Knowledge Scarcity and Decision Making in the Turks and Caicos
I write this from the M/S Carnival Liberty cruise ship, somewhere in the Atlantic, headed to Miami. I should have taken three flights Thursday (yesterday) and reached San Francisco by midnight. A civil servant strike in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), a British Overseas Territory, indefinitely shut down the airport and made my group make some decisions. A couple of us went for the certain outcome of reaching home by Saturday night and thanks to cell phones and Carnival's helpful booking staff, we're on our way. (Carnival doesn't usually allow passengers to jump aboard an on-going cruise, but the combination of an empty room and the strike circumstance made this exception.) Why choose the certainty of getting home two days later than planned versus taking the chance that we might get home the next day? Knowledge scarcity. We were able to use Skype to talk to the airlines and follow Twitter for the locals' perspective on the situation (the government didn't seem to be tweeting, blogging, or otherwise providing information). Our local connections were relaying information from their friends and relatives involved in the sickout. They told us that this was a first. The TCIs are not known for work stopages and this was a political strike based on pay and pension issues with the interim government (the United Kingdom suspended part of the TCI Constitution in 2009). There was no indication that the parties were negotiating and prior attempts to reconcile had not worked. As much as I might complain about U.S. non-stop news analysis before hard information is available, this void gave us nothing to work with. The ship was at dock. They would let us on and so we went. Two kinds of knowledge scarcity were at play. The first was cultural: This was a strike outside of our home environment and it was the first of its kind even for the locals. We weren't in a position to interpret the activities nor was there precedence for the locals to pass along. The second kind of knowledge scarcity was more basic: news feeds, or the lack thereof. Local radio wasn't providing any additional information. Google searches, Google News and the like had nothing. Twitter and the blogging that it could point to were our sole sources. Usually I write about balancing the different dimensions of technology tools, organizational practice, and human capabilities. I often think of this as a mixing, like you might do with a sauté or audio mixing board. In this case, the pan would have been empty and the mixing board keys all pushed to their lowest settings. There was nothing to work with. Extreme examples are often useful to challenge our understandings. My understanding of the United Kingdom's authority relationships with the TCI was shown to be non-existant. Will this be a chance for the TCI to re-establish local-rule? I have no idea, but I wish them the best. My understanding of my ability to be informed was shown to be weak. While I often argue for being prepared for the information environment when you travel to new locations, this particular instance took me unawares. I had access to the global network, but the relevant local issues were barely represented. Similar to Egypt and other settings, Twitter and Facebook were playing some role for the civil servants, but I think the overall use of these platforms was low on this seven square mile island. Direct conversations I expect were the main means of communication and of course we were not privy to those. Follow-up: The strike ended Friday. The friend who took the risk made it as far as the main airport in Providenciales but, due to the backlog of passengers and the added complications of the jet fuel fire at Miami International, won't get home until Sunday. The certain choice seems to have been the best for me. I spent the time knowing I'd make it to class on Monday. The on-board multi-loop water slide was just icing on the cake.