Applicative Context: Analysis and Diagnosis
Action Realm (Interaction Dictionary): Monitoring & Evaluation Realm


Diagnostics is the branch of a scientific or engineering discipline, or profession that deals with diagnosis. Diagnosis is the identification of the nature of anything, often a problem or illness, and usually involves the determination of cause and effect relationships and causal chains in the Operations Realm (Interaction Dictionary link). For some examples and tools used in medicine, science, engineering and business, see [1].

A diagnosis includes a logically consistent causal chain that accounts, as much as possible, for the facts that are observed. Such a causal story could be referred to as a syndrome . As a diagnosis is proposed or posited, its validity can be checked by deriving other symptoms that should be present (in the Operations Realm) if the proposed syndrome is true [3, p. 82].

Event Complexes

Linear, Reinforcing and Diminishing Event Chains

In nature, society and technology cause and effect relationships occur via a complex of events.

Where that reality involves one or a few forces, such events could have a linear, a reinforced cumulative, or a diminishing outcome. Consider for instance the chain of events in a row of domino stones, each one falling and pushing the next one out of balance. The root cause in this case is the pushing of the first stone, and the effect is the falling of all following stones, until the last stone has fallen. The event chain is linear. The stones could also be put such that each stone, when pushed in the right direction, hits two other stones. Depending on the arrangement of the stones (or snow on the slope of a hill), a small cause can have a big effect. In this case we talk about a reinforcing event chain. In a similar setting, by pushing a row of stones in the other direction (two hitting one), the event chain will be diminishing.

Likewise, by diagnosing a destructive chain of events ( usually it will be reinforcing), for instance an avalanche or rain-induced land-slide, there may be a root cause that could be addressed to prevent the destructive chain of events.

Virtuous and Vicious Cycles

Biological, social and technological processes have often a circular nature. This circular nature implies that events occur in loops. Again such events could be reinforcing, linear or diminishing. The circular nature of biological processes occurs in a context of balances of matter and energy, predator and prey, where resources are exchanged among eco-system participants. Where each participant's chain of events could be described as a cycle, the totality of chains is better described as a circular bundle or complex of events.

It is in the social processes that we classify outcomes as favourable, detrimental or status quo. A cycle is called virtuous when it diminishes detrimental outcomes, and it is called vicious when it reinforces detrimental outcomes. Both virtuous and vicious cycles will often also involve some "local-level" detrimentals or favourables, respectively. Also the totality of socio-technical processes is best described as a circular bundle or complex of events.

Polycentric Event Complexes

Society as a complex socio-technical eco-system involves reinforcing, linear or diminishing cycles of events. Multiple actors participate in these cycles, and each actor's interventions are guided by a range of rights, responsibilities, and restrictions with respect to controlled resources. The accepted resource-endowments and the power that actors derive from these (accountability and legitimacy) create a polycentric world [2] in which event complexes can be adjusted at multiple centers (of decision and policy).

Diagnostics in Polycentric Event Complexes

Diagnostics is concerned with identifying cause and effect relationships in event complexes.
Medicine, science (including social science), engineering and business focus on specific knowledge within delineated areas of reality.

"The predominant focus in research on organizations is either on private or public institutions without consistent consideration of their interdependencies."[4]

Few established models are applicable in socio-technical polycentric event complexes. Yet, there are several promising initiatives. Below a list with some recent advances.

Growth Diagnostics

The decision-tree based techniques of growth diagnostics facilitate an approach to economic policy that is much more contingent on the economic environment; how the nature of the binding constraints on economic activity differs from setting to setting[5].

Measuring Sustainable Development

Several United Nations agencies and multi-nation statistics organisations are enlarging the scope of their data collection and publishing to enable more comprehensive diagnostic activities.

