Saturday, March 6, 2010

Is disciplinary consensus a prerequisite for utility?

At a recent meeting relating to an AM program, I commented on the stark absence of social science expertise in the room. That particular program, which I'll not name to protect the not-so-innocent, isn't alone in this lack. Every single program I've been involved with in the last couple of years falls into the same category. One of the meeting participants, an engineer with experience in other AM programs, mentioned that a previous program had invited several sociologists to a meeting, but that the sociologists couldn't agree with each other about what the best way to proceed was. Much laughter - in which I participated, I confess.

Retrospectively however, I realized that I spend most of my time these days in meetings with ecologists who can't agree with each other. Or hydrologists. So obviously these disciplines aren't useful to AM either. Especially not on rivers. Engineers seem to be able to agree with each other at least, so I guess that's the answer - leave it to the engineers.

In fact, this perspective that disciplinary consensus is necessary for utility cuts straight to the heart of the issue - if there is consensus, then there is no uncertainty, and thus no need for AM. The fact that we think ecologists and hydrologists are necessary, but sociologists are not, suggests that we vastly underestimate the complexity of the socio- part of socio-ecological systems. We, rather arrogantly, assume that there should be consensus on how that works, and thus no need to incorporate that expertise into the process.

Whew. Glad I got that off my chest, its been bugging me for weeks!

1 comment:

  1. 90% of the decision process, to my mind, is addressing human needs and expectations. The remaining 10% is the interesting biological stuff.