EME 807
Technologies for Sustainability Systems

11.1 Collaborative Decision Making

The process of collaborative decision making is aimed at combining the input from all stakeholders and therefore at making the best choice from the standpoint of the objectivity. It is typical that decisions made by groups differ from those made by individuals. However, there is no clear indication that the group decisions are consistently better (or worse) than individual decisions. Also, collaborative decisions are apparently linked to group behaviors, interactions between members, role distribution, and psychological factors that can affect people's thinking.

The decisions regarding policies, economic actions, and assessments of alternatives for sustainable development especially require collaborative thinking due to the complexity and polarity of factors and interests involved. Design of the decision making process is therefore an important issue to learn for managers, policy makers, and experts involved in evaluation of business alternatives.

Study the following reading material based on the research of the Network for Business Sustainability (nbs.net), which examines the factors that steer people towards or away from sustainable choices.

Reading Assignment

  • Network for Business Sustainability, Making Sustainable Choices. A Guide for Managers, 2012.

    Focus questions in this reading:
    • - What is bias, and how it affects the individual decision? Why sustainability decisions are more subject to various biases than other decisions?
    • - How do you understand the term intervention in sustainable decision making and what main types of interventions have been successful?
    • - Can you define active supports and passive supports for sustainable decisions? Which ones do you think are more efficient?

Supplemental Reading

The discussion forum in the end of this lesson will involve you in an self-evaluative exercise where you can try to recognize your own bias towards any theme in sustainability or related technology.

Structured Decision Making (SDM) methodology

Structured Decision Making (SDM) is a specially developed organized approach to making complex decisions. For example, when we face a choice of developing and implementing a new technology (versus an older status-quo technology), that is certainly considered a complex decision. Assuming that reaching high sustainability level is the focus of our decisions, technical feasibility, economic viability, environmental impact, and social impact are the main cornerstones of such an assessment, as we learned before. The SDM method is designed to organize information and direct the process of collaborative decision making towards the optimal solution and helps to eliminate bias and find win-win scenarios if those exist. SDM was proved to be especially beneficial for the organizations that require transparency and efficient response to diverse public needs.

Please study the materials on the SDM website, referenced below, starting with SDM Overview, which explains in more details the purpose and structure of this method. Then proceed to the pages describing Steps and Tools used in the SDM analysis. Make sure to open the "Read More" links on those pages to study details.

Reading Assignment

In the end of this lesson, you you will be asked to perform an activity related to the SDM framework.