Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Reading :: Naturalistic Decision Making

Naturalistic Decision Making
Edited by Caroline E. Zsambok and Gary Klein

This book was originally published in 1994 based on the Second Naturalistic Decision Making Conference that year. It was reprinted in 2009.

Naturalistic decision making (NDM), as Caroline Zsambok argues in Chapter 1 ("Naturalistic Decision Making: Where are We Now?"), "is the way people use their experience to make decisions in field settings" (p.4, her emphasis). NDM studies suggest that "the processes and strategies of 'naturalistic' decision making differ from those revealed in traditional field research" (p.4). For instance, in NDM, "the focus of the decision event is more front-loaded, so that decision makers are more concerned about sizing up the situation and refreshing their situation awareness through feedback"—in contrast with traditional decision making, which "emphasizes understanding the back end of the decision event—choosing among options" (p.4).

Key contextual factors of NDM, Zsambok says (quoting Orasanu & Connaly, 1993), are:

  1. "Ill-structured problems"
  2. "Uncertain, dynamic environments"
  3. "Shifting, ill-defined, or competing goals"
  4. "Action/feedback loops"
  5. "Time stress"
  6. "High stakes"
  7. "Multiple players"
  8. "Organizational goals and norms" (p.5)
We can see how these relate to Klein's later books, which are reviewed on this blog. Interestingly, many (especially 4) are also related to John Boyd's OODA loop, with potential interaction between these two lines of inquiry. (It looks like this connection has been explored somewhat in the literature.) Zsambok also notes the connections with research on expertise (p.9) and the difference between cognitive and behavioral task analysis (p.13; see also Crandall et al.). 

Gary Klein discusses applications of NDM in Chapter 5, "An Overview of Naturalistic Decision Making Applications." Here, he notes that "The initial impetus behind the NDM movement was to describe what people do, whereas the motivation behind traditional decision research was to improve the way people made decisions" (p.49). NDM research "tries to describe the strategies proficient decision makers are doing, and does not yet have any central claims about what might led to implications for improving decision quality" (p.50). (Klein later felt comfortable producing such claims, leading to his string of books.) He identifies reasons that NDM might be better applied to decision quality than traditional approaches:
  • "Classical methods do not apply in many naturalistic settings."
  • "Experienced decision makers can be used as standards for performance."
  • "Naturalistic Decision Making tries to build on the strategies people use."
  • "Experience lets people generate reasonable courses of action."
  • "Situation awareness may be more critical than deliberating about alternative courses of action."
  • "Decision requirements are context specific." (p.50)
Zsambok takes up this theme in Chapter 11, "Naturalistic Decision Making Research and Improving Team Decision Making." Based on research, she asserts that good decision-making teams "monitor their performance and self-correct; offer feedback; maintain awareness of roles and functions and take action consistent with that knowledge; adapt to changes in the task or the team; communicate effectively; converge on a shared understanding of their situation and course of action; anticipate each others' actions or needs; and coordinate their actions" (p.112). NDM field studies validate these assertions (p.112) and specifically the idea that teams share mental models (p.113). 

In Chapter 13, "Cognitive Task Analysis," Sallie E. Gordon and Richard T. Gill argue for cognitive task analysis as opposed to behavioral task analysis. Whereas BTA focuses on what people do externally, CTA attempts to capture their cognitive work as well (p.132). CTA analysts try to capture a subset of these:
  • "Concepts and principles, their interrelationships with each other, and their relationship to the task(s)."
  • "Goals and goal structures"
  • "Cognitive skills, rules, strategies, and plans."
  • "Perceptual learning, pattern recognition, and implicit or tacit knowledge."
  • "Mental models"
  • "Problem models"
  • "How novices move through all of the above in various stages to become expert."
  • "Difficulties in acquiring domain knowledge and skills."
  • "Instructional procedures useful for moving a person from novice to expert." (p.132)
In all, this was a useful look at how NDM researchers were positioning their approach against traditional decision making in 1994. We can see here why Klein positions his subsequent books the way he does, specifically pursuing CTA in field studies. We readers from other fields, especially those with a strong field research tradition, may find it odd that some of these arguments have to be made—but the way in which they are made helps us to understand how NDM developed in the subsequent years. 

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