5 Reasons to Include Community in Decision-Making

There are many ways to lead a group, an organization, a movement, a school district, or even a country. History buffs can point to all kinds of leadership styles and practices that have worked and even more that have fallen flat. They can also tell you that different times call for different measures. In today’s connected and complex world the leadership styles of the past aren’t as effective and in some cases are downright damaging. In today’s world we need a new kind of leader – we need leaders willing and able to work collaboratively and who know how to lead from behind.

Leading from behind doesn’t mean abrogating your leadership responsibilities. After all, the shepherd makes sure that the flock stays together. He uses his staff to nudge and prod if the flock strays too far off course or into danger. For leaders, it’s a matter of harnessing people’s collective genius. ~ Linda Hill, HBR

Participatory decision-making

One practice of collaborative, lead from behind leaders is participatory decision-making (PDM). PDM is the strategic use of community engagement to inform and legitimize the decision-making process. It’s this kind of community-inclusive process that builds trust and confidence in both the decision-makers and the decision process.

PDM is grounded in the theories and practices of Social Learning, Participative Management, Participatory Democracy and, more recently, Neuroscience. There are a range of types, styles and levels of PDM to draw from. Sherry Arnstein’s Ladder of Citizen Participation, Himmelman’s Collaboration Continuum and the more recent International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) Spectrum of Public Participation speak to the breadth of PDM options available.

Albert Bandura proposed a Social Learning Theory emphasizing observation, imitation and modelling. This theory has evolved to include recognizing mutual goals and perspectives, uncovering values, sharing problem identification, co-creating knowledge, understanding interdependencies, complexities and trust.

The outcomes of social learning processes influence decision-making, helping community stakeholders reach agreement and make decisions based on shared understanding of the situation.

Why collaborative leaders use PDM

PDM accomplishes several collaborative leadership goals. It increases community capacity and builds social capital, while complying with legislation that requires the public be informed on issues and decisions that affect them. PDM increases the legitimacy of a decision, thus increasing support for the decision. Finally, community inclusive processes like PDM cultivate a broad range of perspectives. Diverse perspectives results in better decisions.

1. Build Community CapacityParticipatory Action Research theory suggests that involving those affected by a given problem increases their collective ability to find solutions. People learn through experience. Providing opportunities to influence decisions facilitates community members’ ability to make better decisions. (Stringer, 2007, p.10)

2. Create Social Capital – PDM creates social capital: trust and confidence develop when leaders and constituents work together to pursue the common good. As communities become more diverse the need for social capital and participatory, collaborative decision-making increases.

3. Ensure Compliance – In many instances there is a requirement to at least inform, if not include, the public in decision-making. For example, school boards are tasked with building public goodwill and seeking diverse perspectives. The ethics of public school governance require striving for broad representation of community members, parents, staff and students.

4. Improve Legitimacy, Transparency and Inclusion – PDM fosters the perceived legitimacy of decisions. In a pluralistic society where consensus is difficult, the legitimacy and acceptance of decisions is dependent on the decision-making process itself. See also Fair Process.

5. Make Better Decisions – Under certain conditions, large groups of ordinary people are better at problem solving and making decisions than small groups of experts. The conditions include problem type, group size and structure, and the settings under which they make the decision.

Many of the complex problems that haunt the education system are best solved by large and diverse groups – wise crowds. To be genuinely wise and capable of making better decisions than experts, the group needs to be large, cognitively diverse and possess local knowledge. Importantly, the members of the group need to be allowed to make decisions independently before aggregating their individual thoughts into collective decisions. These types of groups perform best on difficult problems providing they can agree on the goal and when the problem is framed in a way that doesn’t presuppose a specific lens.

Invite – Include – Inspire

Wise leaders know that collaborative practices like participatory planning and decision-making are not only respectful – they are the best route to creating communities, or organizations, that thrive. Collaborative leaders understand that leading from behind is not giving up control. They invite community in and then invite again, and again. They are inclusive and ensure diverse views are well represented. And they inspire others to also lead from behind.

We understand leaders like you. Thoughtexchange technology was created for leaders that recognize the importance of including community in both defining problems and searching for solutions. Leaders who are willing to reach out to their community or their stakeholders, ask the hard questions and work collaboratively and cooperatively to co-discover community informed solutions.

Let us show you how we can help you today.

About the Author

Jamie Billingham

Jamie Billingham

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