to an ultimate structure of the decision-problem. The structured problem as an output of the DPS has no decision options that were well developed. The structured problem serves as a starting point for the generation of decision options in the decision process, which was beyond the focus of this study.

1.6 Significance of the Study

Understanding DPS by novices can provide insights that will help build a PSM for novices to use improve decision-making. PSMs do not attempt to tell novices what to do. Rather PSMs create a fruitful interaction between decision makers and models. Effective model building requires decision makers to understand and trust the model, and the modeller to appreciate the decision makers' knowledge derived from experience. In this context, DPS by novices is intended to be a normative source of prescription for PSM. It is also intended to be a simple descriptive behaviour of novices in DPS. It can also be a facilitative model which enables novices to learn about the problem and their preferences through a process of exploration which acts as a catalyst to promote careful and in-depth thinking. This facilitative model should be sufficiently flexible to allow the exploration and sufficiently transparent to promote learning rather than confusion. The process of modelling should enable the decision maker to gain a better understanding of the problem. The model is not supposed to decide for the decision maker, but only to support the decision, building up his convictions about which solutions are more appropriate for the problem.

The overarching research aim of this study was to gain insights and understanding about how novices structure a decision-problem with their concerns and knowledge. Most often, novices do not recognise that they are also responsible for managing their organisation's decisions. There are significant gaps in the novices' understanding of how people decide naturally. Novices have limited awareness of useful decision principles and may not have been adequately trained to work in the complex and ambiguous system where conflict arises from cultural differences as well as divergent goals. Knowing how a decision-problem is structured by novices based on MIS domain will enable MIS to be delivered in an approach that best meets its goal, that is, to ensure that accurate and appropriate information is in the right form and available to decision makers in a timely fashion.

Making known such knowledge about how novices structure a decision-problem and their employed strategies to structure the decision-problem serves to further expand the knowledge base on decision-problem structuring where most decision-problem structuring literature is mainly focussed on the experts. The process of decision-problem structuring is basic not only for each individual personally, but also for each individual as a decision maker in his organisation. An understanding of how novices structure a decision-problem is sufficient for guiding intelligent and effective efforts to manage decisions. This study may speed the development of expert system by explicating novices' chain of activities that lead to an ultimate structure of the decision-problem.

A decision manager is handicapped if he does not understand that novices tend to decide the way they do naturally in MIS. This study has shown the novices' strategies and the way they structure their complex problem that influence their actions towards raw data and information. The manager is at a marked disadvantage if he is clueless about how the novices in his organisation decide. An understanding of how novices decide reduces to an understanding of how they structure the decision-problem. Hence, the emphasis that the decision-problem structuring process is a way of conceptualising the chain of activities that leads to an ultimate structure of the decision-problem.

1.7 Delimitation

Every instance is unique in terms of situation and the context of the participants in the study of DPS. As the decision-problem is marred by its complexity due to various beliefs, values and uncertainties, the DPS in MIS of novices cannot be generalised across novices from other disciplines. The structured problem as an output of the DPS has no decision options that were well developed. The structured problem serves as a starting point for the generation of decision options in the decision process which was beyond the focus of this study.

1.8 Limitation

This study draws upon four groups of participants that were of homogenous ethnicity. The purpose of this homogenous sampling was to describe the DPS of a particular subgroup in depth and whose experience was expected to be somewhat alike. These participants were pursuing a program that will eventually lead them into a managerial position either in the corporate world or the public sector of employment. Being ethnically homogenous, the potential for conflict in cultural values is minimised to reach common interest. The reason being that centrally held values are prevalent in a homogenous ethnicity and these values are not contravened (Baron & Spranca, 1997) in problem structuring. The elicited decision-problem structuring process was observed through threaded discussion on the virtual workspace while brainstorming case studies. Each participant was required to reflect on the threaded discussion.

The posted messages and journaling socially were socially situated with respect to the five case studies. The data were constructed while attending a course in MIS. They were impacted by the online collaborative learning environment. A virtual workspace was designed to enable the brainstorming sessions. The social interaction of each intact group constrained the meaning attached to the data.

