Library Module 4 - Decision Making
About decision making
In this module:
About Decision Making
Decision making is the most powerful agent of change available. As such, strive for equity in decision making. This does not mean that you should be thrown into decision making situations without any support. Nor does it mean that you can never make 'important' decisions because you don't have the expertise. What it means is that you should take part in decision making processes in the full acknowledgment and recognition of where your community and you are at. Your ability to be autonomous, even in very high level decision making can gradually be enhanced as you learn by doing in a conscious way.
Heron (as cited in Goff, S. 2000) suggested a way of understanding where you stand in a decision making hierarchy. In partnerships such as government / community 'joint ventures', knowing where you are means that you can move forward. Heron proposes four different levels of decision making:
Level 4 - Decisions are made outside the group about everything, the participants do as they are told. Useful when under attack by enemy fire or in an operating room.
Level 3 - Options are set outside the group and the participants choose an option. Useful when specialist knowledge and expertise is required which does not exist within the group eg. in water treatment when two or more options have the same level of success or failure according to evidence and the special considerations of the community need to be taken into account.
Level 2 - Options are set by the group, following a set process. Many group activities are run this way.
Level 1 - Both the way the group goes and how it is going to get there are openly negotiated, full equity in decision making occurs.
What do you need to know about decision making?
Decision making should be a carefully developed and negotiated process. You should know before you start:
what your rights are and which ones are being denied
what your responsibilities are
what you can legitimately influence, ie what are your spheres of influence and your spheres of concern. You may be concerned about the balance of world trade but you may only be able to influence what you buy at the corner shop.
You should be prepared for:
clear agreements about the change to be produced and your responsibility in producing it
understanding the whole as an investment process. What are you getting back for what you put in?
reflecting on how you went in order to guide us in how to go on.
Groups are continuously making decisions, from small matters of procedure to weightier matters that would involve the group in action or radically determine its future.
There will be decisions about goals and objectives, about procedures, topics to be considered, questions of who may influence the group, whose leadership will be acceptable, how members work out a way of living and working together, how to review and assess progress, and so on.
The following are some typical processes in the area of decision making.
Absence of decision
- Plop: a member's suggestion is ignored, allowed to 'plop'. This is sometimes a way in which a group punishes a deviant member.
- Topic jumping: there is constant movement from topic to topic, rather than facing up to one and handling it adequately. This is sometimes a way of escape for groups who want to evade a major problem or decision.
- Self-authorised decision: made by one person who appoints himself/herself to decide and tell others what to do.
- Hand clasp: two people agree and quickly set about implementing it without hearing any other views.
- Sub-group: a vocal sub-group or clique can assume control and push their decisions through.
Majority rule to total agreement
- Voting by any of the usual means: the minority is expected to give in, but they may remain against it and be dissatisfied.
- 'Nobody objects, do they?': a proposal is made and members are given a chance to speak against it. They have to feel confident enough to come out in opposition.
- 'Let's go around the circle': everyone is expected to state his position in the light of which either a decision is made or further discussion is seen to be necessary.
- Consensus: may not be complete agreement but it implies all views have been heard and all agree to support it even if it is not what they would have preferred.
- Unanimity: implies complete agreement and, except in small matters, may not be as frequent as consensus.
Steps in effective decision making in small groups
- State clearly the problem or situation requiring a decision.
- Test for understanding. Be sure that each member understands the problem or situation requiring a decision.
- Encourage the expression of all points of view regarding the problem or situation. Consider alternative solutions.
- Determine what facts or actual information may be needed before a decision can be reached.
- Set up the machinery to secure these facts or information.
- Take a 'fix'. Help the group focus on the central task of decision making.
- Probe for further things that should be discussed before a decision can be reached.
- Set up a 'trial' decision.
- Allow discussion on the trial decision.
- Move from 'sharing' to consensus and decision.
Some tests of an effective decision
- An effective decision does not set up 'unhappy' or stifled minority groups after the meeting has adjourned.
- An effective decision can be translated into reality. A group may decide that everyone shall have an IQ of 150, but this would be an impossible decision to implement.
- An effective decision can be 'lived with'. It doesn't set up conflict of a debilitating nature among persons or groups.
- An effective decision must involve the group enough to carry out the decision.
'Groupthink' is the collective striving for unanimity that overrides group members' motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action and thereby leads to:
deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing and moral judgement
ignoring external action inconsistent with the favoured course of action
consistently poor decision making.
The more amiability there is among members of a policy making group, the greater the danger that independent critical thinking will be replaced by 'groupthink'.
In particular, the following are crucial factors in the 'groupthink' process:
homogeneity among group members
insulation of the group from outside influence
The Symptoms of Groupthink
|Self-censorship||Each member minimises any doubts about the apparent group consensus|
|Illusion of unanimity||Each member assumes that everyone except themselves is in agreement|
|Direct pressure on dissenters||Anyone expressing doubts is pressured to conform|
|Mind guards||Group member tells others what to think|
|Illusion of invulnerability||Group members believe the group is above attack and reproach|
|Rationalisation||Group members invent justifications for their decisions|
|Illusion of morality||Members ignore the ethical consequences of the favoured alternative and assume the group's actions are morally justified|
|Stereotyping||Group members dismiss competitors, rivals and potential critics as too weak or stupid to react effectively, or too evil to warrant genuine attempts at negotiation.|
How leaders can protect their groups from 'groupthink'
Encourage each member to be a critical evaluator
Be impartial to early stages of deliberations
Assign someone the role of 'devil's advocate' for each meeting
Develop an atmosphere of trust and respect so that each member feels free to share misgivings and contradictions
Encourage outsiders to be involved in and comment upon the decision making process of the group.