By Mariusz Trawinski

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Efficiency implies ‘achieving intended outcomes with minimal wastage of resources’. Effectiveness implies ‘achieving valued outcomes’ whatever the resource implications. Ambiguity arises where pursuing efficiency comes at the expense of effectiveness or vice versa. The difference between efficiency and effectiveness may be illustrated as follows. Hypothesize a class of 20 students studying physics for an examination. Aptitudes for physics within the class differ and school staff must decide on their policy for presenting students for the exam.

Students could choose their courses. Goal ambiguity was embodied in this policy, because it was unpredictable whether most students would opt for vocational courses in line with the prime goal. When the college opened, a situational irony was indeed precipitated. The open-door policy produced the unintended consequence that most students chose to enrol for the transfer courses, only a few opting for terminal courses. Adjustments were made in staffing and structure to meet these unanticipated demands and formally both goals were maintained.

The ambiguity of incompatible perceptions and values about the same situation will be familiar to any teacher or headteacher who has arbitrated when students or colleagues come into conflict. The account offered by each protagonist seldom squares with that of his or her adversaries. Yet all protagonists were party to the same conflict. It is common experience that actions expressing contradictory beliefs and values can coexist without conflict, as long as actions according to one belief are kept separate from actions according to the other.

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