Decision making in Political Science

Essay Contents:

  1.  Introduction to Decision-Making
  2.  Characteristics of Decision-Making
  3. Factors of Decision-Making
  4. Bases of Decision-Making
  5. Techniques of Decision-Making
  6.  Problems of Decision-Making
  7. Problems of Rationality in Decision-Making

 Introduction to Decision-Making:

Of all the problems in management, the problem of decision-making is the most difficult. Even in ordinary life, ‘to do or not to do’ is one of the most important riddles that an individual faces before leaping to action. He runs about for advice and guidance, for consultations and suggestions and ultimately when he comes to take a decision, he gets too late and changes his mind.

This is what usually happens with most of us and in most of the cases. But can an organization take decisions the way we take? Can they keep things pending for long? In business, decisions have got to be quick and on time otherwise the enterprise shall soon be out of its gears.

In Public administration, however, decision-making is not as easy as in business, though here too, we can’t keep things pending indefinitely. In business we need quick and speedy decisions; in Public administration we need right decisions.

Effective management whether of private or public organization means, in the ultimate analysis, making right and responsible decisions. A good leader is the one who can decide, who can solve the problem ‘to do or not to do,’ and who can willingly undertake the responsibility for making decisions.

It is usually seen that even Ministers, when faced with public repercus­sion, pass the buck to the Cabinet to avoid personal responsibility for their decisions. In fact, responsibility is a burden which most of us do not carry well, which most of us are not willing to accept. But leadership means that decisions must be made and responsibility accepted. Man­agement is impossible without the capacity and the willingness to decide.


 Characteristics of Decision-Making:

The following characteristics of decision may be noted:

(i) Decision-making is a process of selection and the aim is to select the best alternative;

(ii) Decision is aimed in achieving the objectives of the organisation;

(iii) Decision-making involves the evaluation of available alternatives;

(iv) Decision-making is a mental process;

(v) Decision-making involves rationality;

(vi) Decision-making is a continuous or on-going process.


Factors in Decision-Making:

Millet refers to three aspects which must be considered in order to understand decision-making process.

(i) Personal Differences:

There are differences in the personal qualities of individuals which make some decisive and others indecisive. “We must observe the personal differences among men and women which enable some to be decisive and which make others indecisive. Common experience reveals that some individuals are willing to make choices and to abide by the consequences. Others prefer to avoid clear-cut choices, to temporize, to postpone, to hope that somehow, some way circumstances will intervene to make a choice unnecessary. We do not know now why there should be these differences among individuals or how extensive such differences may be.”

Perhaps, these differences among individuals are the result of social and professional environment in which they are nurtured. Opinion is veering round to the acceptance of the premise that intellectuals make no good administrators because they lack the capacity to make decisions.

Barnard has analyzed the “limitations of the intellectual” as threefold:

(a) He may be irresponsible (absent-minded and non-punctual);

(b) He may be non-decisive (ultra-care­ful, ultra-judicial in his examination of a problem, seeing so many aspects of it and so many possible consequences of a particular action that he cannot make up his own mind); and

(c) He may be non-persuasive (“queer”, uninterested in people).

(ii) Role of Knowledge:

Decision-making depends upon the availability of facts and the necessary data. “The careful accumulation of detailed facts, their analysis and interpretation, the use of broad concept of human and physical behaviour to predict future developments—all these elements in the use of knowledge enter into decision-making in varying degree”.

The really critical factors in the decision process, according to Simon, are:

(1) The availability of information and

(2) The computational capacities available to deal with the information.

(iii) Institutional and Personal Factors:

There are institutional limitations which circum­scribe decision-making. “On the one hand, decision-making must consider the aspirations, tradi­tions, and attitudes of the agency administering government work. On the other hand, there are personal predilections among administrators which also limit decision-making.” In a democratic society like ours, decisions are highly circumscribed because the administration has to carry people along with and not to exist in some sort of ‘ivory’ tower.

Who Makes Decisions?

Decision-making in any large-scale organization is a co-operative effort; it is a collective activity in which all levels in administration participate. In the words of Seckler-Hudson, “decision-making in government is a plural activity. One individual may pronounce the decision, but many contribute to the process of reaching the decision. It is a part of the political system.”

Although the announcement about a decision may come from a particular individual in the administration, it should be remembered that decisions are not arrived at as quickly and as speedily as lightning makes its frightening sound in the cloudy sky.

Decisions are the product of long deliberations to which many people and agencies participate. It may, however, be men­tioned that the top administrator is a person who must have a final say, who must ultimately give the final word.

