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Unravelling the complexity of collective mental models: A method for developing and analysing scenarios in multi-organisational contexts

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In multi-organisational contexts, scenario building has been used to engage stakeholders in a critical discussion on issues of mutual importance, and to gain their support with regards to possible future responses. A review of existing literature
  1 Unravelling the complexity of collective mental models: a method fordeveloping and analysing scenarios in multi-organisational contexts Robby Soetanto 1* , Andrew R.J. Dainty 2 , Chris I. Goodier 3 and Simon A. Austin 4   1 Department of Built Environment, Coventry University, Priory Street, Coventry, CV1 5FB,UK;  2 Department of Civil and Building Engineering, Loughborough University, Leicestershire,LE11 3TU, UK;  3 Department of Civil and Building Engineering, Loughborough University, Leicestershire,LE11 3TU, UK;  4 Department of Civil and Building Engineering, Loughborough University, Leicestershire,LE11 3TU, UK;  * Corresponding author, phone: +44(0)24 7679 5189, fax: +44(0)24 7688 8296, e-mailaddress: , postal address: Department of Built Environment, Coventry University, Priory Street, Coventry, CV1 5FB, UK Abstract In multi-organisational contexts, scenario building has been used to engage stakeholders in acritical discussion on issues of mutual importance, and to gain their support with regards topossible future responses. A review of existing literature suggests that much has been writtenregarding the process of scenario development and the benefits of the process, but thedetailed analysis of scenario building outcomes, which encompass a large number of issuesand their complex interconnections, has not been made explicit for studying and enhancingunderstanding of a complex societal problem. This paper presents a systematic method foranalysing such complex outcomes in order to facilitate reflective thinking on important issueswithin the wider context for policy development. The method was employed in a series ofparticipative scenario development workshops, which yielded several causal maps around thetheme of construction industry skills. A collective map merging the individual subject-specificcausal maps was created to help provide a more holistic overview of the pertinent issuessurrounding the construction skills debate. The analysis of this collective map promotes abetter understanding of the issue in the wider context, the consequence of possible futureevents and actions, and of the pre-requisition required for certain events/desired outcomes totake place. The main benefit that could be derived from the method is the opportunity to helpfacilitate and encourage debate and discussion amongst key stakeholders regarding scenariotheme, in this case skills improvement within construction. Due to its flexibility andadaptability, the method could potentially be applied to other areas requiring longer rangeplanning and which contain multiple stakeholder perspectives. Keywords : construction skills, scenario planning, cognitive mapping, multi-stakeholders 1. Introduction In the futures field, scenarios mean different thing for different users, and may serve differentpurposes [1]. For exploratory studies, a scenario is often seen as an image of a futureenvironment within which an entity may have to live or operate. Scenario development is notan exact science. It is not to predict the future, but to explore several plausible futureenvironments with the purpose of extending the sphere of thinking of the participants inprocess [2,3]. The main benefit is perceived not only from the product (i.e. scenarios per se  ),but the process in which participants can appreciate plausible futures which inform actionsand strategies [4]. Engaging the stakeholders (e.g. in workshops) is seen as a mean toencourage their support to the scenarios and possible future responses. It is context-dependent process in which the interaction and negotiation during the development, andsubsequent interpretation and enactment of the scenarios very much reside within the mind ofindividuals involved in the process. Chermack et al. [5] refer the process of scenariodevelopment to organisational learning. As the process is often perceived more importantthan the product, many scholars have written about the process and methodology ofdeveloping scenarios (for examples [2,6,7,8,9,10,11]) and the benefits of the process (forexamples [12,13]), but less on the content and nature of the scenarios themselves [4].Moreover, there is a dearth of literature reporting on the analysis of scenarios developed in a  2multi-organisational context in order to address an issue of mutual importance. One of thereasons is the oversimplification of assumptions in the process of scenario planning, whichotherwise is likely to yield complex outcomes and multiple interpretations of those outcomes[14]. Chairns et al. [15] described scenario development in a multi-organisation context, which yielded numerous „driving forces‟ of the future. However, the analysis of these „driving forces‟ and their complex interconnections have not been made explicit. This paper is intended tocontribute to this gap of knowledge and literature by developing a systematic method foranalysing such complex outcomes to facilitate reflective thinking on important issues withinthe wider context for policy development.To reflect the uncertainty inherent in the future, scenario development should yield multiplescenarios, commonly between two and four. One approach is the scenario-axes techniquewhich is often recommended as a useful and straightforward tool to construct scenarios in acoherent and systematic way [16]. This approach yields four scenarios within four quadrantsof two main