Dealing with Complex Social Problems: The Potential of the "Decision Seminar."

by Garry D. Brewer


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The "decision seminar," a creation of Harold Lasswell, is designed to permit a group of specialists to integrate their knowledge to deal with a complex policy problem. Its overriding purpose is to translate a decisionmaking context into terms that make it understandable and that suggest ameliorative action. Specific procedures are prescribed. Starting with simple, relatively abstract games and verbal-visual scenarios of plausible policy innovations, seminar members move to "field tests" and controlled experimentation, finally arriving at policy recommendations. Participants represent diverse area specialties, methodological skills, and viewpoints (academic, policymaking). Emphasis is on the use of critical imagination, methodological flexibility, and orientation to the future. Decision seminars typically extend over several years, and the author recounts the experience of several already held on political development. The discussion concludes with a look at strategies to sharpen insights, narrow the problem, assign institutional responsibility, and manage data.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Paper series. The paper was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1948 to 2003 that captured speeches, memorials, and derivative research, usually prepared on authors' own time and meant to be the scholarly or scientific contribution of individual authors to their professional fields. Papers were less formal than reports and did not require rigorous peer review.

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