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Articles for change

Decision phases: an introduction

Decisions are hard enough when you’re just trying to move on your own, but with a group, they can be even harder. No wonder that many groups, organisations and projects are struggling with decision making. One of the first questions that many ask is WHO takes the decision for WHAT (and HOW others are consulted). I’ve written about this earlier.

Just as important is to recognize that decisions are not a moment, but a process that has a number of distinct phases. And if you’re trying to jump to the last step without proper preparation, it’s easy to find yourself going circles or ending up in conflict. 

Let’s look at these key phases of decision making [1]: 

1. Understand the issue

The question here is: what issue do we want to address? What is the problem we want to solve or the outcome we want to achieve? What is the context we need to take into account? 

You can prepare a proposal or some initial input, but it’s important to give others a chance to ask questions and come on board to your analysis. 

2. Explore options

The second step is to explore options for the decision. A good way is to co-create some criteria: what does the final approach need to comply with? What could be examples of possible steps that we can take? What do we want to avoid?

3. Create a proposal

Then it’s time to distill this input into a proposal for decision. This work is best done by a volunteer or a small group, reviewing possible options against the criteria the group has set. If these haven’t been discussed earlier, it might help to include additional aspects such as an approximate budget, a timeline for implementation and/or evaluation criteria.

A good proposal is clear, short, and sufficiently detailed so that the group can evaluate it easily: “Is this good enough for now? Is this safe enough to try?” 

4. Decide

Now, after all this work, you can move to the actual decision process – be it a vote, consent, consensus, advice or something else (see earlier post). If the decision still feels hard, it can often help to make the scope smaller: just for a test period, for example, parts of the domain addressed or a subset of the problem – followed by an evaluation and second decision.

5. Implement

After a decision has been taken, something usually has to change. And that means someone needs to take action. Do you know who that is? Do they have the resources and time to do so? Are they on board with the general direction? If not, things might stay the same despite a well-intentioned decision.

6. Evaluate + review

Finally, you might want to schedule a review of important decisions after a while. This is a good moment to check: How is the implementation going? Are we achieving the objectives we had with it? Is there anything else we need?

If you’re struggling with a particular decision, an understanding of these phases can help you to get unstuck. Do you need to better understand why the decision matters? Ae you clear on the criteria? Do you have a usable proposal? Do you need to reduce your scope in order to make progress? 

Invest in good process before and after the decision moment – it will make all the difference.

[1] Sociocracyforall uses a similar flow here: https://www.sociocracyforall.org/understand-explore-decide/

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Wiebke Herding

Facilitation and process design for a changing world. Mission: momentum for sustainability. Managing Director @ONSUBJECT. she/they.

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