Decision Making Protocol

This #wiki is based on the work done here: Decision Making Protocol | TZM Chapters Portal


A decision is defined as “a determination reached after consideration.” It should be clear that based on these terms virtually all existing tasks in the Movement rely on the decision process one way or another. However, this protocol does not have a duty to outline the decision process that fits all cases (individual or collective), but rather aims to lay the foundations for methods of decision-oriented issues or situations which require feedback from the community due to its nature, in other words, decisions of a collective nature. It should also be noted that the participants in a collective decision are not necessarily the collective in general, but rather may be a certain number of members of a sub-group or team.

It should be clear that the processes outlined here should not interfere with the specific responsibilities of members in the tasks that they may volunteer to carry out, but involve decisions that cover a new addition to an existing protocol, an amendment to a tool that affects a certain number of members, a substantial change to the organization, an update of a guide, or the objectives of a project, etc. The application of these methods is contingent on the context of specific decisions; otherwise every decision should be treated and analyzed on a per case basis, as often turns out to be required by its nature.

Any change to this protocol will require the use of the methods described here.

Problem analysis and decision making

It is important to differentiate between problem analysis and decision making. The concepts are completely separate from one another. Problem analysis must be completed first, then the information gathered in that process may be used toward decision-making.

Problem analysis
• Analyze performance - what the results should be compared with what they actually are
• Problems that are merely deviations from performance standards
• Problem must be precisely identified and described
• Problems that are caused by some change from a distinctive feature
• Something can always be used to distinguish between what has and has not been affected by a cause
• Causes to problems can be deduced from relevant changes found in analyzing the problem
• Most likely cause to a problem is the one that exactly explains all the facts

• Objectives must first be established
• Objectives must be classified and placed in order of importance
• Alternative actions must be developed (if possible)
• The alternative must be evaluated against all the objectives
• The alternative that is able to achieve all the objectives is the tentative decision
• The tentative decision is evaluated for more possible consequences
• The decisive actions are taken, and additional actions are taken to prevent any adverse consequences from becoming problems and starting both systems (problem analysis and decision making) all over again
• There are steps that are generally followed that result in a decision model that can be used to determine an optimal production plan

Types of decision


Decisions of temporary status are often decisions made under conditions of limited time or when the ability to take a more considered decision is compromised. In general these are decisions made via the consultative method (See #4.2) since this are known to concentrate a good ratio of speed and efficiency due to greater likelihood of experience by those who assume responsibility for a particular subject.

When a temporary decision is made it can have an indication of a date or simply a reference that it is necessary to revisit the subject to review and improve what was done if necessary, and if this is possible.

Note that in no way is temporary decision automatically considered permanent until it is revisited a second time for analysis.


Permanent decisions are decisions that generally go through a decision-making method of rational consensus (see #4.1) whose validity is not clearly stipulated, or are simply improved by a new revision on the subject by the application of the same method. Note that although the method generally applied to decisions of this kind is that of rational consensus, there exists in all of its complexity, the likelihood of a decision being made via consultative method in cases where it is not possible to reach consensus (even after compromises have been considered).

Methods aside, what can and should replace a decision in a given area is only a decision considered “superior” in the same area for the same problems.

Methods of arriving at a decision

Decision by rational consensus

The ideal and preferred method of arriving at a good decision is to consider diligently the reasons, objectives, advantages and disadvantages of a particular decision. A method known to do this is termed rational consensus. Note that this method does not take place primarily in “live” environments such as Teamspeak, Skype, or even physically, since these mediums greatly increase the possibility of someone being influenced by emotions, with there also being a greater propensity toward misunderstanding, miscommunication or misremembering of the subject and its details, which inevitably adversely affects the quality of a decision.

The basic components that set the stage for a decision of rational consensus are:

Community - Community in this context is defined as “a group of people whom the decision will directly affect”. These are usually active members involved in a project that requires a decision. Members outside this definition while not requiring notification, also have the right to contribute if they respect and adhere to the protocol of the “rational consensus” process.

A support document available to the members - To allow time for analysis for all involved in an asynchronous manner. Examples of these tools are “Pad”, “Text Documents in Google Docs”, “Wiki article,” “Book Page” in Open Atrium Platform, etc. The only requirements for the written medium are allowing a system of revisions and discussion/chat.