This is because of the fact that in the final analysis, it is he who has to own the burden of responsibility of the consequences of a particular decision.

The ancient witticism which says “that an administrator is a person who gets to know less and less about more and more until eventually he arrives at that happy state where he knows nothing about anything” does not hold good in respect of responsibility of the administrator.

As he rises up ladder, his functions decrease but his responsibility increases. As it is he alone who can see the enterprise as a whole, the power of final decision-making must rest with him.


 Bases of Decision-Making:

There are no fixed bases, nor there can be any, for decision-making. Much depends on the nature of decision to be taken and the nature of agency taking it. Of course, all decisions must be taken rationally and not emotionally or impulsively.

Seckler-Hudson provides a list of twelve factors which must be considered in decision-making:

(i) Legal limitations;

(ii) Budget;

(iii) Mores;

(iv) Facts;

(v) History;

(vi) Internal morale;

(vii) Future as anticipated;

(viii) Superiors;

(ix) Pressure groups;

(x) Staff;

(xi) Nature of programme; and

(xii) Subordinates.

We can only lay down one criterion, i.e., that every decision should be made objectively and not subjectively. In other words, bias or predilection should not enter in decision-making. Merits of the case should be the sole basis on which a decision should rest.


Techniques of Making Decisions:

There are no universally accepted techniques of decision-making except that the problem should be carefully analyzed, studied and investigated before taking a decision on it. In fact, decision-making is a practical experience and can be learnt by actually taking to it.

One cannot learn music by reading literature on music alone. He has to take to practice on the instruments before he is able to produce the melodious notes. Similarly, the techniques of decision-making cannot be learnt by reading literature on the subject alone; it has to be practiced.

Terry lays down the following sequence of steps to facilitate decision-making:

(1) Determine what the problem is;

(2) Acquire general background information and different viewpoints about the problem;

(3) State what appears to be the best course of action;

(4) Investigate the proposition and tentative decisions;

(5) Evaluate the tentative decision;

(6) Make the decision and put it into effect; and

(7) Institute follow-up and, if necessary, modify decision in the light of results obtained.

Griffiths observes that “decisions are totally pragmatic in nature, that is, their value is dependent upon the success of the action which follows”.

Their effectiveness can be measured in terms of their action-orientation and goal-directed behaviour as well as the amount of effi­ciency with which decisions are taken. Decisions should ultimately find their utility in imple­mentation. A decision brilliantly conceived may be worthless without effective implementation.


Problems of Decision-Making:

Decision-making is a highly complex and difficult process.

Some of the problems which impede the process of decision-making are:

(i) Routine Taking Too Much Time:

It is revealed through a study of decision-making in public or business enterprises that routine takes too much of time with the result that decisions are either avoided or postponed.

Prof March through his research has proved that a person responsible both for routine work and long-term planning devotes greater share of his time on routine activities and this he calls “Gresham’s Law of Planning.” In his own words “In preliminary experiment, subjects were asked to handle a relatively simple administrative job.

The job involved three kinds of activities:

(i) Routine Communication:

They were to communicate to relevant clerks information on the current inventory levels in various warehouses.

(ii) Intermediate Planning:

They were to make any necessary reassignments of warehouses to groups of clerks so as to maintain an approximately equal work load in each group.

(iii) General Planning:

They were to suggest any other changes in procedure that might be appropriate. The subjects were told that each of the three jobs was equally important and should be given equal attention.

After a training period to allow the ‘executives’ to become accustomed to the task, the work load (the rate at which information on warehouses was received) was varied systematically. As the work load varied, we observed the proportion of communications dealing with routine activities as opposed to planning activities by the subjects.

Two results of this experiment are significant.

First, despite instructions to spend only one- third of the time on routine matters, subjects spent a good deal more than that even when the work load was relatively light.

Second, consistently as the work load increased, subjects spent a small proportion of their total time on planning activities. At peak loads, virtually no planning was evidenced.

(ii) Which Problem to be Solved First?

The second problem of decision-making is which problem should be solved first. It is usually seen that in a large-scale organisation, there are several problems, each looking more urgent than the other. The administrator finds it extremely difficult to determine the priority of these problems.

Sometimes, the problems are very heavy as in the case of planners of our country who have to determine priorities of various demands within the limited resources. Should there be more schools, hospitals or more industries and projects? These are the problems which not only take much of their time but also create a constant worry in them.

(iii) Lengthy Procedures:

Thirdly, decisions are delayed because of the lengthy proce­dures and other formalities attached to arriving at a decision. The whole procedure is circumlocutory and dilatory and it checks quick decisions. Even after all these formalities are complete, there is no certainty that the decision arrived at is a right decision.

