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Distributed Decision Making: Report of a Workshop INTRODUCTION The distribution of information, authority, personnel, and resources is part of the reality facing military units, companies with dispersed sales forces, forest fire fighters, diplomatic services, and negotiating teams. In addition to daunting logistics and other technical problems, these organi- zations face fundamental difficulties in making and coordinating decisions that will serve the interests of both the organization as a whole and the individuals within it. Part of this problem is the tension between the need to control the individuals involved and the need to let Hem respond to the demands of their own immediate situations; part is the difficulty of trans- lating overall objectives into terms that will be meaningful in the diverse concrete situations encountered throughout the organization; and part is the challenge of creating incentive systems that will properly motivate personnel. Recent changes in technology have considerably complicated these tasks. Some of these changes have been exogenous, such as Increases in the complexity of an organ~tion's environment and the speed of response demanded by it. Neither a fleet threatened by high-speed missiles, nor a multinational corporation facing round-the-clock financial trading has the opportunities for internal consultation and coordination that it might have had in a slower age. Some of these changes are endogenous, reflecting new capabilities for transmitting information to local units and monitoring their behavior. These pressures and possibilities come from developments such as teleconferencing, electronic mail, satellite communications, shared databases, and the online monitoring of employees at video display termi- nals. The hope of human factors research is to anticipate and understand 1
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2 DISTRIBUTED DECISION MAKING these changes, in order to shape the design of both the technologies and the organizations that must accommodate them. Human factors research looks at design and performance issues involv- ing the interface between people and machines. Examples include creating effective workstations, developing communications protocols, selecting and training operators, designing displays to reveal the current status of an in- dustrial facility, and evaluating the human side of system performance. The Committee on Human Factors has produced reports on topics as diverse as aircraft simulators, simulator sickness, multicolor displays, mental models, the safety of nuclear power plants, and computer-aided design of helicopter pilot workstations. Each problem requires the skills of somewhat differ- ent mixes of the professions contributing to human factors, which include psychology, industrial engineering, physical anthropology, applied math- ematics, training, and sociology. Each requires collaboration with other specialists knowledgeable about the environment in which people perform their tasks Distributed decision-making systems require the full range of this expertise. Taking military command and control as an example, there is the need to design system components as diverse as communications protocols, symbolic computer displays, filing (and retrieval) schemes for contingency plans, minimally disruptive maintenance schedules, procedures for updating key personnel, specifications for when it is permissible to override computerized controls, and rules for rewarding (or disciplining) personnel. Although the particulars will be very different, roughly the same tasks can be found in setting up an air traffic control system, an integrated forest fire fighting system, a 911 telephone emergency system, an international commodities trading system, or a carrier-based naval task force. The differences among these systems clearly call for particularized sub- stantive expertise; however, the similarity of their functions and challenges creates the opportunity to study distributed decision-making systems as a general phenomenon. These commonalities come in part from the demands posed by life in organizations (e.g., coordination, discipline, allocation of resources), and in part from the environment created by the technologies shared by many such systems. Although experts in certain disciplines may take the leading role in various aspects of system design, it is characteristic of these systems that they require information from a range of disciplines. For example, al- though operations researchers might be able to calculate the capacity of communications channels given particular communications protocols (e.g., specifying message length and frequency), their predictions will be inaccu- rate unless they have some estimate of how frequently users will ask to have messages repeated or decide that there is nothing really worth reporting.