OTPIC Officially Retired

As of December 2, 2005, the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflict (OTPIC) has been officially retired, and is no longer open to new registrations.

The successor to OTPIC is a course called Dealing Constructively with Intractable Conflicts (DCIC). The new curriculum is built around one of our major projects, Beyond Intractability, and offers a much more extensive and informative set of learning materials than that available through OTPIC.

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International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict

Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA

Inability to Deal with Uncertainty

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The complexity of most issues makes it impossible to completely predict what will happen if a particular decision is made or if a dispute is resolved in a particular way.  This is very clear in scientific and technical disputes (on the severity or implications of greenhouse warming, for example), but it occurs in non-scientific disputes as well.  (For example, how many people will lose their jobs if the government adopts a new economic policy.) 

Often even the best technical analyses are likely to leave an irreducible element of uncertainty. In these cases the best that the experts are likely to be able to do is identify a number of possible outcomes for each option. They may also be able to make some estimate of the likelihood of each possible outcome.

For example, an analysis of a new chemical plant might conclude that:

In such a case it is up to the parties to decide whether the benefits associated with the option make this level of risk acceptable.

Often, however, people (decision makers and/or the public) are very reluctant to make such decisions.  Rather, they avoid making any decision, preferring to wait for more conclusive technical studies.  This often leads to what we call "analysis paralysis" when no decision is made, while study after study is conducted.  The end result is the status quo--which may be agreed to be the least desirable option, but the one taken nevertheless, due to the decision makers' inability to adequately deal with uncertainty.


Examples

Roger Fischer, Elizabeth Kopelman and Andrea Schneider -- Understand the Message as They Hear it
This essay illustrates how uncertainty created by misunderstandings can lead to tragic consequences.
 
Roger Fischer, Elizabeth Kopelman and Andrea Schneider -- Consider the Other Side's Choice
This short essay illustrates a method to assess the consequences of various actions.   Had this been used by Saddam Hussein in the Gulf Crisis, the authors argue, the uncertainty about choices would have been clearer, and perhaps the war could have been avoided.
 
Peter M. Sandman--Explaining Environmental Risk
This article explains that the public assesses risk and uncertainty very differently from experts.  It then suggests ways in which risk can be explained to the public so that they can make informed decisions.

Links to Related Approaches

Dealing With Uncertainty

Impact-Study Requirement

Links to Related Problems

Contradictory Experts
 
Understanding the Meaning of Facts
 
Analysis Paralysis/Delay-Default

Copyright 1998 Conflict Research Consortium  -- Contact: crc@colorado.edu