axes which represent the most influential high-level drivers of the future (forexamples [17,18]). Then, each is illustrated by an imaginative narration of a futureenvironment with the intention of stimulating thought. One common step of the developmentprocess is the identification of „issues‟ (also called „drivers‟ which are precedence of „trends‟)  which are perceived as the underlying causes of future phenomenon of interest within anenvironment of a particular industry sector. Börjeson et al. [1] describes this process as thegeneration of ideas phase of exploratory scenario development. Further, the two mostimportant drivers are often used to form the dimensions of the scenario-axes approach.Despite their utility to present snap-shot images of the future, most scenarios do not makeexplicit the connection between present and future [19]. This connection can help establish apathway of interconnected sequences of events from now to the envisaged future goal.Arguably, developing this pathway enhances participant understanding, support andconfidence in the scenarios. Ultimately, it will help individual entities to shape (and reshape)their strategic plan and future actions.The issues are not independent, but reside within a complex interconnected web of cause-and-effect relationships. Due to their significance in shaping the future, understanding ofthese interconnections can sometimes be more important than understanding individualissues themselves. However, evidence suggests that participants of scenario developmentworkshops would seem to be very fluent when identifying issues, but are not very comfortablewhen determining interconnections between these issues [11]. Perhaps, there is a greaterintellectual challenge in establishing the interconnections and negotiating differingperspectives (with possible conflicts) between participants of the workshop. This challenge isfurther reinforced by a requirement to connect the present situation to long-term future goals[20].In this paper we develop a method for developing and analysing scenarios as manifested in acomplex network of the interconnected issues around the issue of skills shortages inconstruction. This topic area provides an ideal „ test bed ‟ for refining new methods ofcombining the perspectives of multiple participants who bring differing perspectives to acomplex and multi-faceted issue. The challenge within this research was to establish acoherent connection between the present and the future via a series of interactive workshopswhich was not only intended to generate ideas, but also to integrate them for a greaterunderstanding of plausible futures. It was not the intention to develop envisioned futuresregarding skills shortages by way of resultant scenario or scenarios from the analysis, nor toformulate accurate labour market forecasts. Rather, the aim was to move beyond theconstraints of existing forecasting models and to consider a much longer range view up to 20years, and to stimulate a dialogue amongst key stakeholders which illuminates thesignificance of greater understanding of the interconnectivity of the principal supply anddemand factors and the influence of institutional and social structures which support them.Generating these types of insights for policy planning is necessarily a multiple stakeholderexercise [14]. As such, establishing a way to coalesce the perspectives of a multiplicity ofdifferent actors and to combine these in a robust, and yet intelligible format, represented thecore challenge of this research. The approach developed could have resonances well beyondthe present study to a variety of other multi-stakeholder futures workshops.  3 2. Research context: the UK construction labour market The research from which this paper is described explored possible futures for the UKconstruction sector, especially in relation to the factors which influence the competitiveness ofthe firms that operate within it. Construction is a highly competitive sector that is oftencharacterised by short-term thinking and frequently lacking of long-term strategic planning.Managers of small firms tend to be preoccupied by daily operation of the business [21].Research on strategic planning within the sector has revealed that some firms do not do anylong term planning and others planned only for a short-term future of 2-3 years [22]. Given theabsence of strategic planning, perhaps it is not surprising that the skills shortage continues tobe an enduring problem and is hampering the progress within the sector (see [23]). Indeed,Forde and MacKenzie [24] have revealed that construction has a high concentration of skillsshortages relative to other sectors and, despite the initiatives for skills reproduction at sectorallevel (for example [25]), skills policy has seemingly done little to ensure a steady supply or tosecure the long-term sustainability of the sector skills base.T he convenience of migrant labour as a „short - term fix‟ may reinforce the reluctance of employers and government to address deficiencies in the industry‟s vocational education and training structure [26]. This is therefore symptomatic of the acute need for more informed and joined-up policy measures, which must be enacted so as to involve a broad cross section ofstakeholders if they are to be effective in addressing ingrained deficiencies in the skillsinfrastructure [23].   