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12 February 2013

Assessment and decision making

By Andrew Clifford

Assessment is a valuable part of the decision-making process, even if you don't use the assessment to make the decisions.

My son is in his penultimate year of school, and, being a bright lad, is likely to go off to university. My wife was discussing with him how he could decide between different universities. Then she stopped and laughed and told him that he ought to talk to me about it. My company, Metrici, specialises in methods and tools for assessment to support management decision making. Surely I should be able to give some fatherly advice on how to make a decision.

Personal decisions are different from business decisions. Business decisions are shared, and a systematic process helps gain buy-in from all involved. Assessing different options provides information to support the decision-making process and provides a score that can be used to drive the decisions. Even though many decisions are made on managers' gut feel, they still need to conjure up facts to justify those decisions. But you can not make a personal decision in the same way. You have to trust your instincts, and you do not really have to justify your decision to anyone else because it is you who have to live with the decision.

So it is with some trepidation that I think of applying my normal methods to help my son. However, I believe assessments can help, even for a personal decision.

The process of defining how you are going to assess different options forces you to think through what you really want. You shouldn't try to cover everything: pick the top ten factors that would have the greatest influence on your decision. These might be simple "must haves" (like providing the right course), measures (like pass rates and fees), things that will help you succeed (like accommodation) or more subjective factors (what you and others feel about the place). Thinking through what is most important to you is a really valuable part of the process.

Performing an assessment forces you to systematically consider multiple options, and identify their pros and cons. It provides a structure for the decision making process.

The assessment will provide some indication of "good" and "bad" options. I would not like anyone to base a personal decision solely on assessment scores, but they are useful to confirm or challenge gut feel. Disagreeing with the conclusion of an assessment is hugely valuable, because articulating why you disagree helps you pinpoint the factors that are most important to you.

Most importantly, assessments help you gain the benefits of the decision you have made. It gives you confidence. It prepares you to exploit the opportunities of your chosen option, and to confront its challenges. In the university example, your assessment might uncover that accommodation is in short supply. At least you are forewarned and can make arrangements well in advance.

I don't think my son should base his decision of which universities to apply for solely on an assessment. But I think an assessment process will help. It will force him to think through what he wants, gather the right information, be confident in his decision, and make the most of it.

Next: The mathematics of flies in ointment


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