UBC Graduate Research

ALPACA : A Phenomenological Approach to Decision Making for Outdoor Educators Ladner, Christopher


This conceptual analysis researched what an outdoor educator needed from a decision making model. Current outdoor decision making models have been borrowed from other disciplines and rarely encompassed all an outdoor educator required for creating optimal decisions in their unique environments. This analysis was done through a review of the literature, narrative inquiries in the literature, communications with ten outdoor education experts, my personal reflections on thirty years of teaching outdoor programs, plus a framework called the States of Matter Analysis (SOMA). SOMA applied the physical characteristics of the four states of matter (solid, liquid, gas, and plasma) and made analogies to help define, create meaning, judge and value, and seek inspiration from the decision making components. The six components for an appropriate, applicable, and authentic decision model for outdoor educators emerged as: assensement (assessing using the senses), leadership, place, avoidance of hazards, communication, and action. These components became a decision making model with the acrostic mnemonic of ALPACA. ALPACA was divided into perception, processes, and performance reflecting the three stages of contemporary decision models (Endsley, 1997; Klein, 1993). Perception leading to situational awareness was identified in decision models used in naturalistic environments, yet no model prescribed why or how a decision maker perceived phenomenon. This project proposed that a phenomenological approach to understanding how sensory data was cognitively processed, with the intentions of those cognitions, and the affordances of phenomena, were instrumental for attaining optimal situational awareness. The processes of leadership, place, avoidance, and communication were initially suggested in a British Canoe Union (2006) model and were described and expanded. Performance strategies authentic to an outdoor educator’s context were noticeably lacking in existing outdoor decision models. The research found the Cynefin framework (Snowden & Kurtz, 2003), from outside the outdoor literature, was determined to be the most appropriate and applicable decision model for outdoor educators. The ALPACA decision model’s six components were designed as a tool for training novice outdoor educators for holistic and pragmatic decision making using a phenomenological approach.

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