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Ambiguity and therapy in risk management

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  • Horlick-Jones, Tom
  • Rosenhead, Jonathan

Abstract

Ambiguity, the existence of multiple plausible (though possibly contested) ways of making sense of the characteristics of decision situations, can present significant difficulties for a wide range of risk management tasks. We will argue that ambiguity is present in risk management situations to a far greater extent that is commonly appreciated. The concept of ambiguity has arisen in different forms across disciplinary literatures and domains of practice. In this paper, we situate our experience of finding ways of supporting planning and decision-making processes concerned with ambiguous risks in the context of those wider perspectives. Our own efforts have employed a hybrid form of problem structuring methods (drawn from operational research and management science) and ethnography (drawn from sociology and anthropology). These engagements with organisational and inter-organisational risk management issues have led us to recognise that ‘untangling’ otherwise intractable risk management problems may be regarded, in some sense, as a therapeutic process. In this paper, we develop this therapeutic interpretation of the untangling of collective ambiguities using illustrations from a concrete problem situation. We set this therapeutic reading of decision processes in the context of wider perspectives, including those drawn from Habermas’ theorisation of communication, the sociology of science and the literature on citizen engagement and deliberation processes.

Suggested Citation

  • Horlick-Jones, Tom & Rosenhead, Jonathan, 2013. "Ambiguity and therapy in risk management," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 62497, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  • Handle: RePEc:ehl:lserod:62497
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    File URL: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/62497/
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Kunreuther, Howard & Meszaros, Jacqueline & Hogarth, Robin M. & Spranca, Mark, 1995. "Ambiguity and underwriter decision processes," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 26(3), pages 337-352, May.
    2. Joyce Tait, 2001. "More Faust than Frankenstein: the European debate about the precautionary principle and risk regulation for genetically modified crops," Journal of Risk Research, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 4(2), pages 175-189, April.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    organizational risk management; ambiguity; uncertainty; plural rationalities; ethnomethodology; problem structuring methods; practical reasoning; the metaphor of psychotherapy; engagement; transdisciplinarity;

    JEL classification:

    • J50 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor-Management Relations, Trade Unions, and Collective Bargaining - - - General
    • G32 - Financial Economics - - Corporate Finance and Governance - - - Financing Policy; Financial Risk and Risk Management; Capital and Ownership Structure; Value of Firms; Goodwill

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