Decision structuring dialogue
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Decision Structuring Dialogue. Sebastian Slotte and Raimo P. Hämäläinen Systems Analysis Laboratory Aalto University School of Science. Dialogue in Decision Analysis. First phase of problem structuring is of vital importance

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Decision structuring dialogue

Decision Structuring Dialogue

  • Sebastian Slotte and Raimo P. Hämäläinen

  • Systems Analysis Laboratory

  • Aalto University

  • School of Science

Dialogue in decision analysis

Dialogue in Decision Analysis

  • First phase of problem structuring is of vital importance

  • Raiffa said that he totally missed the boat when he overlooked the non-mathematical underpinnings of a human decision

  • Need to develop a process to create a shared problem ownership and understanding in group decision making

  • Bridge Problem Structuring Methods (PSM) and DA



  • A specific form of verbal interaction

  • Not negotiation or debate

  • Roots in ancient philosophy

  • Not a new concept within the context of problem structuring

  • Habermas’ theory of communicative action discussed in the Soft-OR

  • Must fulfill a set of qualitative criteria

Debate negotiation and dialogue

Debate, Negotiation and Dialogue



  • Method

  • advocacy

  • arguments against person

  • rhetorical asking and questioning

  • evidence in favor of ones own point of view and against opponents points of view

  • Goal

  • winning

  • being right

  • getting ones own view to be accepted


  • proving ones argument to be right

  • getting ones own view to be accepted

  • showing weaknesses in the opponents argumentation



  • Intention

  • resolution

  • decision for action

  • deal

  • contract

  • Method

  • bargaining

  • showing strengths

  • pointing to weaknesses

  • counting

  • Goal

  • getting to yes

  • avoiding loosing

  • consensus or compromise



  • Intention

  • thinking and understanding together

  • wisdom

  • shared understanding

  • Method

  • inquiry

  • genuine asking and voicing

  • suspension of assumptions

  • listening

  • building on others ideas

  • co-creation of meaning

  • Goal

  • consensus on a common ground for action

  • determining where and if collaboration is possible

  • understanding and respecting differences

Decision structuring dialogue1

Decision Structuring Dialogue

  • Systems intelligence perspective (Saarinen and Hämäläinen 2004, Hämäläinen and Saarinen 2008)

  • Facilitation and problem structuring creates a system which cannot be isolated from the problem and its context

  • Facilitator has to see herself as a part of the system

  • Group members active parts of the system

  • Creates a basis for: Avoiding conflicts, creating trust, help in framing, recognizing biases, avoiding group think

Decision structuring dialogue dsd

Decision Structuring Dialogue (DSD)

Stage 1. Introduction of the dialogical skills and rules

Stage 2. Dialogue about the problem and formulation of

an initial question

Stage 3. Reformulation of the initial question.

Stage 4. Answers to the reformulated question.

Stage 5. Visioning of the ideal big picture

Stage 6. Dialogue on future measures

The system of group decision making

The System of Group Decision Making

  • The process starts early already when the stakeholders are contacted

  • Facilitator works from within the system

  • Decision Structuring Dialogue aims at surfacing

    • values, beliefs

    • priorities

    • facts, points of view

    • constraints and consequences

Dialogical skills of facilitator stage 1

Dialogical Skills of Facilitator – Stage 1

  • Process: listening, inquiry, thinking together, suspension of judgment and appropriate voicing of everybody

  • Facilitator refrains from taking any stance concerning the content of the dialogue

  • Makes sure that everyone has a say

  • Makes notes of statements, concepts and problems

Rules of dialogue stage 1

Rules of Dialogue – Stage 1

  • Arguments directed against another participant’s personality are forbidden

    Especially important in conflict situations

  • Speak from experience

    When a participant speaks from her own experience she is not making a general judgement

  • Do not appeal to external authorities such as reports or experts

  • Refrain from advocating

  • Do not weight opinions

Decision structuring dialogue

Rules of Dialogue – Stage 1

  • Show genuine interest

  • Express your doubts

    • Prevents groupthink

  • Inquire together

    • Building on each others’ ideas as a group

  • No debating

  • No decisions

  • Framing the situation in a way that is acceptable to all the participants

Initial question stage 2

Initial Question – Stage 2

DSD starts with a topic that all participants consider to be important in light of the problem at hand


  • What are the good aspects of the problem or the situation?

  • What would co-operation be like?

  • In which aspects of the problem is consensus possible?

  • How can we make better decisions in this situation?

  • What should the situation look like after some months?

    Each participant tells a story based on personal experience about the problem or decision

    Stage 3: Reformulation of the question

Stages 4 6

Stages 4 - 6

Stage 4: Suggest answers to the reformulated question

  • Building mutual understanding and trust

    Stage 5: Visioning

    • Each participant expresses his or her view of an ideal situation or solution

    • The situation will encourage the participants to ask clarifications and give comments

      Stage 6: Participants can discuss if and how the dialogue should affect the following decision workshop/conference

      Group is working together

Decision structuring dialogue in environmental conflicts

Decision Structuring Dialogue in Environmental Conflicts

  • Environmental issues and problems are increasingly important and the risk of conflict is often high

  • Decision analysis approaches have been of great help

  • Clear need to develop the participation process

  • Problem structuring phase is often crucial

  • Avoidance of the escalation of conflicts

Lake kemij rvi water level regulation case

Lake Kemijärvi Water Level Regulation Case

Decision structuring dialogue

DSD in the Lake Kemijärvi Case

  • Initial question (stage 2):

  • What is good mutual understanding?

  • Reformulation of the initial question (stage 3):

  • What is mutual understanding?

  • Participants commit to co-operation

  • Answers (stage 4):

  • Better interaction

  • Acknowledging also other than power interests

  • Improve grass roots level participation …

Decision structuring dialogue

Visioning the Ideal Big Picture (stage 5)

  • Main result: Consensus is not to be reached only by changes related directly to the regulation.

  • Improvement of communication, public participation and collaboration is crucial

  • Created a new frame

  • Some of the stakeholders who had previously wanted fundamental changes in the water level expressed that there are strong power production, flood protection, and employment reasons that support the current regulation practice



  • Participants agreed that Decision Structuring Dialogue enhances respect of and listening to different points of view

  • Dialogue brought a new problem frame to the participants’ attention

  • DSD creates a fruitful starting point for decision analysis

  • Needs to be introduced early before any other problem solving takes place

  • DSD useful when risk of conflict is high

References and links

References and links

Systems Intelligence Research Group


E. Saarinen and R.P. Hämäläinen: Systems Intelligence: Connecting Engineering Thinking with Human Sensitivity R. P. Hämäläinen, E. Saarinen (eds.): Systems Intelligence - Discovering a Hidden Competence in Human Action and Organizational Life, Helsinki University of Technology, Systems Analysis Laboratory Research Reports A88, October 2004, 9-37.

R.P. Hämäläinen and E. Saarinen, (eds.): Systems Intelligence - A New Lens on Human Engagement and Action Helsinki University of Technology, Systems Analysis Laboratory, August, 2008.

P. Siitonen and R.P. Hämäläinen: From Conflict Management to Systems Intelligence in Forest Conservation Decision Making R. P. Hämäläinen, E. Saarinen (eds.): Systems Intelligence - Discovering a Hidden Competence in Human Action and Organizational Life, Helsinki University of Technology, Systems Analysis Laboratory Research Reports A88, October 2004, 199-214.

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