Decision Making at the University of Girona

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Chris Spetzler, director of the Decision Education Foundation, gave a workshop about decision making at the University of Girona past November. We had the opportunity, first in a workshop dedicated to students, and later in one more specialized for university staff and PhD students, to be introduced into the –sometimes very difficult– world of decision making.
He offered us several tools, which should help us to ease the process of decision making. First of all he talked about the chain of decision: What do I want? What can I do? What do I need to know? Am I thinking straight? Will I do it? or, What am I really deciding? are the basic questions to make before we decide anything. We should go over this chain to verify if all the links are tightened, so the decision in itself won’t break apart, or if there is one we need to improve. We perhaps need more information, be more convinced, or think about other possibilities to be able to take a good decision.
Taking on this last point, I think, he offered us a very interesting tool: the decision tree. When we start thinking about something we want or have to do, we usually see two possibilities, whether doing it or not. But if we think over the dilemma again, we might be able to find a lot of alternatives, often based on a combination or variation of the first ones we made up. This tool helps us quantifying these possibilities. In the decision trees the internal nodes represent the possible scenarios, the branches the progress and the leaf nodes represent the outcomes.
While the decision tree is useful, especially to add new possible scenarios, the decision matrix is even better to compare these and rate them. Therefore, we value the possibilities, relating the information we have with sets of values. The matrix shows the decisions based on certain criteria and makes it easier assessing each factor’s relative significance. We may put the scenarios in rows and the criteria in columns, then value each alternative by their criteria (let’s say on a scale from 1 to 10) and finally calculate the percentage of each value, by the importance we give each criteria in the decision process. The final sum gives us the possibility to rank the alternatives. That makes us see that sometimes the –on first sight– less attractive possibility might have a higher outcome than more attractive ones.
With these tools, making decisions is converted into a rational act, where each decision can be valued by its possible outcomes. Anyway, Spetzler underlines, that one important fact in decision making is still our good feeling.

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