Activities for FYF 101J
11 September 2009

Group Decision Making


Today's session will have one main objective:

1. To introduce the concept of group decision making, and demonstrate one commonly used technique.

Group Decision-Making

As social creatures, humans are often asked to make collaborative decisions on issues that affect an entire group.  History is replete with examples of both effective and ineffective decisions that were rendered by various processes.

In some cases, group decisions are actually made by a single powerful individual with the assent of numerous individuals holding no power.  Those systems follow a dictator model, and the success of those decisions rests largely on the knowledge and ethics of the dictator.

At the other extreme, decisions are often based on a democratic vote of all individuals in the population.  Typically, however, voting members must fulfill some kind of a requirement, such as age, residence, or education. 

Somewhere between those two extremes are decision-making processes based on a representative system.  In a representative system, the entire population elects a few members willing to take the time to sort through issues and vote on them.  The idea is that the representatives will carry out the will of the entire population.  Most levels of government in the US function according to that system.

These kinds of group decision-making systems are applicable in cases where the group is large (>25 individuals), and where not everybody's opinion can be conveniently noted.

In many cases, the groups are smaller (3-15 individuals).  In such cases, each person can indeed have a say, and realistically influence all other members of the group.  The goal is to reach consensus, whereby the decision reflects the true desire of the group.

Common pitfalls to avoid in small-group decision-making include:

Often, groups will engage the services of a facilitator to lead them through a process whereby the pitfalls are avoided and the decision is made in a logical, forthright fashion.

Several methods of small-group decision making are well known.  They include brainstorming, posterboarding, and charette.  Additional information about these methods and other examples of group decision making are presented here, here, here, and here.

Example of Group Decision-Making: Brainstorming

Brainstorming is commonly used by small groups when trying to identify and prioritize choices from a large number of potential options.  For example, a club might want to take a day field trip to an interesting location within a 2 hour drive of Wilkes-Barre.  Clearly there are numerous choices, based on interest, cost, and many other factors.  The group would want to select a small subset for direct vote.

Brainstorming requires that four people be identified and assigned the following roles: (1) timekeeper, (2) recorder, and (3) reporter.

Effective brainstorming involves the following steps:

1.  Ideas are freely suggested, and every one is recorded.  At this point, even "strange" ideas are worthwhile because they might spur somebody else to conceive an even better idea.

2.  The group reviews the ideas, and ranks them based on consensus.  This can be done through discussion, or members of the group can be given a certain number of votes and asked to allocate their votes to the various ideas (sometimes each member is given a set number of colored "stickers" to paste next to their favorite ideas.  The ideas are then ranked according to the stickers received.).

3.  Top ideas are presented orally or in a summary form prepared by the reporter.

Application of Brainstorming

The course instructor will provide you with a common object and will ask you to identify the seven best uses of that object.  The class will divide into five teams of 5-6 students, and each team will be given a flipchart and a set of stickers.  Students will find an unoccupied classroom on the third floor of Stark Learning Center.  They will spend 15 minutes identifying potential uses via brainstorming.  Following that, they will spend 5 minutes voting with the stickers.

All teams will reassemble, and each team will be given two minutes to read off their seven best uses, based on the voting.

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This page posted and maintained by Kenneth M. Klemow, Ph.D., Biology Department, Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18766. (570) 408-4758,