Difficult decisions
From: Stuart Staniford-Chen (staniforcs.ucdavis.edu)
Date: Wed, 1 Feb 95 19:20 CST
One thing Rob Sandelin says often on this list is (paraphrased)
that some decisions are better not made by consensus in a large
group.  The classic example is the colour of something.  It's
difficult to handle in a large group because it's so black and
white - or rather red, green and misty-ocean.  It's just a matter
of taste and the group can argue for hours without convincing one
another.  Similar questions come up over choice of materials for
something.

So maybe it's better to vote, or punt it to a small group.  My
question is this: how is the transition handled?  Suppose,
hypothetically I want red carpet because I think it will look
better with the counters, but I know most people want blue to
match the curtains.  Our fundamental decision making structure is
consensus, so to start with I can block consensus.  If I agree to
a vote, I know the group will choose what I consider to be the
poorer choice - it looks like I better not agree to a vote.

I'm not sure I'm expressing myself well here.  Color may not be
the best example.  The problem comes when a decision is *both*
very simple/ arbitrary/ hard to come to consensus on *and*
important with many strongly felt feelings.  In that
circumstance, agreeing to an alternative process may be almost as
difficult as agreeing on the substantive issue.

And, if we do vote for what some people think is a bad idea, do
we not risk their disillusionment?  Possibly they will
underminine the decision because they didn't think it was a good
one.

Our current approach to this is to punt the decision to a committee
of all the people who feel the most strongly and let them come
up with a proposal they can live with.  Hopefully the whole group
can live with it too.  It doesn't always work.  The most common
failure mode is that the small group requires more energy to
come to agreement than the participants can muster.  The decision
dies in committee.

Suggestions?

Stuart.

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