How are you most likely to approach a controversial or difficult choice? Do you typically open up the process to others and their ideas – or batten down the hatches until ready to present your conclusions? Undoubtedly, you have experienced the challenges involved in either approach. However, the answer to this question, though, may well determine the outcome.
In “Why Decisions Fail”, Paul Nutt outlines two basic decision-making approaches. A “discovery” approach involves: confirming true needs (not simply reacting to what the squeaky wheel says is true), establishing decision goals, being open to new and better ideas, and listening to and involving stakeholders. The “idea imposition” approach involves making an important decision in isolation or with a select group, then rolling it out and convincing other of its value. Nutt finds that this latter approach is 4 times as likely to fail as an approach that is more collaborative and open to new possibilities.
In the Sewanhaka (NY) Central High School District, ambitious educational goals, needed capital improvements and funding pressures suggested that a bond referendum might be necessary. The Board could have just announced that a referendum was needed and gone about holding public forums, etc. to explain why and air concerns. Instead, they employed TregoED strategies in a discovery approach to engage in dialogue with their communities. This approach helped: reaffirm goals the communities held dear, explore other approaches and ways of saving money, and ensured concerns were listened to. Based on the inputs received, the District modified its approach to better meet new concerns and objectives. In addition to listening closely to its publics, the District ensured that it openly shared information, plans, and concerns with every stakeholder group. Ultimately, both the budget and referendum passed overwhelmingly. Congratulations, Sewanhaka!