The Decision Arena, transforming data into knowledge in conceptual design

The Decision Arena, transforming data into knowledge in conceptual design

One success factor in engineering design is the ability to make effective and risk-managed decisions in a timely manner. Rarely is a single person sufficient to resolve today’s complex, connected issues. Rather, a group of stakeholders possessing required expert knowledge needs to be enrolled as these issues normally requires a wide variety of expert competences, transcending traditional disciplines. Where this previously was a question of being able to resolve trade-offs regarding design and development of the pure physical artefact it is now a complex ambiguity game involving all disciplines touching a solution during its lifecycle, due to the movement towards integrated product-service solutions. Hence making the problem even more pronounced.

This challenge is tackled in ongoing research within the project Model Driven Development Decision Support (MD3S) at the Product Development Research Lab (PDRL) of Blekinge Institute of Technology (BTH). The hypothesis of this research is that the ability to gather this normally diverse group of stakeholders (domain experts) in a collaborative setting, encompassing a broader representation of knowledge and values in decision scenarios, will augment decision making ability in early design.

The proposed solution is a model-driven environment for collaborative decision making, a Decision Arena (Model Driven Decision Arena – MDDA). In the decision arena the stakeholder group interact with each other using models to generate and gather relevant data for the problem at hand. By communicating, sharing knowledge and values aided by data analysis and visualization constructs that provide capability to understand, contrast and compare, the group transform data into knowledge.

The team evaluates design proposals and navigates through the often vast design space by playing out potential usage scenarios and investigating cause and effect relationships. This experimentation is done by manipulating models through graphical user interfaces, enabling also non-expert to actively participate. This intended human-in-the-loop decision scenario allows to embrace the design by shopping paradigm to design.

Work on conceptualizing, developing, and testing the decision theater is done through several cases from different industry sectors in Sweden. Through the successive implementation of new industrial cases a generic simulation scheme based on Value-Driven Design (VDD) has evolved. VDD uses a single objective function, as so-called value function, to measure the “goodness” of the design. As indicated by the figure below, VDD aggregates the multidisciplinary models of function and cost, evaluated by adding business and contextual data, into a ‘value model’. More on VDD in general and research conducted by the PDRL team in particular can be found here.

The development of the decision theater is ongoing and will be one of PDRLs main research focuses the coming years.


More details about the environment and the test cases can be found in following research publications:


Professor Tobias Larsson

Assistant Professor Johan Wall, project manager for the decision theater

Associate Professor Marco Bertoni

Assistant Professor Alessandro Bertoni

Assistant Professor Christian Johansson Askling


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