Framing. The way the outcomes of a decision (the action to be taken to solve the problem) are framed is vital. With outcomes framed as gains, people will take more risks; framed as losses they’ll be conservative. When considering whether to invest resources in maintaining a digital resource, we could think in terms of the potential loss of value from that resource, or additional value to be gained, or the opportunity cost of using the resources to this end.
The gambling analogy. Whilst the gambling analogy played a key part in early theory, and indeed has a role in current theories for particular kinds of decisions, there are many kinds of decisions where the analogy fails utterly and many analogies that can work better. Lots of decisions in digital resource management could probably be assessed quite well using normative gambling theory, at least in terms of evaluating probable outcomes and weighing them up against gains or losses. But figuring out the last part of that equation – the value of the gains or losses – can’t be achieved with gambling theory alone.
Scenario theory. One of these alternatives revolves around the construction and testing of scenarios (or stories, if interpreting past events). By creating a web of cause-and-effect relationships (some of them interdependent), weighting them for the likelihood of their outcomes, and again for the value of those outcomes, decision-makers can evaluate which has the best chance of success, and which the best pay-off.
Figuring out an application’s dependencies (and their own inter-dependencies), the likelihood of any of these being disrupted, mitigating strategies and their costs, running the scenarios and figuring out the value of the probable outcomes: this is a complex process, but it’s perhaps one worth pursuing (together with a “significant properties” approach) in evaluating sustainability strategies for museum digital resources.
The nature of the unknown. Even where gambling can seem appropriate, in dealing with uncertainty, it’s not all about the likelihood of a given action succeeding as intended: there is the question of how the scenario will unfold, and even uncertainty as to the value of the outcome in the event of success, since this value may change for the “player” over time. This is pretty pertinent for museum digital sustainability problems, since these will often involve planning well in advance when there is a high degree of uncertainty about not just future conditions and problems, but the value of the resource (or aspects of it) in the future. For example, a learning resource may prove to be much less valuable if there are curriculum changes; the likelihood of this happening may be hard to assess, but the risk might make it injudicious to invest significant effort in making the resource “future-proof”, whatever that is.
Decision making in groups. As well as offering the chance to share knowledge and, one would hope, use this to make better decisions, group decision making throws up hazards, not least the possibility that, instead of sharing new knowledge, groups will focus their discussions on common knowledge and reject anything outside this, thus narrowing the evidential base for their deliberations. Procedural, structural and social barriers can also bias decisions towards one faction or another.
The role of social pressure, morals and ethics. Although “normative” theory has no space for these factors, they are clearly inherent in many decisions. Etzioni has distinguished between three classes of factor influencing decisions:
- utilitarian influence – the economic assessment
- social influence - social pressure to conform, risk of approbation etc.
- deontological influence [deontology is effect of moral obligation and commitment upon behaviour]. May include internalised reflections of social factors e.g. guilt, but covers internal drivers of behaviour.
These are poor caricatures of concepts from the book, and I haven’t even finished yet (two chapters to go) but I really wanted to write something about it. Perhaps in future I’ll work through some fuller, more detailed examples. If that’s of interest let me know with the usual sound of one hand clapping ;-)