Decision making is taught as the process of gathering data; identifying alternatives, establishing evaluation criteria, comparing alternatives, and hence choosing the optimum solution or course of action. In practice, it seldom works like this. Some of the ways decisions are actually made include the following.
A leader or individual intuitively has a gut feel that something should be done. The idea or conclusion sort of jumps into perspective seemingly out of nowhere. We all have done this. Decide on a whim to buy the new bicycle; specify a centerline rather than downstream embankment for the new tailings facility; judge that flooding the site is better than controlling individual sources of pollution.
Most often others do not accept this gut feeling. Thus there starts a formal decision making process. The leader may instigate the process in order to persuade others–to sell the idea to the vacillating. The group involved in the action may demand a formal process as a way of thinking it through themselves. The formalities of a rational decision making process may be the only way to structure deliberation on a complex and contradictory set of alternatives.
Or, a decision may be made around the water cooler. People informally talk, discuss, conclude. The group comes to feel by a random-walk process that the right thing to do is to sell the mine, buy into a new venture, build a new tailings facility. The leader may be part of the group talking around the water cooler. Or maybe the leader is presented with what seems like a foreordained group decision. The leader institutes a formal decision making process as a way to examine and possibly validate the groundswell of opinion.
Sometimes there is a solution [a decision] awaiting a problem. Thaw the frozen tailings in the old pit and make more room for more tailings. (That has been talked about for so long now that it is lore.] Yet is this the best thing to do? Maybe better to build a new tailings facility; maybe better to filter-press the tailings and take them underground. The leader calls in consultants and arranges formal, structured, and facilitated discussion amongst a variety of players to examine the idea so that he may more confidently report to upper management on the correct thing to do.
The point is that as individuals we have biases; as groups we can be mislead by persuasive individuals; and as organizations we can drift completely off course in response to ideas “in the air.”
A formal, structured, facilitated, objective decision making process, may not “make the decision.” But it can help thinking, deliberation, and consensus building.