Monday, February 21, 2011

Thoughts on good decision making

A post I made on the Phorum today:

I've been trying hard to keep us away from getting into yes or no kinds of debates, because frankly, the decision that we will make with respect to the Park in my mind is not served by a strict yes/no vote.  It's really reductionist.  I personally can see different options in a park proposal that would work from my perspective, and some that wouldn't.  I can see a parkless future that is equally exciting under certain conditions, and a parkless future that sucks under other conditions.

I have run other public processes which have required decisions where we didn't vote.  When I was helping establish an Aboriginal choice school from an existing elementary school in Prince George a couple of years ago, we needed to ask the parents and students of four different schools whether they thought their school should be converted.  The committee initially wanted each school to make a yes/no vote.  Turns out that that wouldn't have worked because every community was opposed to it.  Instead we used a large scale decision making process using gradients of agreement.  Basically, we ran a series of dialogues and then asked the participants to rate, on a scale of 1-7, their preference for their school to be converted.  We drew a big scale up on a wall, gave everyone a post it note and they marked their preference and wrote on the note why they were voting that way.  That was incredibly useful, because we could see what the issues were.  Turns out the school that eventually was converted had lots of no votes but only because the school needed lots of renovations.  When the school board said they were going to renovate the school, everyone was cool.  Without that process, we would have had four no votes, no information and no way to move forward.

The problem with the current process is that much of the work of creating a proposal rests with Parks Canada and there are significant numbers of Islanders who are waiting in the wings to shoot the thing down.  That is the easiest route.  A harder route is to dive into the complexity of it and co-create a Parks proposal that is community based.  And in doing that we may discover that it isn't what the community wants, and that would be fine by me because it WOULD give us some incredible information about what we DO want for our future.

The most useful conversations to me have been the ones where we kick around ideas, blue sky, dream a little, roll our sleeves up and try and figure out numbers or options.  Not because we need to make a park work but because we need to make the FUTURE work, and the best way to do that is to be engaged in the present.

Done well, this whole process could be a launch for a new way of engaging and making decisions about our island, but we have to be able to think more broadly than reacting to one option with a stark, flat and uninformative yes/no reduction that is not really helpful.  If we're not careful we'll end up with a yes/no vote without understanding anything about what a yes or a no means to people.  The REASONS and the ideas behind voting yes or no are really, really important.  If we don't make them visible leading up to the vote then we will argue forever about what the yes side meant or what the no side meant.  That is useless chatter.

And that isn't to say that folks who are wholeheartedly opposed to a park in any way shape and form are not community builders, nor are they not valuable and important in the community.  They hold a view of the future that is really interesting and one we haven't really heard much in the past ten years.  As someone definitely on the fence, it has been interesting this week teasing it out of people.  I've learned a lot.  It makes us a much better place in general, because now I can see that we have creative and positive ideas on both sides of a yes/no vote on the park.  We can't lose with that kind of community capacity, no matter what the result.


  1. Great post, Chris. I don't post on the Phorum so I'll dive in with a comment here. With respect to this:

    "[Those opposed to the park] hold a view of the future that is really interesting and one we haven't really heard much in the past ten years."

    I have to say my jaw hit the floor when I read this. Really? I guess I have a different perspective on how often we have heard from those who defend our future by saying no to everything. I'd like to hear more.

  2. Well for one thing I have had numerous conversations with people opposed to a park because it might impact our future ability to harvest resources from our commons. For example, local sustainable logging, micro hydro or wind powe might be hard to do in a park versus on Crown Land.

    It's not people saying no to everything. I'm talking about people who are saying yes to alternative futures. You don't see that much on the forum.