Reforming decision-making

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PULL QUOTE: ‘A crucial aspect of any decision-making mechanism is that of sanction and individual responsibility. While you may have the broad objectives, if there is no direct way to link the performance of individuals to those objectives, then you end up with the untenable situation of no one being directly responsible BEFORE I GO into this week’s article proper, I just have to take note of the recent earthquake in Chile.  With a little under 200 people dead as a result of the 8.8 magnitude quake, it is hard to make comparison in human terms with the devastation of Haiti and its over 200,000 thousand casualties.  A life is a life, however, and I cannot help but sympathise with the victims of Chile’s disaster.

What was worrying to me, however, was the potential aftermath of the quake itself, or quakes, rather, as the US Geological Service informed visitors to its website.  Not only was there the initial quake but several smaller ones throughout yesterday.  From the little  I saw on the news yesterday, I noted that while the epicentre was in Chile, there were warnings that the effect of the resulting tsunami waves could reach as far as the Philippines, with Hawaii singled out – no doubt due to being and American state – for special warning.

While I know Guyana has not had a history of earthquakes, it seems that there have been increasing reports of seismic activity in recent years.  I remember a few years ago, there was a tremor which largely affected Trinidad, but was also slightly felt in Guyana as well.  Now while Guyana may not have a history of earthquakes, who is to say that the resulting tsunami, or even a smaller tidal wave from a significant quake within the region, would not wreak havoc on our country, the bulk of whose population resides on a coastal belt that is below sea level.

That said, I want to turn to this week’s real topic — decision-making.  As with several other issues, this is something that I have touched upon in previous articles.  Coming out of my recent work with the Georgetown City Council, I have had a chance to observe certain aspects or patterns of decision-making that have universal connotations within Guyana.

Before I go on, I should state that in my opinion, there were three elements which seem to be missing in many institutions which are not functioning properly in Guyana.
The first is, of course, the need for proper planning.  Ad hoc decision-making, as a result of poor planning, is not an ingredient for sustainability, much less efficiency.  The second is ensuring that budget activities are linked to specific indicators, and the third is ensuring that monitoring mechanisms are in place.  What these three elements come together to create is a results-based system of operation, the type that is not present enough in local agencies — and the key to making such a system work is proper decision-making.

A crucial aspect of any decision-making mechanism is that of sanction and individual responsibility. While you may have the broad objectives, if there is no direct way to link the performance of individuals to those objectives, then you end up with the untenable situation of no one being directly responsible.  It can be argued, and there is probably plentiful evidence, that the downside of this may be decision-making paralysis, but in my opinion, this is greatly dependent on the quality of talent recruited.
Another aspect is making sure that there is enough critical data for decision-making.  A lack of critical data is another causal factor for paralysis or sloth in decision-making.  People either refuse to make decisions in the absence of critical data, or delay decision making in the expectation that this data will come some time in the future.  In the latter case, when it does come, often it is too late to have any impact in any case.
For many entities, an investment in IT may not necessarily be attractive, particularly if the benefits are not readily apparent.  However, the perspective needs to be taken wherein IT resources are seen as the effective tools they are in lowering risks associated with decision-making, by providing critical data in an accurate and timely manner.
Finally, when it’s all said and done, there is no way to completely remove risk from the decision-making process.  If that were the case, then there would be no need for decision-making.  Each decision made and implemented carries its own associated risks and rewards, many of which are not foreseeable, with even the most efficient data delivery system in place.

Particularly if you are dealing with an entity with various areas of service delivery, the varying levels of associated risk are what ultimately should determine how the implementation aspect of any decision-making mechanism should be constructed.  The onus, therefore, in my opinion, falls back on the capacity of the individual in the decision-making role at every stage of the process.