Abstract: Ambiguity, the existence of multiple plausible (though possibly contested) ways of making sense of the characteristics of decision situations, can present significant difficulties for a wide range of risk management tasks. We will argue that ambiguity is present in risk management situations to a far greater extent that is commonly appreciated. The concept of ambiguity has arisen in different forms across disciplinary literatures and domains of practice. In this paper, we situate our experience of finding ways of supporting planning and decision-making processes concerned with ambiguous risks in the context of those wider perspectives. Our own efforts have employed a hybrid form of problem structuring methods (drawn from operational research and management science) and ethnography (drawn from sociology and anthropology). These engagements with organisational and inter-organisational risk management issues have led us to recognise that ‘untangling’ otherwise intractable risk management problems may be regarded, in some sense, as a therapeutic process. In this paper, we develop this therapeutic interpretation of the untangling of collective ambiguities using illustrations from a concrete problem situation. We set this therapeutic reading of decision processes in the context of wider perspectives, including those drawn from Habermas’ theorisation of communication, the sociology of science and the literature on citizen engagement and deliberation processes.
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