Strategic options development and analysis

Ackermann, Fran and Eden, Colin; Reynolds, Martin and Holwell, Sue, eds. (2020) Strategic options development and analysis. In: Systems Approached to Making Change. Springer: Dordrecht, London, pp. 139-200. ISBN 978-1-4471-7472-1

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Strategic Options Development and Analysis (SODA) enables a group or individual to construct a graphical representation (map) or a problematic situation, and thus explore options and their ramifications with respect to a complex system of goals or objectives. In addition the approach aims to help groups arrive at a negotiated agreement about how to act to resolve the situation. It is based upon the use of causal mapping – a formally constructed means-ends network. Because the map has been constructed using the natural language of the problem owners it becomes a model of the situation that is ‘owned’ by those who define the problem. The use of formalities for the construction of the model makes it amenable to a range of analyses encouraging reflection and a deeper understanding. These analyses can be used in a ‘rough and ready’ manner by visual inspection or through the use of specialist causal mapping software. Each of the analyses helps a group or individual discover important features of the problem situation. And these features facilitate agreeing a good solution. The SODA process is aimed at helping a group learn about the situation they face before they reach agreements. Most significantly the exploration through the causal map leads to a higher probability of more creative solutions and promotes solutions that are more likely to be implemented because the problem construction process is more likely to include richer social dimensions about the blockages to action and organizational change. The basic theories that inform SODA derive from cognitive psychology and social negotiation, where the model acts as a continuously changing representation of the problematic situation (a transitional object) – changing as the views of a person or group shift through learning and exploration. This chapter jointly written by two leading practitioner academics and the original developers of SODA, Colin Eden and Fran Ackermann, describe the SODA approach as it is applied in practice.