5 Steps to Transparent and Participatory Decision-making

Posted on Posted in Data and evidence, Engagement and participation, Uncategorized, We Think, What Do You Think?

A couple of weeks ago, Lisa talked about transparency and decision-making in her blog post. She questioned why in many instances showing how or the reasons why a decision is made, is often not included in the conversation. She questioned why in our adult and professional lives, we have moved away from those simple concepts we all learned during grade school math class; you know the one about the value of showing your work in arriving at ‘the’ answer. She also talked about what happens when you show the evidence (the work) and engage people in the sensemaking of that evidence. The benefits of incorporating this practice can help all stakeholders understand how and why decisions are made; even if we don’t agree with them.


So you may be asking, how can I contribute to a more transparent and more participatory organization? How do I invite others into creating meaning and decision making? How do I show my work?


The process that we are using to develop We Think is the same process that we believe can address the challenges with transparency and participatory decision-making. In many ways, the We Think Board is committed to ‘walking the walk’ in the development of this organization. We think these 5 basic steps are a foundation to help support you in building a practice of transparent, participatory decision-making:

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Identify the decision

What is the decision that needs to be made? Does the decision have an impact on the lives of other people? Will it create winners and losers? Might it be improved by being evidence informed and with input of stakeholders? If so, move on to the following steps.


Gather the necessary data

What type of data or information might start a dialogue with your stakeholders and help in your decision making process? An easy starting point is in-house data like program and service usage data. With governments opening data sets for use by researchers, businesses and the public, there is more and more information available that could be useful: basic demographics of a community, employment rates, employment information, public health trends, immigration patterns.


There are a number of different platforms available to access data and information that might be useful.  Here are a few examples that you might want to check out:


If this area is of interest to you, then you may want to check out our series on Becoming a Data Driven Organization. The second post in the series will be released next week.


Engage with your stakeholders using the data
There are many reasons and ways to engage with stakeholders to help you make decisions.  Some engagement tools are better suited than others and depend on how much decision-making involvement you are looking and how much time you can dedicate.  For instance, if your purpose is to find out what people think about a decision you are considering then consulting on what you are considering with your audience is all you need to do.  For other decisions, you may want to bring people together for face to face collaboration on a particularly complex issue.  Perhaps you are willing to let your stakeholders make the decision by creating a process where they are given all the information and tools they would need?


Whatever type of engagement process you use, we would argue the steps are the same: clearly identify the decision(s) to be made, show the data you gathered on your topic (contextualize your topic), ask curious questions (be open to multiple perspectives), and collect the responses (collect data from your engagement). By gathering insights and inputs from others, you strengthen your decisions and relationships with your stakeholders. The tool you select is important for reaching your intended audience, but the process will almost always be more important than the tool.  


Analyse the results of your engagement
Determine what your stakeholders think of the data. Where are the point(s) of agreement? Where are the point(s) of disagreement?  What does this mean?  How does it clarify or add to the decision? Do you need to go back to the data? Perhaps more engagement with a different approach? Perhaps there is a very clear direction forward? Understanding where opinions converge and consensus exists and where they diverge is valuable intelligence to hold when faced with the need to make an important decision. Through the use of open conversation platforms like pol.is you create opportunities for stakeholders to contribute to the conversation but also opportunities for those who participate to understand where decisions may stem from and how they came to be.


We Think is also experimenting with a participatory decision-making tool called Loomio. It allows groups to make decisions together. Group members have the opportunity to start individual discussion threads where participants are encouraged to share their points of view, to make proposals and use a variety of decision-making tools to ultimately come to a decision and set a direction as a group. The tool also tracks your decisions, which plays a crucial role in learning and reflecting on your process.  We will be testing it out in different ways and sharing our experiences with the tool in the future.


Share your results and loop back to step 1!

Like Lisa talked about in her post, it is important to show your work. It’s important for people who have participated in your engagement process and it is important for those who might be affected by your decision.  Sharing our learnings is important not just to ensure participants are heard or “show our work” but also to help increase our collective knowledge. You may want to think about how you intend to share your results and communicate that throughout your engagement process. It will help people to know what to expect and to stay engaged.


In any iterative process you start the whole process over again. Iteration may be valuable to gain a more diverse or deeper level of understanding of the subject; to refine the information presented and/or the decision points. It may be necessary to go through a couple of iterations of this participatory process to deepen your understanding and refine decision. Moving through these steps can be done fairly rapidly.


We believe that a key principle or orientation to doing this type of work is adaptation and agility. In other words, it is not important (nor is it desirable) to wait for perfection, but rather to position your work as being in a constant flow between doing and learning. Minimum viable product or SFD (shitty first draft) is a good goal. We learn more, challenge our assumptions and get a better product by engaging with and learning from the wisdom of others early in the process. We incorporate this wisdom, make changes and bring forward those decisions for more debate or implementation.


These principles and suggestions around how to engage others in a process of transparent and participatory decision-making is the basis of the concept for We Think and the products we hope to develop. We anticipate that our organization, the activities and products we produce will shift and evolve as we do and learn.  


In a nutshell…

Step Key Questions
Identify the Decision What is the specific decision(s) that need to be made and who will it impact?
Gather the necessary data What is the best possible information (in-house or external) that can help to construct the best possible context for decision-making?
Engage with your stakeholders using the data How can you take the information you have gathered and share it with the people it will impact? How can you capture the areas of agreement and disagreement?
Analyse the results of your engagement How can you take all the feedback received and use it to facilitate effective decision-making? Who is the audience for decision-making and how can you best reach them?
Share your results How can you communicate the approach, what you learned and the decision to as many stakeholders in the most effective way possible (e.g. newsletter, word of mouth, website)?


What do you think? Has this sparked a question? An insight? Do you think we have missed the mark? Please comment below and let us know. Tweet @WeThinkOrg and get a conversation going. Subscribe to hear more from us.


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