Improving understanding of unknown unknowns to support defence decision making

Adverse unintended consequences and nasty surprises are two potentially devastating outcomes of not understanding and/or managing critical uncertainties, unknowns and ignorance. Particularly challenging is making decisions in the face of what we don’t know we don’t know (unknown unknowns).

This project aims to:

  • support decision making on complex problems in defence by building a more solid and comprehensive understanding of unknown unknowns
  • stimulate synergies and fresh thinking about unknown unknowns by building connection, capacity and capability among researchers interested in such unknowns in defence-related and other areas.

The first stage of the project, currently underway, involves identifying around 20 participants with diverse, relevant perspectives on unknown unknowns. Participants are contributing blog posts to the i2Insights blog.

Subsequent stages (still to be funded) involve:

  • A discovery-based dialogue process, developed to bring together experts with diverse disciplinary, professional and practice perspectives on topics where they have previously had little interaction. This process has been successfully used in previous projects on unknowns, change, dealing with uncertainty in policing serious crime, and knowledge brokering.
  • Integration of the diverse perspectives, by expert synthesisers in defence, as well as in research on unknowns and cross-disciplinary, problem-based investigations.

Further projects are planned to investigate other aspects of unknowns including:

  • communicating unknowns
  • addressing unknowns through and in modelling
  • culturally diverse (non-western) approaches to unknowns
  • understanding and managing ignored unknowns arising in cross-disciplinary, problem-based investigations.

This project is a collaboration with Thitima Pitinanondha and Jane Holloway, Joint and Operations Analysis Division at Defence Science and Technology, Department of Defence.