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Decisionmaking in Practice: The Dynamics of Muddling Through


An alternative to conventional models that treat decisions as open-loop independent choices is presented. The alterative model is based on observations of work situations such as healthcare, where decisionmaking is more typically a closed-loop, dynamic, problem-solving process. The article suggests five important distinctions between the processes assumed by conventional models and the reality of decisionmaking in practice. It is suggested that the logic of abduction in the form of an adaptive, muddling through process is more consistent with the realities of practice in domains such as healthcare. The practical implication is that the design goal should not be to improve consistency with normative models of rationality, but to tune the representations guiding the muddling process to increase functional perspicacity.

This paper has been accepted for publication in Applied Ergonomics: Access Article


FIGURE: The muddling dynamic is modeled as two coupled loops. The inner loop reflects the active control, driven by the current assumptions about the problem. The outer loop is monitoring performance on the inner loop for 'surprises' that might indicate that the current assumptions do not fit the situation.

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