Adding Value to Secretariat Decision-making

Sameer Sharma
01 Jul 2016

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If, the goal is faster and better decision-making; then, the challenge is to limit the number of layers through which files pass and to precisely identify and prescribe the role of each layer in a way that is likely to lead to goal achivement. The four-step PACE model is described below.

The PACE model consists of four processing levels: process initiation (P), analysis (A), coordination (C) and execution-as-decision (E). The initiating level collects and collates all the relevant and material papers and prepares a note containing the problem, issue or goal to be achieved and a complete set of alternatives with their likely consequences. In other words the job is to explicate what Paul Appleby called development of a “wholly scientific or technical and wholly right decision”. If, the issue is solvable by using such intellectual rigor; then, the task of the analytical level is straight forward and the case is rapidly processed-up. However, if the environment is complex in which information is incomplete or insufficient, analytical tools are inadequate and administrators have little control on important variables; then they have to fall back on deliberative thinking, as outlined below.

Deliberative thinking is “careful reflective thought on matters that need intelligent application of criteria”, not “stagnation, rigidity and unthinking application of age-old rules” and “fully utilize(s) the opportunity offered by (the) structured nature of the organization (secretariat)”. Concretely, this means analysing, say using querying and precedence, in order to move ahead in complex environments characterized by uncertainty, instability and value conflicts. The objective of querying is to turn and detain files. Often, files go off track and the file has to be turned in order to bring the file on track to achieve goals. Moreover, in situations of uncertainty and value conflicts files are detained to get more information, understand the issue and its consequences better or explore several alternative solutions, say by floating “trial balloons”. The flip side is that during periods of stasis administrators can use detention, especially in cases having a set timeline or short half-life (decision is deemed to be made once the issue runs out of time, money, or patience) to kill proposals.

Precedence is used make faster and better decision by determining the level of similarity between the issue under consideration and decisions made earlier. If, complete similarity is present between the two decision-making situations; then, little processing and analysis is required. On the other hand, if partial similarity exists; then, identifying the ways in which the two proposals are similar, or under what circumstance the similarity is valid has the potential to add value on earlier decisions.

Next, the coordination level uses its elusive political judgement to decide on the relevance and appropriateness of querying and level of similarity of precedence. Furthermore, the coordinating level also decides on the need for conversations with other departments and external agencies, especially if information is insufficient or incomplete, domain expertise is lacking or risk of pursuing sub-optimal solutions is reduced through consultation or collaboration. Routine risks can be managed successfully with a scientific approach, but data and objectivity can only get administrators so far. To navigate unquantifiable hazards, administrators need to make judgement calls. For this the coordinating level frequently requires access to diverse and often opposite viewpoints through the process of internal or external consultations.

Finally, the executing level makes a total assessment consisting of issue definition, solution development and solution assessment in order to make executable decisions. During issue definition the execution level looks at the articulated problem because the planned resolution is embedded in the process of problem specification. Additionally, each problem is “essentially unique . . . despite long lists of similarities between a current problem and a previous one, there always might be an additional distinguishing property that is of overriding importance”; therefore, the unique characteristics of the issue are understood. Moreover, the intended and unintended effects are evaluated. For example, electronic governance is encouraged in order to reduce cost, increase efficiency, etc. However, once the information technology workers become entrenched, required structural governance reforms may become more difficult.

During solution development, the executive level starts with the scientific-technical model with its careful analysis of alternatives and projections of probable impacts, but in the contemporary environment in which we live and work, this intellectually rigorous model is unlikely to succeed without the injection of political considerations. In order to take an idea from conception to groundbreaking, the decision-maker steps away from the comfort of technical rigor and engages in the compromise of political governance because the choice of explanation depends on the political “world-view”.

Solution assessment requires a judgement call to determine if the problem has been best resolved and goals met because issues and goals are moving targets. Most important, any resolution creates winners and losers among individuals, groups and interest groups who will judge the decision in terms of good or bad, not true or false. Accordingly, addressing the concerns of the losers, say through transparency, openness and widespread consultations, is likely to make decisions more executable.

(Views are personal)

Sameer Sharma,

Additional Secretary(Smart Cities),

Ministry of Urban Development

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