ACE has a new interactive decision-making tool in our Tools for Charities. This concept was developed and used internally at ACE over the past year. We decided to share it because it has been useful for decision-making at ACE and because several external stakeholders have expressed interest in using it at their organizations.
In early 2021, ACE’s research team developed a preliminary decision-making framework for research-related decisions. The goal of the original project was to create a more standardized, efficient way to make decisions as a team and document our thought process more rigorously. After conducting internal and external research, we developed a written framework and decision-making matrix.1 We then adapted it into a more user-friendly flow chart following a team discussion and the first round of feedback. After several iterations of testing and feedback in 2021, we refined the framework for external use in early 2022 to make it more accessible to users outside of ACE. The current version of the decision-making framework, now referred to as our Voting Methods for Group Decisions tool, is in its fourth iteration at the time of publishing this announcement.
This tool is designed to help facilitate group decisions that involve voting. It will help you and your team think through some important factors that go into good decision-making and identify a voting method to use. It is useful for teams of two or more people.
Ideally, one or two people familiar with the overall project and team (e.g., the project manager or team lead) should use this tool. Please consider filling out the feedback form once you are done to help us improve this tool over time.
Our Voting Methods for Group Decisions tool contains seven main steps and offers foundational questions, examples, advice, and suggested outputs.
1. Establish the goal of the decision.
This step asks one foundational question: What is the goal? Defining the goal will help you determine what kind of information you need to make a decision. The tool suggests setting SMART goals, which are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based.2
2. Choose decision-makers.
This step asks one foundational question: Who are the decision-makers? Identifying decision-makers will help you estimate your team’s capacity and familiarity with relevant information. Guiding questions include: Should we include all team members working on the project or a smaller subset? Have we included a diverse set of viewpoints in our decision-making team? Is there any sensitive information that may influence team selection?
3. Estimate the importance of the decision and the team’s capacity.
This step asks two foundational questions: How important is the decision? What is the decision-making team’s capacity? The answers to these questions will help determine how to allocate time and resources to the decision.
The tool defines importance as the significance and/or value of the decision at hand. Guiding questions include: Will it affect how we operate as an organization or as a team within the organization? Will it affect how we interact with other organizations?
The tool prompts you to identify whether the decision is of low or high importance and provides examples to assist you with the selection.
Example of low importance: The decision will not likely affect the broader organization or how we interact with other organizations. It will probably affect a small project or small team within the organization.
Example of high importance: The decision will likely affect the broader organization or how we interact with other organizations. It will probably affect a large team within the organization or how the organization operates at a high level.
The tool defines capacity as how much time decision-makers can allocate to the decision-making process. Guiding questions include: Will anyone be taking leave? Are there any concurrent projects that could limit capacity? Can decision-makers commit to any meetings, and if so, how many? Is there a deadline for this decision?
The tool prompts you to identify whether your team has a low or high capacity and provides examples to assist you with the selection.
Example of low capacity: The deadline for making the decision is very soon, and all of the people who need to be involved have other outstanding projects that are time-consuming and cannot be delayed. It would be hard for the team to find time to learn relevant information and attend decision-making meetings.
Example of high capacity: The deadline for making the decision is further out, and all of the people who need to be involved have open time in their schedules. It would be easy for the team to find time to learn relevant information and attend decision-making meetings.
4. Choose how to allocate your team’s time and resources.
This step asks one foundational question: How do we want to allocate time and resources? Spending more time on the decision creates an opportunity to gather and use more information, leading to higher specificity and detail in the voting method. Based on your answers in Step 3, the tool prompts you to choose one of the following options:
High Importance & High Capacity
Advice: Allocate as much time as you can to gather information and make a good decision. You could use a more complex voting method.
High Importance & Low Capacity
Advice: Start sooner, de-prioritize other tasks that are taking up capacity, or use a less complex voting method that requires less information.
Low Importance & High Capacity
Advice: Start the decision-making process later, take more time to gather information, or use a more complex voting method.
Low Importance & Low Capacity
Advice: Choose a single iteration, low complexity voting method. Don’t spend too much time gathering information.
5. Consider if you are making an iterative or single decision.
This step asks one foundational question: Are we making an iterative or single decision? If the decision is iterative or ongoing, you will need to go through the voting methods table multiple times or revisit the tool as needed. Guiding questions include: Would it be better to do a first pass at the decision with a simple voting method (e.g., yes/no to each option) and then do a second pass with a more complex voting method (e.g., a scale of 1–5 for each option)? Would it be good for decision-makers to share their views before making a final decision? Is this an ongoing decision that needs to be updated on a regular schedule? If you answered YES to any of these questions, consider categorizing the decision as iterative.
Advice: Go through the voting methods table for each stage of the decision.
Advice: Go through the voting methods table once.
6. Plan to gather information needed to make the decision.
This step asks three foundational questions: What type of information will we have? How much information will we have? Should decision-making be anonymous? This could be information you already have or still need to get. The importance of the decision and team capacity determines how much time is needed to gather information.
Type of Information
The type of information you need will help determine the ideal voting method. There are two types of information that can help you decide: explicit values (cardinal information) and relative values (ordinal information).
Explicit values (cardinal information): This is information that lets you assign a value to an objective, external metric. Example: Finding out how many animals each intervention saves per year and choosing which one to pursue based on this information.
Relative values (ordinal information): This is relational information that is not relevant to an objective, external metric. Example: Comparing different interventions to each other and choosing which one to pursue based on how easy they seem to implement.
Amount of Information
This tool defines information as evidence, facts, and data relevant to the decision you are making. Guiding questions include: How much information will we have after we finish gathering it? Will we be able to distinguish among many options or rank just a few options? It could be helpful to think about how much information you have to make this decision compared to similar decisions you have made.
Example of high levels of information: You have enough information to rank all of the options from highest to lowest preference or to give every option a score from 1–100.
Example of low levels of information: You have enough information to answer yes or no to each option or pick one favorite option.
Anonymity of Decision Making
Guiding questions include: Should the decision-makers vote anonymously? Or is open discussion important for coming to a final decision?
It is possible to have both discussion and anonymity (e.g., discussing the aggregate results of a vote). Open discussion without anonymity can be good or bad for a decision’s outcome, depending on the situation:
- Good: If it is particularly important to explain the reasoning behind the decision to a wider audience, it could be helpful to come to an understanding of the reasoning behind individual opinions.
- Bad: If certain team members feel social pressure to conform to a different opinion because they are in the minority or are receiving pushback, it could lead to a worse decision.
7. Consult the voting methods table.
The tool ends by directing you to the voting methods table that corresponds to the type of information you will have: explicit values (cardinal information) or relative values (ordinal information). Both tables provide information about each voting method, guidance on the amount of information needed for each method, and examples of when each method could be useful. As you move down each table, the voting methods require more and more information to be executed well.
We hope that this tool will help other organizations examine and improve their decision-making processes so they can be as effective as possible at achieving their vision, mission, and goals to help animals. We welcome feedback to help us improve it over time.
The project lead began by interviewing staff members to gather information about how ACE has made decisions in the past, positives and negatives about previous decision-making methods, and ideas for methods that could work well for the team. The project lead also explored research about different voting and decision-making methods (e.g., from the Center for Election Science).
See MindTools more details about setting SMART goals.