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Using causal mapping with group support systems to elicit an understanding of failure in complex projects: Some implications for organizational research

Ackermann, F. and Eden, C. (2005) Using causal mapping with group support systems to elicit an understanding of failure in complex projects: Some implications for organizational research. Group Decision and Negotiation, 14 (5). pp. 355-376. ISSN 0926-2644

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Abstract

This paper reflects upon the use of causal mapping supported by a Group Support System (GSS) in a particular legal setting. The mapping method and GSS tool was used for the forensic analysis of eight major engineering and construction projects where the contractor intended to claim significant compensation (typically in excess of $20m). Necessarily detailed records were kept of every aspect of the analyses and processes adopted. This paper is an examination and reflection upon analysis of these records, with particular attention to the process. The task of capturing the way in which participants (witnesses) in a project 'make sense' of a cost and time overrun is an important aspect of forensic analysis as they have an experience based perspective, that has often involved dealing with high levels of complexity as projects move from planned order through to what they describe as "absolute chaos". In addition the requirement to account for, and be held responsible for, behaviors that that may in retrospect be seen as incompetent raises interesting issues in determining the validity of the data capture and analyses. Moreover, participants' views regarding the complex causality of outcomes, reflected in the causal map, are tested through the use of a simulation model replicating the causal map. The implications of this approach as a research method for undertaking organizational research are thus considered by drawing upon experiences of using the approach to develop the case for litigation in several disruption and delay claims. In particular the paper addresses the issues related to defensiveness of participants, anonymity, accessing multiple perspectives in a group setting, organizational learning and the 'changing of mind' of participants, and developing an organizational memory.