Support for synchronous communication - Simply, tools like “Teamspeak”, “Skype” or even physicial meetings complement that which is prepared in writing in the sense that one can more effectively convey the arguments and look for semantic or contextual clarifications very quickly. Note that these tools should not be used as the only tools to achieve rational consensus, but instead to serve as a complementary means of effective communication.
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With these defined components, the process in which this method is applied to the movement is as follows:

a) Identify the subject along with the reasons for the necessity of a decision to be made.

b) Gather the contacts of all relevant parties (the community as referred to previously), and notify the coordinator(s) directly responsible, if other than those who initiate and take responsibility for running the process.

c) Provide resources (links and additional information) to the supporting documentation and during meetings in real time (naturally this is not feasible with physical meetings). Note that the meeting is a real-time component and is not essential but can be very useful.

d) Make the necessary amendments as needed, update all relevant parties and wait some time to gather feedback (set deadlines if feasible). If there is not much participation in the matter, send an email to the “community” as a reminder of the situation.

e) After a certain time if there is no major opposition to the change in the documentation, this decision can be considered as effective from the moment the process is validated by the coordinator directly responsible for it. This is then communicated to the community (providing space to naturally undergo future revisions that will go through the same process).

If problems arise in the process due to the conduct of one or more persons involved, this will be reviewed by the moderation that will apply the most appropriate action to the situation. Otherwise if a situation arises where there is disagreement a minor compromise should be agreed upon by all parties involved in order to reach consensus, although this may not always be the case.

Decision by consultative method

When a certain group of people cannot reach a consensus, or simply when the variables of the situation do not allow the application of the method of rational consensus, under limited time for example (see #3.1), then the consultative method of decision-making is used.

The method of consultative decision-making consists of a single person or small group of responsible persons (most likely coordinators or project managers) who will assume the task/function of obtaining all possible information in order to reach the best decision possible. Those who are to be consulted include those members who are relevant to the situation due to technical expertise.

The key question of who holds responsibility is entirely dependent on the context of the decision to be made. Usually those responsibe will be coordinator(s) directly responsible for the group/team.

The reason that this method is preferred over the traditional system of voting is because usually those who are in positions of increased responsibility regarding a particular subject are those who have a higher level of experience, and should be reasonably well informed (if not the best informed on the issue). Along with these aspects of the utmost importance, a person or a small group of people are able to make a decision much faster than a larger group of people. In other words, this method is used as the last resort for having a good ratio of quality to speed.

Decision by Voting

Generally, decision by voting is not applied in the Movement for several reasons. Voting does not necessarily carry an argument or weight its quality (in fact it does quite the opposite), and it leaves the quality of the decisions susceptible to voters who can be influenced by a great number of social variables (see #7). In order for a voting system to work effectively in groups numbering greater than 7, comprehensive information access is necessary for voters, resulting possibly, in the long run, in more effort for the actual process of decision-making than the effort required to put a solution/decision into practice. This is a bleak prospect considering that it consumes more time and resources than other methods of decision-making such as the consultative method, and very likely generate poorer decisions than both the consultative and rational consensus models.

However, due credit and utility should be given to this method in certain situations. Voting is perceived to be the most friendly method to members as it gives them an equal say, and is a very intuitive process. It must also be clear that decision-making processes should not be viewed as dichotomies, especially considering that voting can sometimes serve as an effective way to gauge certain information from relevant parties (eg: scheduling a meeting time).

In short, decisions that affect the group on a more profound level, for example relating to members’ private lives, perhaps a method of voting should be best suited for use in these cases, as such opinions are, and should indeed, be equal.

Steps for arriving at a decision

There are several steps one can take to ensure the best possible decisions will be made. These are organized into seven steps, each reflecting an important stage in the decision making process.

The first step - Outline your goal and outcome. This will enable decision-makers to see exactly what they are trying to accomplish and keep them on a specific path.

The second step - Gather data. This will provide decision-makers with actual evidence to help them come up with a solution.

The third step - Brainstorm to develop alternatives. Coming up with more than one solution enables you to see which one can actually work. In this step a general transition or application for a given solution should be devised and also discussed.

The fourth step - List pros and cons of each alternative. With the list of pros and cons you can eliminate the solutions that have more cons than pros, making your decision easier.

The fifth step - Make the decision. Once you analyze each solution, you should pick the one that has many pros, or pros that are the most significant. In this step a more diligent and comprenhensive application plan for a given solution is established.

The sixth step - Immediately take action. Once the decision is chosen, it should be implement immediately by carrying out the devised plan.

The seventh step - Learn from, and reflect upon, the decision-making process. This step allows you to evaluate what you did right and wrong at each step of the process.

Guidelines and values underlying decisions

Every decision taken must respect and reflect the basic values ​​and principles of the Zeitgeist Movement, such as:

  • A holistic and unified worldview
  • Secular humanism
  • Scientific method
  • Sustainability
  • Social responsibility

Each decision must also respect and reflect our common goal as a Movement: A step by step introduction of the Resource Based Economic Model through a comprehensive transition period with a primary focus on education.

Addendum - Cognitive biases and other pitfalls

Coupled with the decision making process, below you can find the common pitfalls that haunt the process of arriving at a good decision. Being aware and vigilant with regard to these possible influences is key to arriving at a better decision.

Confirmation bias:

Confirmation bias is a tendency for people to favor information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses regardless of whether the information is true. As a result, people gather evidence and recall information from memory selectively, and interpret it in a biased way.

