Perspective levels of decision making

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Perspective levels of decision making describe essential perspectives that are all present in a decision-making process, either implicitly or explicitly. The currently identified levels are (from more to less fundamental) physical, psychological, cultural, organisational, and individual. The levels provide a practical means to clarify argumentation related to decision making and also identify problems that prevent progress towards desired outcomes.

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What are the (possibly implicit but factual) perspectives that always underlie any decision-making process and that always set boundaries to the possible outcomes of the process?


Based on intuition. In this discussion, we consider a decision-making process as a whole of deliberation before a decision, actual decision-making act, and implementation of the decision. Also, we look at the whole life span of the impacts of a decision. For example, if a decision results in a short-term wealth but at the same time in a deterioration of a critical factor and thus a collapse in a more distant future, the decision is seen as something against the objectives of the present-day decision-maker. There are lots of practical examples of this: physical: overeating and heart attack, cutting rainforests and loss of biodiversity, fossil fuels and climate change; cultural: liberation of financial market and an economic crisis.

The perspective levels of decision making are especially useful in understanding different crises arising from poor decision making. Usually, the primary cause of a crisis can be identified as belonging to one of the perspective levels. Understanding the level where the cause is also helps in identifying remedies to the crisis.


Physical perspective
The laws of physics set boundaries to decision making. A mismatch in physical perspective is almost always delayed, because all immediate violations of physical laws unavoidably lead to a failure of implementation. Jared Diamond's book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed is full of examples of omissions of the physical perspective in decision making - with devastating outcomes.
Psychological perspective
We can only understand, like, and hate things that the human brain is designed to understand, like, and hate. Although there is a vast individual variability in these things, on a population level they seem to be extremely consistent. Most known populations like peace, harmony, music, and spending time together; and they hate war, disease, starvation, and murder; in addition, they also understand the concepts listed here. Decisions are impossible to implement due to population outrage, if they promote these bad things in the own tribe according to the understanding of the people in the tribe.
Cultural perspective
There is also a vast amount of things that are not innate in people but are taught to them by the culture they live in. The culture teaches people to like (or dislike) opera, football, olives, and women's rights. The culture also teaches (or does not teach) people to understand concepts like integrals, subsidiarity, or social media. The culture determines which words people know and what things they are able to communicate. The activities in a society are profoundly restricted to these things. However, shifts in cultural paradigms do occur from time to time, and these events may open whole new avenues for decision making.
Organisational perspective
For practical purposes, people's activities have taken formal structures. Clubs, councils, and countries are set up to make sure that some important activities keep going on even when the founding fathers retire. Organisations have a purpose, and they aim to fulfil this purpose by doing the work needed by obtaining power and making decisions towards their purpose. The organisations also aim to staying alive in a changing world. Therefore, organisations represent a great inertia in a society, for both good and bad.
Individual perspective
When a decision-making process is reported, a lot of effort is put in analysing who is going to decide, what has been discussed and with whom, and how to the power balance between the decision makers affect the likely outcome. All these issues belong to the individual perspective, which looks at the role of individuals in the decision making. Ironically, a good understanding of the physical, psychological, cultural, and organisational constraints related to a decision would easily show that the individual perspective is overrated. Irrespective of individuals, a large fraction of proposed options of a typical decision can be shown to bee poor and inadvisable based on the constraints mentioned. I dare to say it would be easy, because it is not the seeing that is difficult; it is the obtaining of a good understanding of the other perspectives that is difficult. Even understanding that they exist seems sometimes impossible to many people.

A healthy society is based on decision making that considers all the five perspectives and only selects decision options that are in line with the constraints on all the levels. It is especially illuminating to look at some problematic decision-making processes and find rotten parts under the surface. Let's take climate change as an example.

In the western world, practically all individual decision makers agree that climate change is a serious thing and something should be done to it. Because there was such a consensus from the individual perspective, it became as a surprise to many that the Copenhagen climate meeting was unable to come up with a practical solution to anything. But if we look at the organisation negotiating (countries of the world trying to reach a full consensus), it starts to become clear that although they all share the view "we should do something", there is great variation in what that something actually is. In addition, there is a lack of cultural concepts that are needed before people can even talk about the real actions to be taken. These concepts include issues such as understanding carbon sources and sinks, and moral implications of them for a country, given the very different histories of countries being sinks or sources. It is simply impossible to reach a consensus before a Finnish forest owner is able (at least in theory) to use a coherent terminology to talk with and understand the issues raised by a Chinese person just about to reach middle class.

See also


Decision making, physical world, natural sciences, psychology, culture, organisations, individuals, decision maker


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