An Alternative Model for Decision-Making

By Petress, Ken | Journal of Instructional Psychology, September 2002 | Go to article overview

An Alternative Model for Decision-Making

Petress, Ken, Journal of Instructional Psychology

Academic decisions often are made in haste, without complete information to support proposed changes, by people chosen for less than optimum reasons to make decisions, and without adequate preparation in terms of time and resources for such decision making. Proposed changes in the way decisions are rendered are offered so as to offer opportunities for improved decision making. A recognition of the costs in terms of workload and time are acknowledged but are believed to be well worth the expense.


Academic decisions are typically made at meetings, by committees, or through taskforces. In these settings, highly educated, talented, interested, and dedicated individuals convene to make decisions vital to themselves, their peers, and the institutions they represent. Unfortunately, some of these decisions are made hastily, without in-depth consideration, lacking full information for decision-makers, and without the benefit of having adequate time to carefully consider implications and costs of suggested new policies, policy changes, or other decisions before finalizing their implementation. This essay suggests a revised paradigm for making decisions; one that requires a greater investment of time and personal involvement by those making decisions and which hopefully will avoid or reduce many of the drawbacks of our present decision-making paradigm.

Making quality decisions involves critical thinking; critical thinking has been defined as "involving the ability to explore a problem, question, or situation; integrate all the available information about it; arrive at a solution or hypothesis; and justify one's position" (Warnick & Smith, 1994). Critical thinking thus requires: (a) that matters to be discussed be clearly and fully disclosed to discussants prior to deliberations. It is too common for issues at meetings to arise without everyone being informed of the agenda and given access to available information relevant to the topic so participants can be fully prepared. A quality agenda is a blueprint for effective group management and leadership. In terms of group management, creating an agenda "establishes detailed steps and timetables for achieving needed results, and then allocating the resources necessary to make that happen." In terms of group leadership, creating an effective agenda "establishes direction ... develops a vision of the future ... and strategies for producing the changes needed to achieve that vision" (Hackman & Johnson, 2000). It is also frequently the case that meetings have artificial time constraints that inhibit full consideration of facts, support or opposition to proposals, and careful consideration of consequences and costs of decisions made. Members' ability and willingness to attend meetings and their ability to pay close attention to the matters at hand depend on careful time planning(Wilson, 1999); (b) time must be available between the announcement of issues and their discussion to gather available data relevant to the impending discussion; and (c) decision makers need to construct, in addition to the decisions rendered, sensible, believable, and clear defenses/rationales for the decisions they make. Decisions need to be defended against complaints of bias, consistency, costs, ethicality, fairness, practicality, and utility. Open, honest, and logical defenses to challenged decisions usually make such decisions more palatable to those challenging decisions. Quality decision defenses demonstrate decision-maker cognizance to potential challenges; this generally adds to decision acceptance and agreement.

Meetings ought not be called [except in dire emergencies] without a detailed agenda being given to all attendees; without plenty of time being set aside for deliberations; and without relevant research materials being made universally available to all participants (Beebe & Masterson, 2000). …

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