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Attitude polarization:

Attitude polarization, also known as belief polarization, is a phenomenon in which a disagreement becomes more extreme as the different parties consider evidence on the issue. It is one of the effects of confirmation bias: the tendency of people to search for and interpret evidence selectively, to reinforce their current beliefs or attitudes. When people encounter ambiguous evidence, this bias can potentially result in each of them interpreting it as in support of their existing attitudes, widening rather than narrowing the disagreement between them.

Social psychologists have carried out research on the effect of seeing oneself as part of a group on one’s attitude towards oneself, the group and positions supported or rejected by that group. To briefly summarize, the research suggests that people are likely to accept the position that they believe their group holds, even when they have only just been put into the group and have yet to meet any of the other group members.

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Conformity is the act of matching attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours to what individuals perceive is normal of their society or social group. This influence occurs in small groups and society as a whole, and may result from subtle unconscious influences, or direct and overt social pressure. Conformity can occur in the presence of others, or when an individual is alone.

Although peer pressure may manifest negatively, conformity can have good or bad effects depending on the situation. Driving on the correct side of the road could be seen as beneficial conformity. Conformity influences formation and maintenance of social norms, and helps societies function smoothly and predictably via the self-elimination of behaviors seen as contrary to unwritten rules. In this sense it can be perceived as (though not proven to be) a positive force that prevents acts that are perceptually disruptive or dangerous.

Although conformity generally leads individuals to think and act more like groups, individuals are occasionally able to reverse this tendency and influence the people around them. This is known as minority influence, a special case of informational influence. Minority influence is most likely when people can make a clear and consistent case for their point of view. If the minority fluctuates and shows uncertainty, the chance of influence is small. However, a minority that makes a strong, convincing case increases the probability of changing the majority’s beliefs and behaviors.

Minority members who are perceived as experts, are high in status, or have benefited the group in the past are also more likely to succeed.

Another form of minority influence can sometimes override conformity effects and lead to unhealthy group dynamics. A 2007 review of two dozen studies by the University of Washington found that a single “bad apple” (a lazy or inconsiderate group member) can substantially increase conflicts and reduce performance in work groups. Bad apples often create a negative emotional climate that interferes with healthy group functioning. They can be avoided by careful selection procedures, and managed by reassigning them to positions that require less social interaction.

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Bandwagon effect

The bandwagon effect is a phenomenon observed primarily within the fields of microeconomics, political science, and behaviorism, in which people often do and believe things merely because many other people do and believe the same things. The general rule is that conduct or beliefs spread among people, as fads and trends clearly do, with “the probability of any individual adopting it increasing with the proportion who have already done so". As more people come to believe in something, others also “hop on the bandwagon" regardless of the underlying evidence. The tendency to follow the actions or beliefs of others can occur because individuals directly prefer to conform, or because individuals derive information from others.

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Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within groups of people. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints. Antecedent factors such as group cohesiveness, structural faults, and situational context play into the likelihood of whether or not groupthink will impact the decision-making process.The primary socially negative cost of groupthink is the loss of individual creativity, uniqueness, and independent thinking. While this often causes groupthink to be portrayed in a negative light, because it can suppress independent thought, groupthink under certain contexts can also help expedite decisions and improve efficiency. As a social science model, groupthink has an enormous reach and influences literature in the fields of communications, political science, social psychology, management, organizational theory, and information technology.

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Ad populum

In logic, an argumentum ad populum (Latin for “appeal to the people”) is a fallacious argument that concludes a proposition to be true because many or most people believe it; it alleges: “If many believe so, it is so.”

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Serial position effect

The serial position effect, a term coined by Hermann Ebbinghaus through studies he performed on himself, refers to the finding that recall accuracy varies as a function of an item’s position within a study list. When asked to recall a list of items in any order (free recall), people tend to begin recall with the end of the list, recalling those items best (the recency effect). Among earlier list items, the first few items are recalled more frequently than the middle items (the primacy effect).

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Group polarization

Group polarization refers to the tendency for groups to make decisions that are more extreme than the initial inclination of its members. These more extreme decisions are towards greater risk if individuals’ initial tendency is to be risky and towards greater caution if individuals’ initial tendency is to be cautious. The phenomenon also holds that a group’s attitude toward a situation may change in the sense that the individuals’ initial attitudes have strengthened and intensified after group discussion.

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False Consensus Effect / Pluralistic Ignorance

The false consensus effect is a cognitive bias whereby a person tends to overestimate how much other people agree with him or her. There is a tendency for people to assume that their own opinions, beliefs, preferences, values and habits are ‘normal’ and that others also think the same way that they do. This cognitive bias tends to lead to the perception of a consensus that does not exist, a ‘false consensus’.

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Need for Closure

Need for closure is a phrase used by psychologists to describe an individual’s desire for a firm solution as opposed to enduring ambiguity.

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