Much of my work at the moment revolves around the notion of deliberative decision making.   In other words, this kind of thing:

The meeting in the prime minister’s Sydney office was to consider raising the stakes: should the government reverse its previous position and seek to end the interminable blame shifting by taking over all public hospitals immediately after the election, if necessary through changing the constitution?  The discussion went backwards and forwards for well over an hour.  Various other options were canvassed: taking over more hospitals that the states were running down to show how they might be run better; using the Health Care Agreements to force the states to contract out public hospital services; and directly funding hospitals to provide a particular quantum of free services to public patients; in addition to the ‘mega’ option of a full Commonwealth government takeover… An immediate Commonwealth takeover might have looked like responding to the other side.  As well, it would have provoked the Liberal Party’s ‘anti-centralism’ brigade, even though it was the states that had run hospitals from head office through giant unwieldy bureaucracies.  At that stage in the political cycle, anything dramatic would have been cast as an admission of past failure.
Tony Abbott, Battlelines, p.23

Deliberative decision making considers a range of options in terms of the various pros and cons, and attempts to determine the best option through a process of qualitative argumentation.

As opposed to what?  Here are two contrasts:

  • Intuitive decision making, where decisions are made on the basis of what “seems right” without any explicit, systematic working-through of the relevant options and considerations
  • Technical decision making, which is governed by some strict framework and in which qualitative argumentation is replaced by some kind of calculation (e.g., multi-attribute utility theory)

Here’s why deliberative decision making is worth working on:

  • Most important decisions (such as in the example above) are made deliberatively.
  • Often, these go wrong; often, with bad and perhaps terrible consequences.
  • Deliberative decision making can’t be replaced by other modes of decision making, such as the intuitive and technical
  • So we need to figure out how to improve deliberative decision making itself.