Decision making aids should be used to assist policy makers

Political systems across the globe tend to rely on politicians coming to policy conclusions via some form of informal or formal discussion with their peers, hopefully informed by evidence. Such decision making processes, however well informed by scientific and other evidence, are more prone to error than when the decision makers allow themselves to also consider a formal analysis of their decision through some form of decision aid. The use of decisional analysis techniques cannot take away the responsibility of political leaders to make and be accountable for decisions, but can assist them in processing the evidence rationally, and organising their thinking more effectively. To draw a parallel, there is much research evidence suggesting clinicians make better decisions when they use some form of decision aid.

It is noticeable that in all the claims made about "following the science" I have found no reference to considering how the decision sciences could assist. The Scottish government have an opportunity to enhance their decision making by consulting experts in the use of decision aids, and should take the opportunity to do so.

There are options from using decision tree based decision analysis to Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis for example. Where decision aids are not used, there is compelling evidence that humans are not able to effectively weigh up in their own mind or through mere discussion lots of different factors to draw conclusions. What tends to happen is that only a few factors are actually "taken into account"

Decision aids are also helpful in requiring the idea of "risk" to be disaggregated into more usable criteria, and most obviously probabilities and outcome assessments.

Why the contribution is important

Political leaders do face the ultimate responsibility for making critical decisions under conditions of uncertainty and with great complexity of information. These are difficult tasks made all the more difficult if they do not use well validated decision aids to assist in effectively processing all relevant information that needs to be "taken into account".

There is a reluctance by many professionals in many spheres of work to use decision aids. This in part reflects their motivational bias against exposing precisely HOW they made their decision and HOW they took relevant information into account. They fall back on phrases like "taking everything into account" which is meaningless unless they adopt a method that allows them to do so.

Also, there is high cultural validity to making decisions via meetings and discussions despite the fact that if this is the only process used it is inevitably prone to more error than would be the case if they also used an appropriate decision aid.

There is no known process that eliminates the possibility of ending up with a bad outcome from a decision. But better processes, including the use of decision aids, can reduce the "error rate".

by Clamjamfrie on May 08, 2020 at 12:22PM

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