In the last post I argued that procedural issues can be as important in a decision as substantive issues, and now I am going to go further and say that relationship issues need to be considered as well. Seriously. More, even.
Let’s go back to the family taking a trip from Seattle to Portland and choosing between driving, taking a train, flying or bicycling. Their criteria are speed, safety, fun, cost-effectiveness and exercise (all substantive issues) plus the procedural issue of timing (by which they mean flexibility about when their trip starts).
But, really? The family includes some very annoying teenagers. For this and other reasons relationship issues are going to matter a great deal. (When do they not in a family vacation?) So when they consider the trip, the idea of being stuck in a tin can together for four hours is not appealing. The jet is a different tin can, but the train has the benefit of allowing them to spend time together if they want, while allowing them to get away from each other when the annoyance factor gets too high. Bicycling also has that quality of melding and separating, and in addition bicycling tires everybody out and for this family, physical tiredness leads to more copacetic relations.
They decide not to go into too much detail and simply lump all these considerations into the criterion of “Flexible Togetherness.”
(To simplify their table, they’ve decided to drop the van for now. They can pull it back in later if they want to.)
Here are their ratings:
Here’s the radar graph…. a little confusing:
And despite Philip’s concerns that you would take the total area too seriously (just don’t), here are some different, to me less confusing versions of the same graph:
Note that the bicycle alternative is looking good.
Here’s the same chart but with the train brought to the forefront:
For this family, relationship is important in thinking about how to get from Seattle to Portland, and the resulting analysis is richer for including them.
What about agencies choosing which bridge design (if any) to use? Or relicensing a hydroelectric dam or deciding on a new rule for disability determinations? Should they include relationship issues?
What about trust?
If an agency wanted to build public trust, and one alternative allowed for verification while another one would be a black box, wouldn’t it make sense to consider impacts to trust when choosing among those two alternatives?
What about respect?
If a person respect’s the agency’s regulation, they are a lot more likely to comply with it. If the agency is choosing between a rule that is valid, but only makes sense to an expert, and a rule that is valid but easier for a layperson to understand, shouldn’t the impacts to public respect be taken into account in choosing among those alternatives?
Ownership may lead to more volunteerism, so the degree of ownership the public has in an alternative is relevant if the agency cares about volunteer hours.
If the agency feels more comfortable framing trust as verifiability, or respect in terms of compliance or public ownership in terms of volunteer hours, if that feels somehow more scientific–fine. Whatever framing is applied, these issues are about the relationship between the agency and the public, and the ways different alternatives impact that relationship.
Relationship criteria aren’t always necessary for a good set of criteria. But… be skeptical if they are missing. Checking for missing relationship criteria is a good habit to get into.
Sometimes relationship should be considered by the agency but isn’t. Sometimes it is considered but not articulated as such. Overall, in our experience, the larger the bureaucracy the more distaste they seem to feel about relationship–as though considering such issues as trust or credibility would mean they were pandering to the public.
When relationship affects the way an alternative does or does not fulfill the goal of a plan, then including relationship isn’t “just” about popularity. It is about effectiveness.
And when relationship issues actually do swing the agency’s decision, but aren’t articulated, then the problem is lack of transparency.
Most complex problems include substantive, procedural and relationship pressures. To get a resilient, resonant and authentic decision, they all have to be surfaced.
Look for more on this topic in the Elements of a Decision series.