Considering uncertainty, awareness and ambiguity as a three-dimensional space – Boschetti (2020), Integration and Implementation Insights

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Considering uncertainty, awareness and ambiguity as a three-dimensional space – Integration and Implementation Insights

Considering uncertainty, awareness and ambiguity as a three-dimensional space

By Fabio Boschetti

author-fabio-boschetti
Fabio Boschetti (biography)

The concept of unknown unknowns highlights the importance of introspection in assessing knowledge. It suggests that finding our way in the set of known-knowns, known-unknowns, unknown-knowns and unknown-unknowns, reduces to asking:

  1. how uncertain are we? and
  2. how aware are we of uncertainty?

When a problem involves a decision-making team, rather than a single individual, we also need to ask:

  1. how do context and perception affect what we know?

This third question pertains to ambiguity, understood as the extent to which framing a problem differently (reflecting different assumptions, priorities, values or morals) may lead to different conclusions. The distinction between uncertainty and ambiguity is significant: more information can reduce uncertainty but not ambiguity, since the latter may bias how this information is processed.

None of the above three questions has a black or white answer: in real world problems we are never fully certain or fully uncertain, fully aware or fully unaware; rather answers span a continuum. Uncertainty, awareness and ambiguity thus have the flavour of geometrical dimensions: they define an abstract 3 dimensional space where our state of knowledge can be mapped.

These insights can be turned to practical use by making introspection operational. We can monitor how, not just what, we think in relation to each of the three axes by using simple checklists

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Considering uncertainty, awareness and ambiguity as a three-dimensional space – Integration and Implementation Insights