Friday, 21 August 2020

A continuum of decision-making models

Recently I have been thinking about decision-making models, and which ones are useful. Of course, usefulness depends on what our purpose is, so I will qualify that a little: which models are useful for an individual to use. We all need to be able to make decisions. Sometimes we have a lot of time to consider: at others we need to decide on the fly. It is almost inevitable that we will not have enough information to make our decision, so we have to satisfice (do the best we can with what we have got).

Additionally, I suspect that we think of decision-making models as us using this one OR this one, whereas the models I am going to talk about today are really on a continuum.

So let's run through a couple of frameworks from the management field.
The Rational Model (Robbins & Coulter, 2012; aka the classical approach): this is probably the most commonly use framework, and is good to use for process transparency, as each step is deliberate, we can document what we find, and we can compare and contrast. It seems really arms-length, but it is easy for us to manipulate the data we collect to put our 'chosen' option to the top of the pile. That is something we really have to guard against. In addition, it takes a long time, so if we are in a hurry, it can be difficult to use this approach.
The framework consists of eight steps:
  • Identify the issue(s)
  • Identify the decision criteria
  • Weight the criteria
  • Develop alternatives/options
  • Evaluate and rank each alternative
  • Chose the optimal alternative
  • Implement the chosen option 
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the chosen option (Robbins & Coulter, 2012, p. 195).
The Intuitive Model (Robbins & Coutler, 2012; aka experience): this model is about making "decisions on the basis of experience, feelings, and accumulated judgment. Researchers studying managers’ use of intuitive decision making have identified five different aspects of intuition" (p. 184), which includes making decisions on values or ethics; on experience; on feelings or emotions; on skills, knowledge or training; or on subconscious data (the latter is 'gut feel'). It is 'fast and dirty', but about 50% of managers use this model regularly. It allows "managers [to] eliminate counter-intuitive ideas in reaching their decision" (Gazprom Marketing & Trading, 2020). This is a subjective approach using observed patterns, similarity and 'salience' (how prominent, important or noticeable something is). However, what has gone right in the past does not necessarily mean it will go right in the future, so we can be blind to how the world has changed since the last time we encountered this problem.
The Recognition-Primed Model (Helander et al., 1997; or the case approach): this model is simply mixed methods. We use as much of the rational, and as much of the intuitive model as we need to suit our situation. For example, if we have time, we can carefully analyse alternatives (rational), while following our gut on our chosen option (intuition). We can replace the rational approach with "more intuitive or case-based approaches to navigating the problem [... and] As the person becomes more adept, the consolidated knowledge and problem solving approaches support the use of seemingly more 'intuitive,' 'holistic,' or case-based approaches. Klein (1989 [sic]) has termed this process 'recognition primed'. Whatever it is called, this approach allows the decision maker to capitalize on the more highly organized knowledge and goal structures that experience supplies" (pp. 1240-1241). This is really the best of both worlds, PROVIDING we are honest about our option evaluation, and measure our gut feel against the same criteria if others are hesitant about our choices. This model  is often used by emergency services: take what we know, then rationalise what we don't know about the new situation. However, sometimes this can take more time, as it can become a "trial-and-error approach [which may make] it relatively time-consuming" (Gazprom Marketing & Trading, 2020). 
I hope these are useful!


  • Gazprom Marketing & Trading. (2020). The different decision-making models you need to know: and their pros and cons
  • Helander, M. G., Landauer, T. K., & Prabhu, P. V. (Eds). (1997). Handbook of Human-Computer Interaction (2nd ed). Elsevier Science BV.
  • Kline, G. A. (1993).A recognition-primed decision (RPD) model of rapid decision making. In G.A. Klein, J. Orasanu, R. Calderwood, & C. E. Zsambok (Eds.), Decision making in action: Models and methods (pp. 138–147). Ablex.
  • Robbins, S. P., & Coulter, M. (2012). Management (11th ed.). Pearson Education Ltd. 

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