Can Bratton Save New York? Part 2: Who are the Players?


Last week, we published the first in our seven-part series exploring the tensions between the NYPD and Mayor Bill de Blasio. In Part 1, we introduced the events that led to protests and an on-the-job strike, and DSX, the methodology we’re using to analyze the events. DSX’s seven steps are divided into three stages: Diagnosis, Strategy and Execution. This week we continue our diagnosis process in Step 2: Map the Players.

Needless to say, if we want to get somewhere, we need to know where we are. And, in complex situations, different players will likely have varying perspectives on the conflict. This week’s goal is to understand who the players are and what their sense is of the conflict. We’ll do this by asking two key questions:

  1. Who are the key players that each have a stake in this situation?

  2. What is each player’s perspective on the root cause of the conflict?

There are two outcomes from this step: a faction map outlining the key players and a working hypothesis of the challenge, incorporating these different viewpoints.

Adaptive vs. Technical

As we start to decouple the conflict from the challenge, it is critical to highlight the distinction between Technical Problems and Adaptive Challenges. We find this distinction so important that it was the entire topic of a prior piece NBC's Real Failure was not Williams'. To summarize, a technical problem is one where the expertise required to solve a problem already exists. This means a process has been developed, a manual has been written, or an expert can be called. Technical problems can range from simple to complex, but the test is the same: the know-how exists. Solving it largely becomes a tactical exercise. Recall the process or engage the expert.

Conversely, adaptive challenges have no ready-made answer. They have never been solved within the current context or with the current set of stakeholders. What’s more, adaptive challenges are elusive to identify. As opposed to technical problems that are easy to spot, adaptive challenges are nebulous. They’re more like wispy specters that creep up on you. Adaptive challenge requires a group of stakeholders (or even an entire organization) to make systematic changes in their behavior.

Using a technical fix for an adaptive issue is one of the most common, and most costly, mistakes. For a solution to be sustaining, we have to ensure we are solving the right problem. Otherwise, it’s destined to return.

The fact that this is at least the seventh Mayoral administration that has had a dysfunctional relationship with the NYPD leads us to believe that it is not a technical problem. It has persisted because it is adaptive, immune to technical fixes. A long-lasting, sustainable solution is only possible after a more accurate diagnosis.

Step 2: Map the Players

Pinpointing the challenge can be tricky when trying to diagnose the root cause because it is only the symptoms that present themselves. And, the symptoms can be very loud. So, Step 2 in DSX is to Map the Players. In other words, who are the groups of people who will be critical to solve the problem? The basic assumption is that these challenges are held in place by an elegant web of pressures. People in the system apply these pressures. So, start with the players.

We begin by listing every group that has a perspective on this issue and then start narrowing down to a more concentrated group of factions. A faction, for our purposes, is a group of people that are bound by a particular perspective on the issue. They will likely be similar in other ways too. They might be the same age or live in the same place, but this is not a requirement. The only requirement is that they have a similar perspective on the problem. Here is our faction map.

A faction map displaying the stakeholders who have a vested interest in the challenge. Faction maps help focus the perspectives on an issue to assist in diagnosing the underlying challenge.

A faction map displaying the stakeholders who have a vested interest in the challenge. Faction maps help focus the perspectives on an issue to assist in diagnosing the underlying challenge.


If you are looking at our map and thinking that several of them don’t conform to our definition of a faction, you are correct. We have identified the five overarching factions, understanding that each may have sub-factions. As we continue, we will explore the sub-factions to see which ones are material to the analysis.

Develop a Working Theory

Once we’ve identified the different groups that each have a perspective on the issue, we ask the sweeping question: What do we think is really going on here? Put another way, what larger, more systemic issue could be causing the conflict that we’re seeing? This question gets to the root cause of the conflict. If we can attack the root cause, we can find a permanent solution. Finally, we used a three-question test to hone in on the challenge:

  1. Is the challenge one level above the conflict?

  2. Would all the factions agree on the challenge?

  3. Is the challenge actionable by the client (something he/she can do something about)?

We started by attempting to express what the problem is from the perspective of a sample of the factions:



Mayor de Blasio






There is an abuse of police power by the NYPD.

The Mayor has been against the NYPD since his campaign and, thus, tacitly encourages anti-police violence.

Black and Hispanic men and women are unfairly profiled and targeted by the NYPD


When developing a theory, it is important to understand that there will be challenges at different levels. Each of these theories has merit. They are each larger systemic issues that could result in tensions between the NYPD and the Mayor. But, they’re at such a high level of abstraction little progress could be made by this group of players. Remember, our client in this analysis is Commissioner Bratton. The purpose of our debate was to bring each of the points of view within one level up from the conflict to create a single statement with which all parties would agree.  

After brainstorming and much debate, we agreed on:

The underlying challenge is a fracture in accountability, specifically how it relates to the use of force and in cases of an abuse of authority.

We believe a challenge in accountability produced the conflict that shook New York. There needs to be more alignment on accountability, as in, a common understanding and renewed confidence that those who strayed from accepted police procedures would be held accountable. There is a crack in the checks & balances, and assurance has been lost that those who break the rules will have to pay a price.

Were we right? We’ll tell you what we found out when we continue next week with Part 3: What do the Players Think?

In summary, what we did this week

  1. Stayed in diagnosis mode, trying to better understand the problem before rushing into a solution.

  2. Identified those stakeholder groups which have a vested interest in the challenge.

  3. Developed a working theory of the challenge by incorporating the perspectives of the factions.

This week, we continue to Step 2 in DSX: Map the Players. Who are the players that have a vested stake and what are their perspectives?

This week, we continue to Step 2 in DSX: Map the Players. Who are the players that have a vested stake and what are their perspectives?