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Article: Setting Goals with Conflicting Stakeholders

Getting everyone to agree on goals is a challenging undertaking in any organization.  Different stakeholders necessarily have different concerns and perspectives.  Those differences lead to a desire to have different goals for a project, an initiative, or an organization.  Getting everyone to understand those diverse perspectives and interlocking constraints is never easy; however, there is a technique which makes the process easier.  The technique of Dialogue Mapping creates an opportunity to reach a shared understanding of a wicked problem.  Many organizations face wicked problems – even if they aren’t aware of the problem’s wickedness.

Achieving shared understanding through the process of Dialogue Mapping leads to the opportunity to develop an approach to change the problem.  This is the heart of setting goals as a team – developing a shared understanding of the problem and developing a set of goals from that shared understanding.

Wicked Problems

Horst Rittel first used the term wicked problems to discuss problems that have a set of interlocking constraints and have no stopping rule.  There’s only better and worse – there is no right and wrong.  His experience was urban planning, where you can’t test the impact of a change without doing the change.  You can’t really see how a new road will impact a community until you build it and once you’ve built it you can’t un-build a road easily.

Wicked problems are really very large systems or, more accurately, sets of interconnected systems that operate together.  Because of the complexity, there’s no straightforward way to view the problem or to design a solution without the risk of introducing unintended side effects.

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