Environmental management and organisations
Environmental management and organisations

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11.3 Problem solved or situation managed?

Imagine your watch is broken after ingress of water. You now have a problem. The solution to your problem is that you can buy a new watch. Then your time-telling difficulties will be over (for at least as long as the new watch works).

The point to note here is that this is a fairly well defined and bounded problem – you want to tell the time, but you don’t have a working watch. As a result of it being quite a bounded problem, everyone can more or less agree on the solution – obtain a watch or something that tells the time. You might have preferences on style, make or price, but everyone would agree more or less that a watch is a good solution. Once obtained and working, no further management will be required for the foreseeable future.

Described image
Figure 18 Time solution?

If, however, you couldn’t tell the time because you did not know how to read a watch or were visually impaired and unable to read braille, then the watch is not the solution we might have first imagined. The problem is more complex than the designers, makers and perhaps retailers of the watch had imagined. This is because the problem is suddenly less bounded and more complicated than originally envisaged.

With this awareness, the watch – labelled as the solution – is not a solution because its design and purpose does not take account of the nature of the situation into which it is being introduced. So if I were visually impaired or could not tell the time, then I would need a different way of managing the situation.

The term solution carries with it three key, related assumptions:

  1. The organisation claiming to offer a solution knows the entirety of the situation that it or its ‘customer’ is experiencing.
  2. The supplying organisation (rather than the receiver) assumes the right, expertise and capacity to judge that the solution will, in fact, be a solution.
  3. The solution will have no unintended consequences to its customer.

These are significant assumptions. In some cases, the assumptions will be correct. In some cases they will be incorrect. Ultimately, the term solution implies an end to the problem – whatever the problem was, it is fixed. No further intervention or management is required. This is rarely the case in terms of the natural environment. There are many examples of where a solution has been applied only to find it is has unintended consequences and made the situation worse. The example of DDT in Section 7 is a case in point.

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