Introduction to decision-making


Policy-making, problem-solving, decision-making or informed choice - whatever we call it, it is a process of conscious analysis, judgement and learning about choices, as opposed to unconsciously repeating a pattern of behaviour, a habit. Individuals and organisations both have unhealthy habits, either too risk-taking or too risk-averse. Individuals may have unhealthy lifestyle habits, Government may have unhealthy policy habits (see Organisational Culture).
The World Health Organisation's guide to problem-solving aims to help individuals make informed choices. It describes the basic stages of conscious decision-making. These stages match those of the Government's guide to policy-making (The Green Book) and so provides a simple overview of the latter.


The World Health Organisation's guide to problem-solving:

Solving problems and achieving goals

Structured problem-solving is a simple and effective technique for dealing with problems in your life. It is a step by step approach for tackling those aspects of a problem that can be changed. Tackle only one problem at a time.

Step 1: Identify the problem
This first step sounds simple and sometimes it is. But sometimes it is hard to get clear what exactly the problems are and which is the best one to tackle first. If this is the case, it may help to talk to someone you trust and who knows you well. Then write down exactly what you believe to be the main problem or goal.

Step 2: List as many solutions as possible
List all ideas that occur to you, even if some seem silly or 'way out'. Don't censor any solutions at this stage. List all possibilities without any evaluation of them.

Step 3: Discuss the pros and cons of each possible solution
Go down the list of possible solutions and assess the main advantages and disadvantages of each one. Keep going even if all options seem unpleasant. Sometimes there is no easy answer.

Step 4: Select the best or most promising solution
Choose the solution that can be carried out most easily with your present resources (time, money, skills etc). It may help to discuss this with someone you trust.

Step 5: Plan how to carry out your chosen solution
List the resources needed and the main problems that need to be overcome. Practise difficult steps and make notes of information needed.

Step 6: Try it out, review what happens and praise all efforts
The solution you have chosen may work perfectly or it may not. It it doesn't, go back to your list of solutions and try something else. Many solutions are helpful, but do not provide the complete answer. Whether your solution has worked completely, partially or not at all, praise yourself for your efforts. Revise your plans if necessary. Continue with the problem solving process until you have resolved your problem or achieved your goal.

For more detail of the WHO guidelines see the NHS guide to problem solving


The Government's guide to policy-making (The Green Book):

  • Chapter 3 Justifying action and chapter 4 Setting objectives concern Step 1 Identify the problem and goal
  • Chapter 5 Appraising the options concerns Step 2 List options and Step 3 Assess options
  • Chapter 6 Developing & implementing the solution concerns Step 4 Select best option and Step 5 Implement best option
  • Chapter 7 Evaluation concerns Step 6 Review and revise

Government drugs policies (legal & illegal) have not been assessed and evaluated according to the Government's guidelines. They remain a product of unconscious prejudice (= pre-judgement, judgement before evidence) rather than conscious judgement based upon evidence. Government continues to under-regulate traditional drugs while attempting to over-regulate, prohibit, non-traditional drugs.

Problem Harmful drug use All drug use
Goal Reduce harmful drug use Prevent all drug use
Options Regulate or repress Regulate or repress
Assessment Repression would increase crime
and deny informed choice
Drugs are harmful so no-one should use them,
regulation would increase use
Selection Regulation, minimal Repression, maximal
Implementation 200,000 licensed drug suppliers in UK Suppliers socially excluded; demand met by black market
Evaluation Over-licensing, availability & use: harm high Repression failure: high availability & use, no consumer protection: harm high