Long-range construction skills planning is highly problematic givenfluctuating demand patterns, nuanced differences in demand in different geographic regionsand uncertainties in the unfolding impact of technological and process innovations. However,given the scale of the challenge, effective policies need to be enacted well in advance of themanifestation of the need. For example, encouraging trainees new to the sector demands arecruitment campaign in time to influence school leavers to take up apprenticeships, and foremployers to be encouraged to engage in specific construction skills training. For suchworkers to be up to productive capacity when required, they must be engaged many yearsearlier. This requires a new skills planning paradigm, and one able to cope with theinterconnected nature of skills influences superbly illustrated by Clarke [27], who reveals howsocial and institutional structures perpetuate the low skills equilibrium. It is arguably theseinterconnected factors which must be better understood and addressed if a more sustainableconstruction sector is to be achieved. Addressing skills shortage requires a concerted effortfrom the key stakeholders who need to align their perceived thinking of the current situation,influencing issues and to develop a consensus of pathways to preferred future. 3. Future studies in construction The significant body of literature on futures studies generally look ahead or envision what thefuture may look like, but do not necessarily aim to predict what will happen. They arefrequently considered an early warning system, a way for people and businesses to visualisethe future some years ahead (usually 10 to 20 years) [28]. They are often produced topromote forward-thinking within companies in particular. As a precursor to the work describedlater in this paper, fifteen recent construction futures reports [28,29,30,31,32,33,34,35,36,37,38,39,40,41,42] were reviewed to explore their substantive content. Each offers differentperspectives on envisioned futures ranging from the deliberately extreme to those which canbe effectively extrapolated from existing trends, although they rarely conflate differentperspectives or seek to blend different types of futures. The methodologies range fromindividual speculative narratives, to consensus building workshops and Delphi-basedquestionnaire surveys. Within the „skills‟ theme, the reports generally suggested that the skills shortage (both at professional and operative levels) would seem to continue in the foreseeable future. Theyalso realised the growing need for more training and for upgrading the existing skills base.Construction professionals will need to acquire different set of skills requirements for thefuture. In particular, future professionals will need to be more flexible, multi-skilled and able tomaintain appropriate bala nce between „hard‟ technical and „soft‟ skills, such as deal making, client-facing, relationship management skills. Growing competition and uncertainty wouldincrease the popularity of shorter-term contracts. The workforce will be more empowered andincreasingly mobile to capture opportunity for better job and promotion. At operative level,craft labour will be increasingly rare.  4Although these reports identify a range of issues that might affect construction, arguably theyfail to address the complexities and uncertainties of both the present and the future, or toexplore the interconnections between global, local, construction-specific and more wide-spread issues [19]. In addition, they tend to be written from a particular stakeholderperspective, which in turn will determine whether an envisioned future is positive or negative.For example, the use of technology (e.g. information and communication technology) will de-skill the work of the professions, but at the same time, it will help to reduce accidents andimprove welfare of the workforce. Thus, understanding the interconnectivities is crucial forgenerating a better understanding of possible futures and for building dynamic capabilities toproactively respond to the potential challenges ahead. Thus, it would seem that these studieshave failed to address a crucial failing of past research on construction skills, which althoughthey reveal a large number of highly interconnected issues [23,43,44], have largely failed tomake these interdependencies sufficiently explicit for a more informed understanding. 4. Overview of the method for informing future skills policy planning Given the potentially large number of variables which play out at (and between) various levelsof resolution (i.e. the individual, the firm, the region, the industry etc.), a visual representationof possible interconnections is essential for supporting stakeholders in envisaging the ways inwhich influences on the labour market could be linked together. Given the multiple contextswithin which skills are reproduced, these events may turn out to be less important than theconnections between them. Thus, to be effective, users of the proposed method must be ableto assess the impl ications of particular intervention strategies, together with their „knock - on‟ effects, to other interconnected factors.Given this visual requirement, a scenario development process was developed for theresearch incorporating multi-stakeholder perspective using causal mapping techniques (see[11] for a detailed description of this process). This was deployed at a series of workshops inwhich stakeholders were asked to initially consider the interrelationship of a range ofinfluential factors. The research therefore addresses one of the criticisms of much futureswork in the construction sector of failing to build upon the previous studies [31]. In thisresearch, the idea was to build from other futures and foresight work to identify future issueswhich should be taken into account when planning skills policy measures and to supplementthese with stakeholder opinion on the skills climate. The scenarios derived from the processwere digitised using Decision Explorer TM software and then merged to produce a collectivecausal maps. Several tools within the software were then used to identify most importantissues from the map and draw clusters around these issues. The use of this software is by nomeans novel,   although its application in the subject of construction skills problem in multi-organisation context does not exist in the literature. In this research, the software is a usefultool within a systematic method for analysing complex outcomes of scenario buildingworkshops.In contrast with many futures methods which have an organisational focus, the researchchallenge here was to connect the perspectives of multiple stakeholders within a holisticanalysis of labour market influences. In the next sections, several lessons learnt from theprocess of generating, integrating and analysing the scenarios are explained, alongside thepossible use of the emerging resultant scenario in informing considerations for thedevelopment of long-range skills planning policy. 