For details the reader is referred to [6]. Tasks that have been addressed include:

  • Articulate a broad conceptual framework for sustainable development measurement, with as starting point the concept of capital, extending it where it would be insufficient from a conceptual standpoint;
  • Identify the broad domains that good indicator sets should span;
  • Develop a menu of good sustainable development indicators in order to help governments and international organizations when they are designing indicator sets;
  • Identify a small set of indicators from the menu that might become the core for international comparisons;
  • Identify basic data systems necessary for a small set of indicators and identify their possible sources (existing or new statistical surveys, administrative records, information derived from environmental monitoring systems);
  • Discuss the relationship between integrated environmental and economic accounts and sustainable development indicators.

Competitive Sustainable Industry

Jovane et al (2008) [7] propose a reference model for proactive action (RMfPA) to develop and implement competitive sustainable manufacturing (CSM) at national and global levels. At the macro–meso–field level, they address the sustainable development challenge in the multifaceted context of economy, society, environment and technology. They review ongoing national initiatives in different countries and by international organizations.

Institutional Gaps

In any emerging economy, the socio-technical landscape is an important determinant of private sector development where the public sector, informed by suitable growth theories, can invest in specific assets.

Drawing upon the multi-level conceptualization of socio-technical change processes and faced with the global sustainability challenge, Morioka et al (2006) [8] have proposed a technology transition management framework to manage technology transition through the interaction of technology push, demand pull and institutional design. The triangle in the figure below depicts interdependencies between private and public institutions.

This figure instantiates Morioka's framework for demand-supply interactions in an expanding socio-technical landscape. Where material-economy institutions have achieved fitness over the past centuries, this fitness does not necessarily scale to emerging forms of resource-exchanges and their supporting essential facilities [9]. An institutional gap regarding the knowledge-interactions is conjectured: demand-supply interactions in information and knowledge markets are problematic.

Collaborative Diagnostics

Collaborative diagnostics is causal analysis that spans multiple socio-technical levels and involves representatives of these levels.

Closer investigation of socio-technical change has highlighted the existence of a meso or sectoral level (see meso) between the corporation (micro) and the government (macro).

The importance of human beings, their rights (The Universal Declaration of Human Rights), capacities and needs (see pico ) justifies explicit attention for them as well.

Representations (models) of causal chains that span multiple socio-technical levels are a valuable tool for fact-finding, for the articulation of factors and constraints, and in the search for intervention options.

The Mindbook on doing growth diagnostics [3] describes and illustrates several principles and techniques that could be utilized also in producing valid collaborative diagnoses. The following five step collaborative process is inspired by the mindbook:

  1. describe the process (object system) of interest and determine relevant questions
  2. go through a differential diagnosis1
  3. posit a syndrome
  4. test further implications, corroborate evidence of the syndrome
  5. iterate (3) and (4) until the participants converge


For actors at each level, the table distinguishes (endogeneous) factors (these can be controlled by the actor), and exogeneous factors that are out of (immediate) control of the actor. Factors that are exogeneous for one actor, may be determined by endogeneous factors of actors in "lower rows." For the case behind this table, see [10]2.

The VAT-ERP case illustrates causal analysis spanning multiple socio-technical levels, with contents validated by the stakeholders.

Scientific research would be instrumental in validating hypotheses on causal relationships between factors controlled by or constraining particular actors.

.. and Policy and Therapeutics?

It is important to re-emphasize that a collaborative diagnostics capability is neutral3 regarding the question of what is detrimental and favourable in the event complexes (incl. problem messes), and the implied constraints and preferences for policies and interventions.

Via its monitoring and evaluation scope (objective and indicators), the decision frame determines whether an event complex is a problem mess or not. The diagnosis that identifies the causal chains is only one input into the governance activity. Via the listed constraints and variables, the decision frame will also delimit the therapeutic options (collaborative therapeutics).

In a group, the collective decision frame will embody the (cumulative) judgement on what is detrimental and favourable for the group. The collective decision frame captures the value constellation adopted by the group-members, inherited from their "fathers and mothers", aligned in dialogue with their relations and constituencies. In the modern democratic society, the heritage includes a constitution of the government whose powers are mandated by the electoral vote.

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