Policy Sciences

, Volume 32, Issue 3, pp 225–245 | Cite as

A study of how individuals solve complex and ill-structured problems

  • Ronald Fernandes
  • Herbert A. Simon


A number of factors cause individuals to use diverse strategies to solve problems. This paper presents a methodology for examining these differences in strategy. Verbal protocols are elicited to collect data on the cognitive processes occurring during problem solving. These data, codified into propositional representations, and non-parametric statistical comparisons are then used to evaluate the significance of strategy differences. These strategies are then mapped with dynamical graphs, with which we examine the task-independent and the task-specific cognitive representations the participants used. As an illustrative example we apply this methodology to study the influence of two contributing factors, professional training and national culture, on the strategies adopted by professionals to solve a complex and ill-structured problem (hunger in a country). The problem-solving strategies of professionals from different countries and trained in architecture, engineering, law or medicine are analyzed to show some intriguing differences in the general strategies adopted by individuals belonging to different professions, and the outcomes from using these strategies.


Cognitive Process Contribute Factor Economic Policy Strategy Difference General Strategy 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ronald Fernandes
    • 1
  • Herbert A. Simon
    • 2
  1. 1.H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and ManagementCarnegie Mellon UniversityU.S.A
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyCarnegie Mellon UniversityU.S.A

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