Problem structuring methods (PSMs) are a family of participatory and interactive methods whose purpose is to assist groups of diverse composition tackle a complex problematic situation of common interest. This is achieved through modelling and facilitation, with a view to generating consensus on problem structure, and agreement on initial commitments. Despite the apparent success of PSMs reported in the literature, little progress has been made towards the development of theoretical models that integrate these experiences and guide PSM practitioners and academics in developing and implementing effective PSM interventions. In particular, no theoretical models have been presented concerning how conversational processes within a group are affected by PSMs. This paper develops a theoretical model of conversation intended to provide a means to identify a specific role for the analytical assistance provided through PSMs, and for evaluating their effectiveness. The hypothesis articulated from this model is that PSMs have the potential to improve the quality of the conversation in which actors participate. PSMs generate this effect through facilitating the structuring and sense-making activities embedded within a conversation. Improvement in the quality of conversation should tend to help actors engage in dialogue as a particular form of conversation, achieve shared understanding, and increase the actors' ownership of the commitments achieved during the conversation. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications of the model for research and practice.
- Problem structuring methods
- Soft OR