Procedures are not computing machines that they always give the right decision.

In the words of P.M. Marx “It would be difficult in a large-scale organisation to point to a single decision of some conse­quence that is reached without being part of a specified operating method, pinned down by checks and balances, reviews and concurrences, supporting fields and staff papers……….. (But) the right decision must meet a higher test.

It must accord with the general interest, the constitu­tional spirit, and the moral principle. Nothing short of this will do.”

(iv) Problem of Bias in Decision-Making:

The problems mentioned above do have some solutions but the problem of bias in deci­sion-making rarely finds solution. This is because of the nature of bias. Bias is generally invis­ible; it travels on wings which cannot be seen except when it is openly accepted as part of policy by an organisation of agency or government.

What is bias? In simple terms, it may be defined as a “swaying influence or undue leaning to one side.”

It may take two forms:

(i) Prejudice and

(ii) Predilection.

Prejudice is an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed before taking a decision without knowledge of reason. Predilection is a mental preference of a favourable predisposition towards a particular issue or matter or person. Both are irrational and may occur consciously or unconsciously.

Bias is conscious or deliberate when an individual or an agency willingly develops it as part of policy; it is unconscious when it develops without the willing response from the individual or agency. There can develop a general bias also as most of us have developed against the police in our country.

Bias should not be confused with unethical acts such as favouritism, corruption, nepotism, etc. These vices are deliberately developed whereas bias is generally unconscious. A distinction should also be made between ‘official bias’ and ‘personal bias’.

‘Official bias’ is developed as a part of policy and is inherent in the duty imposed on authority whereas it becomes ‘personal bias’ when that authority uses it in favour of, or against, some individual or groups of individu­als.

It may also be mentioned here that bias is relative to time and place because it is generally connected with values and traditions. As our values and traditions change, bias also changes. We must admit that the old bias we had against the backward classes is almost disappearing today.

(a) Finding Out Bias:

It is very difficult to exactly locate bias. Of course, there are certain ways by which we can find out, if not exactly, to some extent, whether a particular authority has acted impartially and without bias.

First, we have to see that proper rules have or have not been followed in decision-making.

Second, we have to find whether decision has been taken subjectively or ob­jectively.

Third, we have to see whether the act or decision of an authority can be justified before an impartial tribunal or not. Through the application of these tests, we can make some rough estimate as to whether a decision is free or not from bias.

The situations wherein bias can find a convenient place are:

(i) Where the official has the discretion to decide;

(ii) Where there are no established procedures, rules and norms;

(iii) Where the authority has both executive and judicial functions;

(iv) Where administration has regulatory powers;

(v) Where the situation is abnormal, i.e., in times of emergency;

(vi) In smaller communities.

(b) Causes of Bias:

Bias can develop on account of many causes; lack of education and training, strict adher­ence to rules and regulations leading to bias for red-tape, fear of external repercussions to a decision, caste, class, community, religion, language, region, province, group attachments, party affiliations, ideology, profession, value attitudes, etc.

(c) Elimination of Bias:

The word ‘bias’ is used almost as a filthy word in the dictionary of administration but actually this should not be so. All bias is not bad. It is only the unhealthy bias which is unde­sirable and should be eliminated.

If we are developing a constructive bias, as for example, bias in favour of preferential service to the Jawans or to their widows or bias in favour of backward classes, it is a healthy bias and need be developed and acquired.

In the field of law, unhealthy bias is eliminated to the extent that principles of justice provide that:

(i) No man shall be a judge in his own case; and

(ii) Justice should not only be done but manifestly and undoubtedly seem to have been done.

These principles are now well established in administrative adjudication but in pure administration, we have yet to devise these types of principles. The Americans have developed the ‘conflict of interest’ clause which pre­vents public officials including ministers from taking decisions on matters in which they have interests.

In our country too, this clause is getting well established. It is on account of this fact that rules and regulations are constantly being framed to keep the civil servants free from out­side pressures, of pecuniary and non-pecuniary gains so that their actions may not be coloured by unhealthy bias.

An amendment to the All India Service (conduct) Rules, 1954, provided that “no member of the services shall, except with the previous sanction of Government, permit his son, daughter or dependent to accept employment with private firms, with which he has official dealings, or with other firms having official dealing with Government.”

It is for the same reason that High Court Judges are not allowed to practice before the same court after their retirement and the Comptroller and Auditor General is not allowed to hold any remunerative post after retirement.

