The George Boole Foundation
The Decision Analysis Initiative


Decisions shape society...

Where decisions are unbounded in terms of their impacts on people not involved in the decision process, there arise a range of significant considerations. These relate to such matters as decision analysis ethics, obligations and responsibilities of decision-makers in relation to the "rights" of others. The normal tendency is for people to prefer more participatory decision making involving all identifiable stakeholders in the decisions which affect them.

Constituency affairs

Decision analysis has an important role to play in providing an objective basis for the assessment of options available to society through an identification of needs, preferred solutions and, in particular, to build into the decision analysis model, people's preferences.

In practical terms our capabilities in taking decisions which achieve outcomes in line with expectations are an important determinant of the sort of society within which we live. Individual, group, community and national decisions affect others and therefore decision analysis can help identify the likely effects of decisions but can also assist decision-makers identify a larger range of options and thereby raise the probability of the indentification of solutions to common problems which meet with general approval.

Knowledge & expectations

Where pople's knowledge and expectations are close it can be possible to achieve a unanimous agreement on which option to select within a range of possible options. However, the outcomes of a decision can affect people differentially creating a range of impacts. In pragmatic terms the significance or meaning of the outcomes can be vary significantly. A classic example of agreement leading to disagreement is the over-zealous application of cost-benefit analysis. If minimised costs and maximised economic benefit are a decision-maker's criteria then the choice becomes clear. However, because people's relative participation in the economy varies then the costs and associated projected benefits of a project can result in differential impacts on different people.

Where the allocation of public resources is made by governments these can be of a type which provide constituents with no options or choices or stark choices at most. Thus the technical and scientific issues which influence telecommunications standards, for example, can be decided within the confines of specialised committees with almost no public involvement other than representatives of scientific and technology working groups largely made up of representatives of telecommunications organizations.

Decision analysis can help shift decision-making from the technological and economic accountancy forms of cost-benefit analysis to a decision analysis which accords weight to a wider range of decision-maker preferences. For example, most cost-benefit analysis affords financial values to those aspects of costs and benefits which can be measured in terms of market prices. This can lead to irrational decisions when the constituency concerned does not value benefits in terms of market value but rather as a time preference for occupying themselves with things that have no direct relationship to market price.

Constitution and participatory democracy

If decision analysis practitioners have observed due dilligence in the construction of a simulation model and made apparent the limitations of a model, then simulation (see simulations) can be a powerful tool for assisting a social or economic constituency gain an understanding of the potential impacts of policy options. In terms of constitution, and the need for representation to reflect the preferences of an electorate, simulation can help improve decision-making by elevating social participatory assessments to a more comprehensive and objective level through the introduction of deference models (models which provide adequate "deference" to the preferences of all known decision-makers or stakeholders). These open up a wider range of possibilities than dialogues controlled by the more limited perspectives of political party philosophies and interests which can introduce significant constraints on the scope and content of considerations as well as on the interpretation of facts.