Suggested Decision-Making Guidelines and Process

Dec 4, 2014

by Bob Thompson

As an administrator or board member there are many problems that come before you and/or the board during the course of a year, most of which are not controversial.   However, there are always a few decisions that, if not handled well, can become major issues with the board, staff, or community.  The following guidelines and questions are designed to assist in improving success of the decision-making process.


Guiding Principles

  1. The role of any leader is, unless there are strong reasons to the contrary, to push decision-making responsibility down to the lowest paid person (or persons) in the chain of command that has the competence to make the decision, even if he/she does not have the legal authority to implement it.  In effect the leader’s constant objective should be to delegate all possible decisions downward to staff or outward to the community.  This gives the decision-makers ownership, improves their decision-making skills, and frees you up to think about new initiatives to achieve the district vision.
  2. There is more power in controlling the criteria for the solution and for the decision-making process, than there is in actually making the decision.
  3. In general, the more the concern over the issue, the larger the number of people who should be involved in the decision-making process.  But the group must include the “right” people i.e. the people most able to influence the thinking of the community.  Without these “influencers” on board nothing will happen, no matter how many other people are involved in the process.
  4. The sequence of thoughts for making effective decisions (whether by the leader or the leader’s designee) is to identify:
    1. Precisely what is the problem that must be solved, i.e. what conditions must exist for the problem to go away?
    2. What are the various strategies (options) that, if employed, can create the conditions that will make the problem go away?
    3. What are the financial, political, and other costs and/or benefits (i.e. the consequences) of choosing each of the options?  (See section below.)
    4. Taken as a whole (i.e. considering the sum of the positive and negative consequences of each option), i.e. which set of consequences (if any) can I/we best live with?
    5. Select the option that provides those consequences.

Specific Questions That Can Assist in Determining the Efficacy of Proceeding with the Decision-Making Process on a Major and/or Controversial Decision:


Many issues come before administrators and board members during the course of a year, most of which are not controversial.  However there are always a few that become major issues with one or more groups (e.g. employees, board, parents, community, special interest groups, etc.).  The following guidelines can assist in putting the proposed solution into proper perspective (i.e. determining the “readiness factor”) before making a final decision.  In short, no matter how important the decision, if there is not a readiness to implement and accept it, it will fail.  In such a case, it is best to exercise patience and bide one’s time until the decision is acceptable.

After clearly identifying the issue to be decided and the most logical solution (or solutions), rate the proposed solution(s) against a set of criteria using a one to ten scale:  (1 = low and 10 = high).  The higher the total score, the more it is worth the effort to make and implement the decision.  If the score it low the proposed solution should probably be postponed or rejected because of it doesn’t meet the “readiness” standard.

Below are some decision screening criteria written in the form or questions.  Be rating the proposed decision against these criteria, the “readiness factor” can be determined.


  1. Objectivity: How objective am I (are we)?  (How much of my thinking is governed by my assuming the role of “parent” to the group and doing what is “best” for them even though they don’t see it right now?  In short, do I really believe it is “their kids, their school, and their money” and they (as “owners of the schools”) have the right to make a “wrong” decision)?
  2. Importance: On a scale of one to ten, how important is this decision to the long-term future of the district?  (For example, whether the new building will be on the east side of the road or the west side is not likely to impact student achievement in the years to come, but the curriculum you choose may have a major impact.)(A high score indicates the decision is very important to the future of the district).
  3. Success: On a scale of one to ten, what confidence do we have that this decision will actually accomplish the objective it was designed to accomplish?(A high score indicates a high confidence of success).
  4. Return on Investment: If there is a financial cost to the decision, on a scale of one to ten how much benefit will children receive in relation to the size of the investment?(A high score indicates a large benefit to a large number of children for a relatively small cost).
  5. Doableness: Is the decision “doable” i.e. do we have the resources (staff, facilities, time, money, etc.) to implement the decision?  (On a scale of one to ten how easy will it be to implement the decision once it is made)?(A high score indicates we have adequate staff, technical expertise, time, and other resources necessary to implement the decision once it is made.)
  6. Political Acceptability: On a scale of one to ten, how acceptable will this decision be in the community?  (A politically unacceptable decision is one that would cause a severe loss of community trust and support, board dissension, etc.).(A high score on this item indicates the decision will be very acceptable and few if any political losses will result from the decision.  A low score indicates there will be a significant loss of community trust and support, board unity, etc).
  7. Durability: On scale of one to ten, what are the odds the decision will stand up over time, i.e. will not be reversed by a future board?(A high score indicates future boards will continue to support the decision).