(d) Provisions and Safeguards for the Eradication of Bias in Decision-Making:

The Universities also provide safeguards against bias of the examiners to the exam­inees by issuing them confidential answer-books, by refusing appointments as examiners to per­sons who have any interest in any of the examinees appearing in the same examination.

To quote a University regulation “No person shall be appointed as paper-setter in any paper for an examination, if any of his son or her close relations intends to appear at that examination in that paper-the term close relations includes wife, husband, son, daughter, grandson, grand-daugh­ter, brother, sister, nephew, niece, grand-nephew, grand-niece, uncle, aunt, first cousin, son-in- law, daughter-in-law, brother-in-law, and sister-in-law.

Before setting the paper, the paper-setter should inform the Registrar by name, if he is the author of a book or booklet on the subject and the standard for which the book can be utilised.”

Thus every effort is made to eliminate the possibilities of bias entering into decision-making and in the execution of policy. There already exist several provisions and safeguards for the eradication of bias in decision-making but still we can mention a few more which can help officials in arriving at rational decisions.

These are:

(i) Simplification of Procedures:

Lengthy and cumbersome procedures, unnecessary rules and regulations open up the gates for bias. It is, therefore, essential that improved rules of procedure should be established and useless regulations be weeded out. In this connection, the activities of Organisation and Management should be speeded up.

(ii) Limited Use of Board-Type Organisations: 

Limited use of board-type organisation can help to reduce the making of arbitrary decisions, for in this type of organisation authority is diffused among a group of persons, each person preventing the other to act with a bias. This type of organisation is very useful where the agency exercises quasi-legislative or quasi-judicial powers or where such matters like the recruitment to public services are involved.

(iii) Use of Consultative Bodies:

Consultative and advisory bodies are very useful as they help to arrive at right decisions. They provide mines of information and represent different points of view regarding a particular policy. Their suggestions can be filtered and incorporated in a policy before a final decision is taken.

(iv) Conflict of Interest Clause:

This clause should be extended to administrative officials to help them maintain their impartiality and neutrality in their official dealings. No official should be allowed to decide on matters in which he has any interest, pecuniary or non-pecuniary.

(v) Protection from External Pressures:

The officials must be safeguarded against exter­nal pressures so as to enable them to take right decisions. We, in India, are witnesses to the increasing pressures and pulls under which our officials have to work.

Pressures from Ministers, Members of the Legislatures, political party chiefs, workers’ unions and several other official and non-official organisations are exerted on the officials. This tendency is certainly bad as it curbs initiatives and independence of the officials, and must be nipped.

(vi) Publicity of Decisions:

Much of the bias in decision-making can be checked if proper publicity is given to the reasons for taking a decision.

Such publicity is very important for the regulatory activities of administration. If, for example, the official records are open to public scrutiny and the officials are required to defend the positions they took, they will be more conscious in making decisions for otherwise they will have to bear the brunt of public criticism.

(vii) Education and Training:

Last but not the least important is the proper education and training of officials. They must be properly educated and trained in the art of making right decisions.

Our Government has already started training programmes for the civil servants but they are not sufficient nor do they cover all officials who are involved in the actual implemen­tation of policies on the ‘firing line’. It is, therefore, essential that these training programmes are expanded and their scope enlarged.

There is also, an urgent need to educate our public. In India, not merely the officials but the general public too are biased. It cannot help the general public to always look to the offi­cials through coloured glasses. This hardens the attitude of administration towards public which is not in any way a healthy development.


Problem of Rationality in Decision Making:

The question of decision-making has long pre-occupied the decision-theorists. There are mainly three components of decision-making. First, the decision-maker is forced with a problem which he analyses and tries to comprehend. Second, he has a number of alternatives to solve the problem. Third, he chooses one of the alternatives which according to him, will produce the best results.

The question is why does the decision-maker choose one alternative not another? In other words, what is a rational choice? In this context we shall briefly describe Simon’s Theory of Decision Making.

Herbert Simon was born in 1916 in Wisconsin (U.S.A.). He receiving Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Chicago. He has written about 600 papers and 20 books. In recognition of his outstanding contribution in analyzing the decision making process he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1970.

His book ‘Administrative behaviour in (1947) is considered one of the most influential books on social science thinking.

The main contribution of Simon lies in the field of organisational behaviour. He equates ‘Administration’ with decision making. According to him, decision-making involves choice between alternative plans of action and choice in turn involves facts and values. A fact is a statement of reality while values an expression of preference. One must be rational in making a choice but total rationality in decision making is not possible.

