Why is it so hard to say "yes" to sustainability options? Research conducted by Joseph Arvai, Victoria Campbell-Arvai, and Piers Steel helps business leaders, sustainability managers, and policy advisors make more sustainable decisions – and persuade others to do the same.
Decision-Making Models vs. Reality
In this webinar, Arvai outlines decision-making models and explains how people actually make their choices – including the short cuts people make.
Bad News & Good News
Arvai points out the decision-making is a constructive process in which our preferences aren't predetermined and pre-existing. Instead, it's a process in which we take cues and bring in information as we listen and evaluate a problem.
On one hand, people can argue we're bad at decision-making. We can be too easily influenced or manipulated, for example by marketing efforts. When may buy into decisions we don't necessarily agree with.
On the other hand, if we want to help people make better choices, we can view the mind almost as a blank slate. We can help people construct more thoughtful processes for making choices.
Improving the Quality of Decisions
One starting place in improving decision-making processes is identifying whether decisions are routine or complex. For example:
- How frequently does it need to get made?
- How accurate do we need to be?
- Do tradeoffs need to be made explicit?
With routine decisions, focus on the environment in which the decision is made. Structure the environment in a way that allows people to make decisions at high-speed without having to think about trade-offs. Leverage our built-in biases to allow people to do what comes naturally.
With complex decisions, slow down the decision-making process. Take complex decisions and break them into smaller, more manageable parts so people can go through them one-by-one.
One approach, referred to as Structured Decision-Making (SDM), outlines the following steps:
- Define decision problems/participants/constraints.
- Define objectives and evaluation criteria.
- Develop alternatives.
- Identify consequences/uncertainties/thresholds.
- Confront trade-offs.
- Implement, monitor, and adapt.
These steps can be iterated as required.
Ultimately, with complex decisions the process should be interactive, with stakeholders working through alternatives and attributes, so everything is evaluated and made explicit. In the webinar itself, Arvai discusses this in relation to decision-making for water treatment systems.