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Decisions. Chapter 10 Tom Miller Shannon Harr Camille Pane, MD Chris Maher Lauren O’Connor. Agenda. Overview of Decisions Rational Decision Models Cost Benefit Risk Benefit Decision Analysis Polis Method Significance of Language. Decisions.

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Chapter 10

Tom Miller

Shannon Harr

Camille Pane, MD

Chris Maher

Lauren O’Connor


  • Overview of Decisions

  • Rational Decision Models

    • Cost Benefit

    • Risk Benefit

    • Decision Analysis

  • Polis Method

  • Significance of Language


  • Decisions are made every second of every minute of every day

  • Some ways decisions are made:

    • Habit

    • Custom

    • Impulse

    • Intuition

    • Procrastination

    • Consensus

    • Delegation

    • Etc.


  • Rational Decision Making

    • “Problems cast as alternative means for achieving a goal” – the rational choice is choosing the best means to attain that goal

  • This model defines policy problems as decisions – most common:

    • Cost-benefit analysis

    • Risk-benefit analysis

    • Decision analysis

Rational decision model
Rational Decision Model

  • Define Goals

  • Imagine alternative means for attaining them

  • Evaluate the consequences of taking each course of action

  • Choose the alternative most likely to attain the goal

Maximum total welfare
Maximum Total Welfare

  • “The decision maker should choose the alternative that maximizes overall welfare.”

    • Individual

    • Organizational

  • Moral principles & duties

    • Benefits outweigh costs - ***easy

    • Costs outweigh benefits

  • People often value the way decisions are made more than the decision’s outcome

Cost benefit analysis
Cost-Benefit Analysis

  • Measure – usually dollars

  • Used to measure the “worth” of an initiative

    • All items given a dollar value and a likelihood of the event occuring

    • Automobile example

Risk analysis
Risk Analysis

  • “The technique builds in an assumption that a bad result is less bad if it is not certain to occur.”

  • Risk analysis helps to quantify risk

  • “I don’t know”

    • 50/50 is most risky – you truly do not know

Decision analysis
Decision Analysis

  • A framework for structuring a visual map of how to reach the best decision when there is a great deal of uncertainty involved and different alternative courses of action.

Setting up an example
Setting up an Example

  • A mayor is considering 2 transit programs to support

    • (1) Improve the current bus system at a moderate but known cost that could be recovered

    • (2) Develop a new subway system if federal funding can be obtained, but the plan might get stalled permanently in federal budget politics

  • Subway system would be far superior, but without federal funding the plan might get stalled permanently

  • Should the mayor gamble with the uncertain, but better, system or go for a certain one with less exciting results?

Interpreting the model
Interpreting the Model

  • Tree is read from left to right

    Individual’s Decision

    Alternative courses of action

    Final consequences to be evaluated

    Uncertain event (federal funding

    might come through, or it might not)

Decision analysis example
Decision Analysis Example

Point of indifference (worth “.65” to the mayor)

1 is assigned to the best outcome (getting the subway)

0 is assigned the worst outcome (getting nothing at all)

Downfalls to the rational decision model
Downfalls to the Rational Decision Model

  • Model is individualist in its presentation of policy and calculus of a single mind

  • Good decisions are portrayed as the result of cogitation, not bargaining, voting, or logrolling

  • Model depicts that decision maker has the capacity and authority to make a single decision

  • Many times the power to make a decision is dispersed over a number of people

Rational decision models
Rational Decision Models

  • Rational decision models come close to promising that politics will become unnecessary

  • Is this realistic?

Making decisions in the polis1
Making Decisions in the Polis

To understand the function of the decision model in the polis, we can compare the steps and their functions with the basic theoretical model.

Step 1
Step 1

  • In the rational decision model, stated objectives are the standard by which possible actions evaluated.

  • In the polis, statements of goals are a means of gathering political support.


  • By labeling goals ambiguously, leaders can unite groups who might benefit from the same policy but for different reasons, or who might disagree on specifics but might support the basic goal.

  • “If I say something which you fully understand in this regard, I probably made a mistake.”--Alan Greenspan

Example of ambiguity
Example of Ambiguity

  • The “Wage Enhancement and Job Creation Act” did neither. It was a regulatory reform bill which diminished occupational health and safety regulations. By using a deceptive name, support could be garnered from labor groups that would otherwise oppose such action.

Step 2
Step 2

  • In the rational decision model, selecting alternatives is limited only by the imagination (and scarce resources).

  • In the polis, controlling the number and types of alternatives is a vitally important part of the political process.

Hobson s choice
Hobson’s Choice

  • To make one’s preferred outcome appear to be the only possible alternative.

  • By surrounding one’s preferred alternative with less palatable choices makes it seem like the only recourse, so constructing the list of alternatives is critically important.

Conceptions of causation
Conceptions of Causation

  • Construction of alternatives for a decision depend on conceptions of causation

    • Political beings try to locate the blame somewhere else

    • Since causal chains are virtually infinite, there is a wide range of choices to locate blame and how to correct it

Drunk driving problem
Drunk Driving Problem

  • The problem can be seen as caused by such things as:

    Drunk drivers, uncrashworthy cars, poorly designed roads, beverage industries, etc…

  • However, cultural assumptions, along with promotional activities of the beverage and auto industries, put the driver as the source of the problem

    • The list of solutions (e.g. safe driver course, stiff penalties, etc.) excludes the alternatives directed at other conceptions of cause.

