Relationship with welfare theory

In analysing the cases we searched for practical opportunities and advantages offered by the PII best practices for complex construction projects. However, there are also drawbacks to these practices. We would like now to take a look at two of these drawbacks often occurring in open group processes: the risk of exploitative behaviour and the risk of an unfair group optimum.

The risk of exploitative behaviour

The Open Design and Construct Management approach tends to ignore the risk that in the group (which consists of free, independent individuals), exploitative and parasitical behaviour might occur (Van den Doel, 1993). This is because the concept of openness assumes that cooperation is voluntary and that everyone will cooperate of his own volition. But there might be individuals who avoid making their contribution, or attempt to pass on the costs to others. Sub-groups might also form that try to 'vote down' those in the minority, or lend unfair weight to their own preferences. Openness in itself offers no opportunities for preventing this kind of behaviour, or curbing it once it has occurred.

To address this problem, welfare theorists devised a number of additions to the concept. The best known and most commonly used states that, once decisions on the production of collective goods and services and on the division of the costs of implementation have been taken, they must be declared binding on all members of the group. Everyone is thus forced to cooperate with the implementation of the decisions, and no one is able to avoid making his contribution. This will be acceptable to the individual members if they know that the decision-making process has been democratic, everyone has had his say, and the costs and benefits have been fairly divided.

However, it is often difficult to force people to implement decisions, even if all the conditions mentioned above have been met, particularly when it comes to larger groups. If the decisions have the support of only a small minority of the group, or if they have been taken by 'representatives' of the group who failed to convince the 'represented' - all the members of the group - of the merits of their choices, mutual cooperation can be enforced only by a strong (central) authority. Coercion of this type undermines the free and individual nature of methodological individualism.

Two other additions taken from welfare theory do not rely on a central authority (Pellikaan, 1994). One bases mutual cooperation on the social norms in the group and the associated mutual commitment between individuals. This could be sufficient to curb parasitical behaviour. The other bases mutual cooperation on the willingness of individuals to devote themselves to the whole only on a conditional voluntary basis. Here, individuals state when and under what conditions they are prepared not to act in an exploitative manner towards others.

These two additions also prove somewhat difficult in practice, particularly in pluralistic groups, where different norm systems are applied and individuals feel a commitment to several different sub-groups. Conflicts between norm systems can disrupt cooperation within the group. It is also difficult, in pluralistic groups, for individuals to see whether their conditions for participation have been met, particularly when it comes to complex issues. The absence of such an overview can hamper cooperation.

Some time later, welfare theorists came up with a fourth addition to the concept of openness. It is in fact an alternative to the other three and is referred to as the 'actor's viewpoint' (see Chapter 1 of Open Design, a Collaborative Approach to Architecture, page 12). The first three additions all assume that each individual is selfish and that this can only be kept in check by coercion from a central authority, and by morals and social norms. The actor's viewpoint holds that actors can also be cooperative without coercion, since when an individual strives for maximum utility he is not necessarily seeking to achieve selfish ends. People are not egoistic by definition (Pellikaan, 1994, p. 265). This implies that individuals have their own subjective preferences, their own vision of the best outcome and that in a group there will always be several orders of preference for one and the same distribution issue. It only becomes clear in practice whether mutual cooperation that appears difficult on paper actually turns out to be so in reality. And, conversely, an issue that appears perfectly straightforward on paper can turn out to be a problem in practice.

The risk of an unfair group optimum

The concept of openness makes no comment as to the ethical and social value of the group optimum. It does not allow us to say whether the actual level of welfare in a community and the actual distribution of scarce resources among its members is good or bad. It is not possible to make pronouncements on the fairness, justice and social value of the community's welfare at a particular moment on the basis of openness (Sen, 1995, p. 12). It also says nothing about the squandering of raw materials, uneven growth in welfare, or the social acceptability of the outcomes.

Welfare theorists initially sought solutions to these drawbacks in a more refined definition of collective welfare, incorporating into the criterion dimensions beyond the economic. But they continued to assume that the level of welfare in a community can be clearly and neutrally established, and that all the members of the community will therefore agree on what constitutes a change in welfare, whether it represents an increase or decrease of individual and collective welfare and whether the change is good and fair.

For this refined definition, the Pareto criterion is often used (Chapter 1 of Open Design, a Collaborative Approach to Architecture, page 13). This criterion is applied largely to issues where welfare is expressed in measurable economic units such as purchasing power, income, and possessions. It therefore offers little opportunity to involve aspects of welfare that cannot be unambiguously identified, such as cultural and historical value, ethics, and fashion.

It was eventually concluded that it was in principle impossible to make a substantive (normative) assessment of welfare purely on the basis of the individual utility criterion. The distinction between the economic view of human behaviour (man as homo economicus who seeks to maximise his own advantage) and the sociological view (man as homo sociologicus who is led by values, norms and ethics) had to be abandoned. The concept of welfare had to be expanded to include aspects other than utility, such as opportunity, distribution and cooperation. This was done in welfare theory on the basis of methodological individualism Sen (1995); Pellikaan (1994) (Chapter 1 of Open Design, a Collaborative Approach to Architecture, page 14).

In Open Design methodology, using this methodological individualism we have expanded Pareto's criterion, so that the benchmark is no longer the actual welfare of each individual, but the level of welfare each individual finds acceptable. This allows him to set his own limits during the process regarding what he regards as fair, balanced, and a good way of conserving what already exists. Since this methodology lies at the base of our PII practices, the drawback of the unfair group optimum can be prevented by involving this individual benchmark in Open Design and Construct Management.

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