top of page

Scoring desirable properties of decision methods: examples

One way to agree on a decision method is to strike a compromise between desirable properties of decision procedures. This can be done by scoring these properties. A few characteristics of good decision-making have been listed[i] but there is no single framework[ii] and more research is needed.[iii] As there is no time to lose, here is a tentative list of desirable properties of a decision method.

  • Well-defined: the decision process should clarify the matter to be decided about (problems, goals, and measures.)

  • Rational: the outcome is coherently justified by arguments, such as logic, probability theory, and – last but not least – an understanding of the illogic use of the outcome. This naturally leads to conditions on the outcome, namely, that it is optimal in some sense and that it can be implemented, in particular, that governments are freed from issues beyond their power or competence (subsidiarity) and that citizens can accept the outcomes.

  • Well-conducted: an ill-conducted decision process unlikely leads to justifiable outcomes, so the decision process should in the first place be nonsymbolic, that is, void of improper symbolic use, like connotations and reifications. Moreover, harmful group dynamics, decision fallacies, and rhetoric devices are to be suppressed as far as possible. Political correctness must be avoided, in particular to allow true ethical arguments without raising the suspicion of repressive intent under the pretext of a “higher moral ground.” Presuppositions should be questioned throughout. A final requirement is audacity to overcome the human propensity of holding on to illusions.

  • Objective: based on the widest possible range of facts and scientific predictions. This requires knowledge and the talent to apply it.

  • Strategy-proof: immune to factual stratagems. An example of a strategy is to not vote for an option because others probably do not vote for it.

  • Transparent: the process and results can be controlled, for example, by a scientific community or the public.

  • Responsible: for example, the participants can be held accountable for their decisions.

  • Efficient: the decision process can be carried out with limited resources (time, money, etc.)

  • Systemic: geared towards global system change. For example, the interests of stakeholders from around the world are taken into account.

Flexibility is not a requirement because the decision procedure is used only once.

Fairness is not a requirement of the decision procedure neither of the outcome. To bring out the difference between fairness of the decision procedure and of the outcome, consider two patients who are equally ill. There is only one pill to cure them. Experts agree that flipping a coin is a fair decision procedure. However, the outcome is unfair in the sense that one patient envies the other.

All this suggests that a candidate procedure for deciding about system change proposals (submitted as indicated earlier) is to assemble two groups of people. First, stakeholders who are a mixture of representatives and citizens selected by lot (with stratification) for the latter are not subjected to the constraints of standard representatives. And second, an ‘argumentation team’ consisting of experts in group processes, argumentation theory etcetera, who only check that the argumentation is properly written, as indicated above. This team is not a jury which decides about the matter proper. An additional component would be a voting mechanism to let the participants draw the ultimate conclusion.

Yet, experts on decision-making are to agree on these desiderata and the decision procedure.


[i] Edelenbos, J. and Van Meerkerk, I. (2022) Normative considerations of interactive governance: effectiveness, efficiency, legitimacy, and innovation. Chapter 38 in Ansell and Torfin as cited below. (The title summarises the findings.)

[ii] Davis, J.W. (2012) A Critical View of Global Governance. Swiss Political Science Review 18(2): 272–286. A coherent typology of competing normative models of global governance is lacking (p.273) with reference to: R. Marchetti (2009) Mapping Alternative Models of Global Politics. International Studies Review 11(1): 133– 156.

[iii]Ansell, C. and Torfin, J. (eds.) (2022, 2nd ed.) Handbook of Theories of Governance, Elgar.  Conclusion: more research into conditions needed (ch. 52 p.611 table 52.2.)

bottom of page