Special Issue Paper

Journal of the Operational Research Society

, Volume 58, Issue 5, pp 576-587

First online:

Problem structuring methods: theorizing the benefits of deconstructing sustainable development projects

  • S BellAffiliated withOpen University Email author 
  • , S MorseAffiliated withUniversity of Reading

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Abstract

Problem structuring methods or PSMs are widely applied across a range of variable but generally small-scale organizational contexts. However, it has been argued that they are seen and experienced less often in areas of wide ranging and highly complex human activity—specifically those relating to sustainability, environment, democracy and conflict (or SEDC). In an attempt to plan, track and influence human activity in SEDC contexts, the authors in this paper make the theoretical case for a PSM, derived from various existing approaches. They show how it could make a contribution in a specific practical context—within sustainable coastal development projects around the Mediterranean which have utilized systemic and prospective sustainability analysis or, as it is now known, Imagine. The latter is itself a PSM but one which is ‘bounded’ within the limits of the project to help deliver the required ‘deliverables’ set out in the project blueprint. The authors argue that sustainable development projects would benefit from a deconstruction of process by those engaged in the project and suggest one approach that could be taken—a breakout from a project-bounded PSM to an analysis that embraces the project itself. The paper begins with an introduction to the sustainable development context and literature and then goes on to illustrate the issues by grounding the debate within a set of projects facilitated by Blue Plan for Mediterranean coastal zones. The paper goes on to show how the analytical framework could be applied and what insights might be generated.

Keywords

problem structuring methods sustainable development projects Blue Plan