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Colin Johnson’s blog

Communicating out-of-the-Ordinary Decisions

All organisations need some way of handling situations that are out of the ordinary. Regardless of the complexity of an organisations (written or tacit) processes, there will be times when a situation occurs that is unusual; to take a simple example, consider a railway network when there is a broken down train.

In small organisations the decision taken can be communicated on an ad hoc basis as needed. But, in a large organisation such as the railway network, an ad hoc decision can require the cooperation of a number of actors in the system. For example, I have sometimes been told by someone at a station that it is okay to take a particular alternative route or a different train to the one that I was booked on to, only to find that the staff on the train make a different decision.

How could this be effectively communicated? The obvious solution is for the person making the ad hoc decision to communicate this to other actors that need to be involved. There are problems with this—if the communication is direct, then there is a difficulty of identifying the actors involved. If the communication is indirect—for example, by issuing the customer with a note to show to other people that are involved—then there is a problem with verification (how does the train ticket inspector know that the note allegedly from the duty manager at St. Pancras actually comes from there?).

I wonder if there is a case for some kind of online “blackboard” system where decisions such as this could be noted and then looked up by everyone within the organisation. This depends, of course, as to whether confidential information needs to be transmitted, but in many such cases, this is unlikely.

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