The four intact groups of participants represent static sampling as all the data were gathered prior to analysis. Although static sampling does not provide for choosing additional participants whose purpose is to challenge and deepen the initial analysis, it was a practical approach to data gathering. It eliminated the ability of the study to reach out to other participants who might correct or expand aspects of their developing description.

However, experimental validity can be sought by looking for repeated patterns or regulations as four intact groups were studied and compared. In addition, there were five case studies for each group of participants to elicit the DPS strategies and process of the novices. Such selection of the above provided viable data sources that promote a deepening of the understanding of DPS inquired about.

1.9 Definition of Terms

A state

A closure that occurs when the representation and the actual world are accepted by relevant parties to be interchangeable.

Case studies

Written summaries or syntheses of real-life cases that require the reader to isolate and think through the key issues involved against both theory and the larger comparative environment. The case studies to be analysed are usually those that have occurred in the past or are likely to be encountered by the students in their professional lives (Kreber, 2001). The features of a good case study have been summarised by Gross Davis (1993, cited in Kreber, 2001). It was identified that a case study is one that tells a story, raises issues for discussion, encourages students' thought processes, requires a decision to be made, and is reasonably concise. Each case study is written within these parameters.


It refers to the process of knowing something, including both the act of becoming aware of it and also the act of evaluating it.

Collaborative learning

Constructivist approaches to learning focus on learning environments in which students have the opportunity to construct knowledge themselves and negotiate this knowledge with others (Jonassen, 2000; Saab et al., 2005). In collaborative learning, students construct knowledge through mutual communication and shared representations of a problem through the relevance of aspects of collaboration such as maintaining common ground, co-responsibility, verbalisation, and mutual support and criticism.


It is basically understood as emerging from the many variables to consider and it is difficult to understand the link between causes and effects. There are intended and unintended consequences for a decision.


Is more directly associated with the distinctly human influence upon situations, for it is understood as arising from pre-existing interpersonal relations, incompatible personal styles and from the diversity of interests represented.


Is a specific action one can take in the present or in the future but not in the past.


Is deciding what action to take; it usually involves choice between options.

Decision Science

The body of scholarship concerned with understanding how people decide naturally and with devising means for improving on those natural inclinations. Decision science is eclectic. It draws on a host of traditional disciplines: psychology, economics, statistics, sociology, mathematics and philosophy.

Decision theory

Any systematic decision process that enables the decision maker to select a best alternative by choosing one that maximises what is called a utility, payoff, or criterion function.

Decision model

An analytical method with the relevant data for making a decision. The relevant information and criteria are the input, and the selected alternative is the output of the model.


An expert in decision-problem structuring will be taken to have knowledge that allows them to use problem structuring methods (PSMs), reflect upon that use, and modify their practice. That is, they will have knowledge and experience that goes significantly beyond that gained by understanding a 'textbook' description of a methodology.


A process that utilises case studies to examine the objectives of this study.


A novice in decision-problem structuring will be taken as someone who has no deep knowledge of the problem structuring or how problem structuring methods are used.


Is a right but not an obligation to do something in the future. Decision options are generalised representations of a decision.


Preconceived notions based on an individual's goals, values, beliefs, motives, and situational demands.

Programmed decision

A decision that arises from a problem which could be anticipated; A planned decision.


Acting in a deliberate, careful manner and using analytic techniques.


Any group or individual who can affects or is affected by the achievement of an organisation's purpose (Freeman, 1984).


Knowledge which is drawn from many sources and in many forms, including that from scientific inquiry is inherently uncertain. This constitutes a characteristic of all information that must be acknowledged and communicated (Ascher, 2004). The uncertainty pertains to the working environment which demands more accurate information.


Personal values are related to individual preferences while cultural values reflect the range of these held within the culture (Schwartz, 1999). Social values are socially desirable phenomena (Ravlin & Meglino, 1987). Public values include those concerned with security, efficiency, choice, autonomy, and democracy (New, 1999). Ethical values include integrity and fairness democratic values include rule of law, loyalty, openness and representation while professional values include caring and compassion (Kernaghan, 2003).