When is Decision Governance Valuable?

Decision governance consists of defining how decisions should be made, and auditing that the processes for doing so are in fact applied.

While it often seems like decisions are simply made, and there isn’t much to govern, this is incorrect. It is possible to completely change how to think about decisions, in particular in terms of how to identify situations in which a decision is needed, and which may have significant consequences.

Decision governance changes the steps taken between the situation in which next actions are not clear and one in which actions are taken. It makes people more sensitive to decisions that they and others make, whether they do this alone or with others. 

When should decisions be governed? What conditions should be met to invest time and money to put some structure to how a decision is identified, made, how its consequences are evaluated, and how records are kept about how the decision was made. 

The simplest answer is that all decisions that matter should be governed. “Decisions that matter” is a broad and rough term, but conveys an important point: if the consequences of a decision are for some reason important to those making it, it is worth something (and that value can be estimated) to make sure that they did our best to understand what actions they could take, and what these actions could lead to, before acting.

Decision governance will be very important if any one or more of the following conditions is met.

  • There is ambiguity about what to do, or in other words, there seems to be a decision to make, but it is not clear what the best course of action is.
  • It is not clear why a decision needs to be made, yet it seems it needs to be; a common issue is in decisions that groups need to make, where some are convinced that a decision is needed, others not at all.
  • There are different options as to what to do, but it is not clear which to pick.
  • There seem to be no options, and it is necessary to invest effort to develop them.
  • Repeated errors were observed in the past, when actions were taken. Common errors are that not everyone who needed to be consulted or brought on board with a decision was, a decision was taken while ignoring some important information, each time a decision was made, unanticipated consequences occurred, and there is an impression that they should or could have been prevented. 
  • There is confusion or lack of confidence that decision makers accounted for all reasonably available and relevant information. 
  • Consequences of a decision are unclear to the extent that there is no confidence that the decision will in fact lead to what is wanted.
  • Decisions are made, but it is not clear to many why they are being made, what they are intended to achieve.
  • It is, for compliance or other reasons, necessary to be able to explain a decision after it was made.
  • There is a need, for compliance or otherwise, to keep documentation about how a decision was made. This is often necessary for resource allocation decisions. 
  • Decisions are made on behalf of others, and/or involve actions where other people’s resources are mobilized. For example, formalized decision governance is common, in various shapes and forms, in government institutions where decisions are about uses of public funds, universities where decisions are made about what to teach and what not to teach, and to whom, in companies operating in regulated environments, but also in, for example, sports competitions, where there will be documented decision procedures to resolve contested results, among others.

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