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Managing the \"Known Unknowns\"

; (). Managing the \"Known Unknowns\": a Multiple Case Study. In: 15th IRSPM-Conference. Dublin/Ireland:

In a highly complex and constantly changing environment, public administration faces the challenge of anticipating the unexpected to fulfill their duties in a highly reliable, efficient and effective manner. Unexpected are not only the « unknown unknowns » (Longstaff, 2005) but also the « known unknowns » of organizations acting in complex political networks. This article supports the view that in practice managing the ?know unknowns? is at least as relevant as managing the ?unknown unknowns?.

In an ongoing study, several cases in which risks have recently affected the public government and administration in Switzerland have been analyzed by using the reports of the Control Committees of the Parliament (CC) which is mandated to exercise parliamentary oversight of the activities of the Government and the Administration.

Tracking back to the roots of the risks we identify a combination of three main aspects that are shared by almost all cases: lack of leadership; lack of organizational structure; lack of information, communication and documentation. The failures were often related not to management of the « unknown unknowns » but rather the « known unknowns ». In addition these aspects are to be found in horizontal and vertical levels within the organization as well as in the relations towards the external network.

Improvement of risk management in the public sector should therefore not search exclusively for the « unknown unknowns » but also how to address the « known unknown » in daily business within the organization and the relevant external networks.