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February 15, 2024

Interactive Planning

Interactive Planning
a: @John Pourdehnad
a: Visiting Professor at IESE Business School
Associate and Principal Consultant, Systems Wisdom, LLC
@: [email protected]

Interactive planning rests on the premise that despite the nature of their environment, organizations are
usually affected by a host of interrelated problems, few of which can be solved in isolation [1,2].
Organizations that use interactive planning, normally, experience improved performance and accelerated
development [3]. Interactive planning is the brainchild of Russell L. Ackoff. Ackoff, often called the
father of operations research, had a distinguished career in operational research (OR) both as an academic
and practitioner [4]. His influence on the early development of the discipline both in the U.S. and Britain
in the 1950s and 1960s is hard to overstate. Interactive planning, an evocatively innovative process,
engages a carefully selected group of stakeholders (requisite minds) in a facilitated creative (re) design
effort [5,6].

Within the constructs of interactive planning, problems are no longer discrete, and that they do
not occur in additive sets that can be disaggregated. Instead, they are systems of problems, termed by
Ackoff as ‘messes.’ [7,8]. Notwithstanding his pioneering role in OR, by the 1970s Ackoff’s
disillusionment with its technique-dominated focus was evident. Ackoff had come to realize the inherent
inadequacy of OR’s traditional paradigm; it relies on existing knowledge -- knowledge gained by studying
traditional approaches. Instead, Ackoff advocated more participative approaches. “These criticisms have
had limited resonance within the USA, but were picked up both in Britain, where they helped to stimulate
the growth of Problem Structuring Methods and in the systems community world-wide.” [9]
The essence of Ackoff’s philosophical turn is this: the creative way to approach a "mess" is not to
tackle the problems individually and try to solve them separately. Such solutions are generally short-lived
when successful, and very often unsuccessful long term because each of these solutions creates new
problems which stand in the way of a solution to the others. This is the foundation of Interactive Planning.
Interactive Planning displays a fundamental shift in the "worldview" toward a systemic vision of reality
[1]. As Ramirez [10] suggested, problems, even as abstract mental constructs, do not exist in isolation,
although we isolate them conceptually. Appraising the direction of human development and the
contribution of the discipline he had founded, Ackoff did something unthinkable; at the pinnacle of his
field, he opted to change course, charting a new way forward that has marked the path of systems theory
for decades since [11].

Twenty years into a new century, traditional organizational forms, planning methodologies and
response strategies are proving inadequate. Emerging conditions have increased volatility, increased
uncertainty, increased complexity and increased ambiguity (VUCA world) [12]. Creating sustainable
competitive advantage through innovation became a centerpiece of strategy development. Economies are
increasingly knowledge-based and an organization’s value thus derived from their intellectual assets. As
such, creating value through the engagement of all stakeholders is paramount. Creating business
opportunities and value using the knowledge that resides within individuals and organizations is what
Interactive Planning is about.

Ackoff’s shift away from traditional OR gave birth to Interactive Planning as a construct flexible
enough to hold its value in a changing world [11]. This chapter presents the theoretical and
methodological background of Interactive planning in detail, including the philosophy of idealized design.
Systems thinking, which provides a useful starting point for understanding the methodological
requirements of such an approach, is reviewed. Also, the three components of the systems approach to
planning - treatment of an interactive problematical situation (mess), design as an approach to dealing
with complex problems, and intervention and ways of bringing about the desired future -- are discussed in
depth along with an explanation of the concept of organizational development.

Interactive Planning

Posted by ACASA on February 15, 2024 at 10:35 PM in Systems Articles | Permalink | Comments (0)