5. Scenario development process The detailed steps in generating the collective mental models around the skills shortage issueare outlined below. 5.1 Mapping previously identified issues The fifteen futures reports, selected on the basis of their potential importance to the sector,were examined by content analysis to extract future issues, influencing factors and possibleoutcomes. Categories were allowed to emerge [45], which were subsequently grouped intothemes. Overall, the analysis captured 386 future issues covering high-level themes oftechnology, environment, human, economic, governance and construction-specific [20], 80 ofwhich were relevant to the skills policy agenda (see Table 1, column 3). These were used as  5a starting point to explore their interconnections through the development of future scenarioswith professionals working in the sector. They were included based on the implications thatthe issues might have on the future provision of skills as suggested in the narrative of thereports, and on the judgement and experience of the research team.Insert Table 1 5.2. Causal map and scenario development To facilitate a meaningful debate in relation to the future and the potential interventions forachieving a preferred skills equilibrium, a way of representing the future is required. This mustmake explicit the subjective models of the participants in order that a collective understandingof different envisioned futures and their antecedents can be discerned. Cognitive maps havebeen advocated by many scholars to objectify these models, which help in the understanding and analysis of specific elements of an individual‟s thoughts [ 46,47]. In this application, theuse of cognitive mapping was deemed to facilitate information structuring, elaboration,sequencing and interaction amongst participants [48 ]. We adopted the term „causal map‟ toinfer people‟s perception of a causal network of relationships in a form of nodes and paths [49]. Nodes contain future outcomes, issues and influencing factors, and the paths(interconnections) describe their causal relationships.The maps were constructed on A1 paper in facilitated brainstorming workshops. Groups of 2-4 professionals identified desired outcome(s) or goal(s) within the theme under discussion onthe right-hand side of the A1 paper (i.e. in the future). A total of 14 professionals participatedin the process, yielding 6 scenarios (see Table 2 for scenario titles, participant job titles, anddisciplines/ type of firms); the group that developed scenario 6 consisted of one professional,whose opinions were interrogated by two members of the research team. They then identifiedissues which are relevant predecessors to the present situation on the left-hand side ( The space between the envisioned outcome(s) and the current situation providedroom for the group to identify and debate issues, such as events, trends and strategies (bothinternal and external to the organisation) that might take place within the agreed timescale(usually 10-20 years). Relevant issues identified from previous reports (see above) were „offered‟ by the facilitator after their initial brainstorming [ 11]. These items can serve to re-orientate participant thinking towards meaning, scope and boundary of the theme. This isbecause the tendency of pluralistic interpretation of meaning and scope of a particular word ortheme considered. Two people having exactly the same interpretation and understanding of aparticular word is almost impossible, but their understanding could be overlapped [50,51]. Finding this overlapping „area‟ often provides the starting point for group negotiation, aimed at greater understanding of each other sphere of thinking. This process helps the socialisation ofparticipant knowledge domain and facilitates common interpretation of collective futures [52].Insert Table 2The final part of the 2-3 hour workshop involved each group identifying one pathway throughtheir map as a scenario which was then recounted (and recorded) to the other groups. Thecausal map was digitised using Decision Explorer TM (DE) software (see example in Figure 1),allowing further analysis, identifying the most influential factors, clustering and merging themaps. The recorded narrative was also transcribed verbatim. The six scenarios presented inthis paper (see Table 1, heading row) srcinated from three workshops and represent theopinions of senior industry representatives. The issues identified in the 6 skills maps werecompared with each other and those identified from the literature (Table 1, columns 4-9).Common terms, resulting from this comparison (Table 1, column 10), were used to develop „collective‟ map.  Insert Figure 1The outcomes of the causal mapping can be discussed in terms of structure and content.Within construction, Langford and Male asserted, echoing Gramsci [53,54], that people tendto be optimistic in the long-term but gloomy in the short-term because they can see theproblems ahead. In a similar way the causal maps here typically begin with the need toimprove on the existing situation or state. For example, the belief that the construction
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