According to him rationality is limited because of incompleteness of knowledge, lack of perfect anticipation and other psychological reasons. As such the administrator has to be content with ‘satisfactory’, ‘good enough’ alternatives. Most of the decisions are, therefore, ‘satisficing’ Simon called it “Branded Rationality’.

Simon considers rationality as “the selection of preferred behaviour alternatives in terms of values whereby the consequences of behaviour can be evaluated”. He further points out that ‘a decision may be called objectively rational if in fact it is the correct behaviour for maximizing given values in a given situation.

It is subjectively rational if it maximizes attainment relative to the actual knowledge of the subject. It is consciously rational to the degree that the adjustment of means to ends is a conscious process. It is deliberately rational to the degree that adjustment of means to ends has been deliberately brought about (by the individual or by the organisation).

A decision is organizationally rational if it is oriented to the organization’s goals, it is personally rational if it is oriented to the individual’s goals.

Simon is of the view that objective rationality is impossible. What exactly can be achieved in a situation is subjective rationality. As opposed to the concept of economic man evolved by classical economic theorists, he has presented the concept of administrative man.

The decision of economic man is directed to maximum profit. It is completely rational in the means-ends sense. He is fully aware of all possible alternatives and their consequences. Probability calcula­tions are neither frightening nor mysterious to him.

On the other hand, the administrative man:

(i) In choosing between alternatives, tries to satisfy or look for the one which is satisfac­tory or good enough;

(ii) Recognizes that the world he perceives is a drastically simplified model of the real world;

(iii) Can make his choices without first determining all possible alternatives and ascertain­ing that these in fact are all the alternatives because he satisfies, rather than maximizes;

(iv) Is able to make decisions with relative simplicity because he treats the world rather as empty.”

Thus administrative man tries to be rational and satisficing, rather than maximizing. He does not work on the basis of perfect knowledge which is mostly a real situation. A human being will choose an alternative which fulfills certain satisficing conditions or which satisfies in order to achieve as much maximization as possible.

The economic man is not a realistic descrip­tion of modern management decision-making behaviour. He is an automation, stripped bare of any of the human characteristics that will real men possess.

However, the difference between administrative man and economic man is one of relative degree because under some conditions, satisficing may be maximizing, whereas in other conditions, satisficing and maximizing are poles apart. There are many social, economic and organisational variables that influence the degree to which satisficing becomes maximizing.

Administrative man model represents the real situation of decision-making behaviour. As against this, economic man model presents a very hypothetical position. As such, the administrative man model holds good for managerial decision-making behaviour.

That is why others also have emphasized this model both in economic theory as well as in organisation theory. Among these others the notable thinkers are Cyert and March, Chamberlain, Joel Dean, and R.A. Gordon.

Simon also points out that every decision consists of a logical combination of fact and value propositions. A fact is a statement indicating what the product is was or has been. On the other hand, value is an expression of preference.

Every decision, according to Simon, is made up of several fact statements and one or more value statements. To illustrate his point Simon has given the example of a war attack. Suppose a commander wants to decide on the method of attack.

The value proposition with which he starts is: I should attack; to attack the enemy one must do it successfully. This is a value statement. The ‘fact’ statement is: An attack is success­ful only when carried out under conditions of surprise. There is another fact statement—the conditions of surprise are concealment of the time and place of attack.

Combining these state­ments you get a decision set the time and place of attack value statement Attack success­fully—is a value statement of the first order. Decision on time and place is a value statement of the second order.

A value statement which one begins with, is a value statement of first order, and the subsequent one is of the second order. It may also be noted that decision-making is influenced by personal value system of the decision-maker. He projects his values to others and often falsely assumes that groups either within or outside their own organisations share the same values as he does.

In his analysis of decision-making, Simon employs two terms—programmed decisions and un-programmed decisions. A programmed decision is one in which a certain programme exists in our mind or on paper which automatically gives us the solution.

Every bureaucratic rule or regulation is a programme and every application of a programme gives us a programmed deci­sion. An un-programmed decision is one for which there are not any precedence or rules and regulations to direct us. The decision is to be worked out personally.

It may be emphasized that despite the recent advances in decision-making theory and de­cision-making studies, it has not been possible to ensure complete rationality in decision-mak­ing. The decision-making mechanism puts a limit on the rationality of decision. The decision maker just does not have full knowledge of all alternatives and their consequences.

The limits of human mind cannot make exact predictions of future events and consequences of various alter­natives. At best the most probable alternative providing a certain amount of satisficing can be chosen. Further, human factors such as personal value systems, perception of problems, social and economic factors and limitations in human processing are a major source of limit on ratio­nality in decision-making.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

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