Sunday, January 06, 2013

Acts 27 test 1, F/N: On drawing biblically rooted lessons for democratic governance, government and corporate decision-making from Ac 27

The angel and the devil on the shoulder . . .
(whose report will we believe, HT)
One of the things about Ac 27 that leaps out at me is how much, how deeply, it speaks to how we make collective decisions in light of the counsels of wisdom and folly. This, I stressed last time.

And indeed, I have used this case as a management training study on decision-making. Even, suggesting how the centurion -- Julius [cf. Ac 27:1 etc.] -- could have made a better-quality decision by making the kubernete (steersman/ pilot) and Paul explicitly lay out possible scenarios for what could happen (probably: fair weather holds, a storm hits and closes sailing, we get a too-short favourable wind before a storm hits, or the like), then assigning odds to the state of nature. 

To do that, a subjective, crude probability distribution could be constructed by comparing to familiar things like the odds of tossing a six at dice (1/6), or getting heads or tails at coin tossing (1/2), or getting two heads on a run (1/4), or tossing a double-six with two dice (1/36). An estimate on possible gains and losses under these scenarios and odds can then guide prudent decision-making and expose foolish decisions.

In effect, you would be laying out a so-called payoff table for a game with nature, and could then estimate the value or acceptability of outcomes. Since loss of life as well as of livelihood would be in the stakes, the prudent path would be fairly obvious:

Laid out in cold detail like that, even before feeding in estimates of probability, the reckless nature of option B jumps out. This points to the importance of honest and frank, realistic discussion of alternatives, trends and possibilities in making sound -- and genuinely sustainable (because, they are built to be robust against the range of possible states of the world and to participatively take into account the needs and concerns of the full range of relevant stakeholders . . . ) -- democratic, governmental, administrative and managerial decisions.

(However, it is often helpful to try to quantify the odds. A useful place to begin would be to set out the range of credibly possible state of the world scenarios, and in absence of info otherwise, use the indifference rule of thumb to assign a flat distribution as a first estimate; here: 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 for the three reasonable states of nature. Then, the experienced and knowledgeable can be put through a process of elicitation to estimate acceptable subjective probabilities.  Say, since it is from mid-November that things would be "suicide," then we can suggest that the really dangerous possibility is of low but not negligible probability; as a next pass we could adjust to 1/6, and put the extra 1/6 to the most favourable state. This can be done in various ways, but by pushing around slices of odds, we can come to a reasonable balance that the experienced are willing to live with. If the first pass was good enough, we would have state 1: probability 3/6, state 2: 2/6, state 3: 1/6.  We can then attach a value-weighting to the outcomes, whether monetary or some sort of weighted score that balances different aspects, leading to a calculable expected value of the outcome on each main decision alternative. That can in many cases then guide decisions, especially where all expected outcomes under consideration are profitable. However, in cases where there are seriously adverse possibilities, the better strategy is the game theory rule of minimising regrets, i.e. the minimax rule so that the least potentially harmful option is selected. Those who know Pascal's Wager argument will understand the way this rule applies: take the most prudent decision in light of possible outcomes and decision alternatives, in the face of risk and uncertainty. Uncertainty being, the case where we do not have enough info to assign even a crude probability estimate as above. Of course, in the actual case it is evident that the owner overvalued the favourable outcomes and undervalued the less favourable ones, so he manipulated the situation towards taking undue risk. Ignoring the least regrets, minimax principle can be quite costly.)

And, in this light, Ac 27 stands out as an excellent cautionary tale on the challenges of making wise decisions in the face of the hidden manipulations of powerful interest groups and agendas in a world that may contain adverse possibilities and trends beyond our control.

 Indeed, we can picture the sort of decision-making challenge we face by adapting the Bariloche Foundation of Argentina's scenario-based planning approach (as was done in the 2002 JTS/CGST Public Ethics Lecture [PDF of slide show]):

For instance, an excellent technique is to use a wall sized chart of the above diagram, and to introduce the framework to a meeting of stakeholders then to circulate paper strips and markers to groups to fill in details for the blocks, then discussing and finalising a developed version. Documentation then is easily done by snapping pictures and taking videos if appropriate. From this sort of overall, general assessment of major options, issues and trends, a working team can then be set the task of developing a strategy in consultation with experts then the result can come back to the forum and onwards go to the public for input, leading to a strategy that has broad participation and reflects prudent decision-making in a democratic context. Where also at milestones, there should be regular onward reporting.

A plan for an initiative can be done, using the Log Frame approach:

(A set of related step by step worksheets that groups can use for not-for profit purposes is here. Cf. handbook here. Note, my worksheets adapt the framework to the use of the implementer rather than the donor and monitoring agency, by emphasising the critical success factor concept and contingency planning in light of estimated degree of risk for the assumptions.)

But, I am astonished at how rare it is that the lessons of Acts 27 are drawn out as a way to prepare Christian disciples -- cf here on discipleship -- for citizenship, leadership, and management, or as a more general godly wisdom driven, scripturally rooted (though not necessarily verse quoting, cf. Paul at Athens in Ac 17 . . . ) counsel to the community as an expression of godly, prophetic, cultural, intellectual and/or community leadership that calls to prudence, repentance from folly and towards reformation.

Indeed, I am led to wonder if we are taking the aspect of our mandate of discipleship that we are to teach the nations to live under Christ's teachings sufficiently seriously.

Let me pause, and share my thoughts on the four R's of revival and reformation, as I shared through the old Caribbean Challenge magazine, in 1999: 

I trust this will give a helpful context for onward reflections.

Notwithstanding the above concerns, I have found two useful links on Ac 27 that I think will well repay study: here and here.

Let us think about our responsibilities of leadership as God's spokesmen in the community, tasked to seek the good of the community under God and to sound the trumpet-blast of warning as Ezekiel so aptly pointed out. END


F/N: The Kairosfocus reference site links and resources page here, has some relevant onward readings that may well repay browsing or even perusal:
2.4) The Four R's of Revival: The draft book, "Why Not Now?"discusses Repentance, Renewal, Revival, and Reformation in the Caribbean, towards transformational change and godly development as a David Generation emerges into leadership. (It is based on a series of articles published in the Caribbean Challenge magazine, in 1999 - 2000.) [PDF version.] . . . .
2.10) Conversion, Discipleship, Reformation & Development hopes/betrayal: Some . . .  activists blame "fundies" for Jamaica's backwardness, and have even suggested that evangelicals have betrayed Jamaica's hopes for "liberation,"economic growth and truly sustainable development. I responded by writing/submitting: (1) a letter to the editor and (2) a series of short articles. The Vatican's 1984 encyclical on Liberation Theology is also quite instructive -- and refreshingly evangelical in tone. The notes on Government under God will also be of help.
 (I trust these onward links will be helpful.)