Issue framing
Issue Framing

  • Definition: the process of focusing attention on a particular slice of an extended causal chain.

    • This cuts off parts of our vision

    • Forces us to see only what is wanted for us to see

    • Forming a list of alternatives is one of the most important ways of framing a policy problem and constructing a Hobson’s choice

Labeling of alternatives
Labeling of Alternatives

  • Is a very important technique in issue framing

    • A kind of loaded writing or verbal trickery

    • Rational analysis model tries to eliminate this kind of labeling

      • Verbal labels attached to different alternatives should not affect their evaluation

      • In polis, language does matter

Mental experiment
Mental Experiment

  • Serious flu epidemic expected to kill 600 people

    • Two possible vaccination programs:

      A) Conventional vaccine, saves 200 people

      B) Experimental vaccine, 1/3 chance 600 saved but 2/3 chance none saved

      You are the surgeon general of the United States. Which would you choose?

Mental experiment cont d
Mental Experiment, cont’d

  • Now suppose there were two other programs to choose from:

    C) Conventional vaccine, past experience says will result in 400 deaths

    D) Experimental vaccine, 1/3 chance no one will die and 2/3 chance 600 will die

    Which of these would you choose?

Risk averse or risk seeker
Risk Averse or Risk Seeker

  • Most people are risk averse, however:

    • Choose certain outcomes when alternatives are labeled “lives saved”

    • Gamble on outcomes when alternatives are labeled “deaths”

  • The rational decision model says this switch is thoroughly irrational

    So why do we do it?

Evaluating alternatives
Evaluating Alternatives

  • Psychologists believe the labels create different points of references against which people evaluate alternatives.

  • This shows that the way we think about problems is extremely sensitive to the language used to describe them.

    • May seem obvious to you but users of the rational decision model either ignore it or deny it

Significance of language
Significance of Language

  • In the polis, the way language affects people is undeniably a valid part of human experience.

  • In politics, there are important differences between the rational decision model and decisions in the polis

Three mile island nuclear power plant
Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant

  • Leak in cooling system discovered

  • Governor has two options:

    • Evacuate or not evacuate

  • Evacuate

    • will be certain injuries and deaths (traffic, chaos, etc)

  • Not evacuate

    • No core meltdown, virtually no one harmed

    • Core meltdown, millions will be injured

Which did he do
Which did he do?

  • Neither--he “recommended” that pregnant women and children under 5 leave the area

    • Though his official message was that it was safe, the unofficial message was that it was unsafe

      • If it’s not safe for them is it safe for me?

  • The word “recommended” symbolically puts responsibility on the individuals

    • This will cause more people to leave on their own causing the blame for any misfortune to be put on them instead of the governor

Step 3
Step 3

  • Evaluating Consequences of Actions

    Disproving Newton’s Third Law of Motion


  • Big Question: What consequences to include in the analysis?

  • Presentation of positive or negative consequences can alter public perspective entirely

  • Result= Hobson’s Choice


  • “Finding the consequences of an action is like finding the causes in reverse.”

    • Every action has infinite consequences

    • Selection of consequences is arbitrary and strategic

    • With no way to draw the line, how do we honestly evaluate?

Example child vaccination
Example: Child Vaccination

Highly Cost Effective

  • Count # of lives saved and value each life at one’s earning potential

Economic Burden

  • Factor in future medical expenses of saved lives

  • Future generations’ schooling and medical expenses

Costs and benefits
Costs and Benefits

-Rational Model

  • Abstract


  • Real losses and gains to real people

  • Only stand as cost/benefit if cultural framework and organized political interests to express it exist.

Step 4
Step 4

  • The Choice Among Alternatives

    Words and images used to portray costs and benefits very important in ultimate decision

Political reality
Political Reality

  • Rational Analysts Decision:

    • Sole Criterion= max. total welfare

    • Analysts neutral and omniscient

    • Decision at end of analysis

  • Political Decision

    • Pretends to be responsive to all but actually aligned to organized constituencies (costuming)

    • Logrolling decides much policy choice

    • Decision made before process began


  • Beware of Hobson’s Choices

  • Either/Or Choices are a trap

  • Solution:

    • Imagine alternatives not presented

    • Give new attributes to alternatives presented (adjective bag)

    • Expand range of consequences

Decision analysis strategies
Decision Analysis Strategies

Rational-Analytic Model

  • Goals explicit and precise

  • Stick with Objective

  • Imagine & Consider many alternatives

  • Distinct Course of Action for each alternative

  • Accurate Cost/Benefit of each course of action

  • Max.Total Welfare Determines Course


  • Ambiguous/Hidden Goals

  • Shift & Redefine as needed

  • Skew alternatives

  • Blend alternatives / indecisive

  • Select consequences whose cost/benefit favor agenda

  • Choose course that favors powerful constituents under guise of max social/public good