Something is very interesting, even intriguing and mystifying, about decision-making -- a cognitive activity loaded with operational content and implementational accountability. In point of fact, decision-making is the very essence of management. It is inconceivable that one can either conceptualise or operationalise management in a void, i.e. managing without deciding. Decision-making can, as we all recognise, be of various types, e.g. routine, non-routine, programmed, un-programmed, minor, major, short-term, long-term, unilateral, multilateral, informed, uninformed, deterministic, and stochastic.
Sometimes predictable and sometimes probabilistic and hardly linear as a process, decision-making is curvilinear, iterative, can occur under favourable as well as unfavourable conditions, and has both payoffs and constraints. In the same breath, one must recall that decision-making has consequences, favourable as well as unfavourable. A decision-maker has to live with a given set of consequences, some of which are known and obvious and others are unknown, unanticipated, unexpected and latent. Should consequences be favourable, decision-makers may justifiably feel good and take credit. But as and when these turn out to be unfavourable or inimical, the effects or outcomes can be consequential and the impact may be intergenerational or even multicentennial.
The right decision, or if a decision is implemented with some minor correctible faults, may produce a wide range of benefits, e.g. popular well-being, achievement orientation and culture, merit principle, performance focus, decentralisation, flexibility, and strategic choice. On the flip side, inimical as well as unintended results are likely to flow once a wrong decision is put in place, namely, ascription, parochialism, patronage, spoils system, rigidity, defensiveness, elitism, asymmetry, centralisation, tardiness, stagnation, alienation, nonparticipation, noninvolvement, unethical behaviour, corruption, and entropic forces.
Less understood, at any rate, is how decisions have either a long or short horizon. In developing countries, including Bangladesh, far too often decision-making tends not only to be centralised, urban-centric and consumption-oriented, but the decision cycle tends to be long, sometimes tortuously long, and unbelievably circuitous. With the time horizon being long and drawn, the direct as well as indirect costs of life and living escalate, rising and legitimate demand can remain unmet, the means-ends incongruence spreads, aspirations get delayed, inequality gaps widen, and frustration deepens.
Here lies the point. When decisions -- management's lifeblood -- are chronically delivered in a dilatory, hesitant, cost-indifferent and time-insensitive manner, it goes right to the heart of the management system, that is, the management system is more systemically and decisionally constrained and less capable, discretionary and delivery-oriented.
As and when decisions are made and disseminated responsibly and promptly, such a capacity speaks of a management system's overall and specific capacity, in-house capability, and discretionary authority. The timeliness, quality, causality, direction and impact of decisions and the institutional, organisational and managerial basis of decision-making go a long way in taking sluggish and slovenly underdevelopment into brisk and bustling development.
Decision theory's formulation of rational comprehensive theory, incremental theory and mixed scanning theory provides helpful glimpse into what goes on in the public sector and corporate settings. These theoretical formulations complement each other and help decision-makers frame decisions to fill emerging and projected needs and cope with changing and demanding dynamics. The reality of and the need for the rational comprehensive theory is deep-seated and undeniable. In the absence or deficiency of comprehensiveness and rationality, wide-ranging and profound socioeconomic changes cannot be brought about, incisive interventions cannot be made or sustained, and radical, but necessary, surges cannot be captured.
As different from the earlier theory, incremental theory is what it says it is, that is, a theoretical emphasis on gradualism, limited successive approximation, "satisfying," "what is good enough," the best practicable and achievable option, marginal and cautious departure from existing decisions, abiding dependence on precedence, the acceptance of the bounded rationality, the recognition of the futility of seeking the ideal, the penchant for compromise, tradeoff and patchwork, the mutual partisan adjustment of competing and contending interest-group needs, the recognition of disjointedness and muddling through, the incompleteness of data and information, the time and cost constraints under which decisions are attempted and made, and the like.
Last but certainly not the least, mixed scanning theory represents an operational accommodation between rational comprehensiveness and disjointed incrementalism. The theory posits, inter alia, that while the ends can be formulated rationally, comprehensively and holistically, the means by which the ends can be reached or approximated can be deployed and mobilised incrementally.
Decision-theory is challenging, the least of which is the implementation and enforcement of decisions, once vetted. Easier said than done, implementation is fraught with drift, mutation, overruns, noncompliance, easy money, pile-ups, unexpected turns, and unintended reactions and consequences. So is enforcement -- which looks trim, tidy, neat and elegant theoretically -- but bares its fangs once it enters a given socioeconomic space where myriad and formidable special interests are waiting to pounce on the fledgling back of decision-making. What is significant in this respect is that implementation gets problematic, difficult, and even unachievable, if bad theory precedes action.
Let us get one thing settled, here and now. Decision-making cannot be wished away, oversimplified, delayed, watered down, taken for granted, and made light of. As and when casualness, opportunism, turf-fighting and myopia confuse, delay, frustrate and vitiate decision-making, societies, communities, institutions, organisations and people pay for it -- in one way or another, sooner or later, implicitly as well as explicitly and sometimes for generations and centuries to come. The bottom-line is; decision-making, follow-up, civilisational impulse and leadership are intertwined. Casting aside obligatory limitations and negativities, decisional soundness, quality, fairness, justice, due process, representation and equity are what citizens/customers desperately look for.