Value-Focused Thinking: A Path to Creative Decisionmaking

A framework for values-focused and data-driven decision management for climate resilience
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Value-focused thinking helps uncover hidden objectives and leads to more productive information collection. It can improve communication among parties concerned about a decision, facilitate involvement of multiple stakeholders, and enhance the coordination of interconnected decisions. For example, people who have developed alternative air pollution standards have usually focused on air quality as measured by parts per million of various pollutants.

But if they were to probe stakeholders for values, they would discover a range of other issues to address, such as health effects, visibility, and impacts on jobs. Addressing these fundamental values would lead to a more insightful evaluation of alternatives and improve communication among stakeholders. The greatest benefits of value-focused thinking are being able to generate better alternatives for any decision problem and being able to identify decision situations that are more appealing than the decision problems that confront you.

These better decision situations, which you create for yourself, should be thought of as decision opportunities, rather than as decision problems. Strategic thinkers have long recognized the need to clarify values.

They provide guidelines for organizational behavior and decision making, but they cannot be used to evaluate important decisions. Values, sometimes embedded in mission statements and goals, need to be made more explicit for evaluation. They should be clarified with a specific statement of objectives. However, identifying and structuring objectives is a difficult task: although most experts on decision making say that it is crucial to list your objectives, they do not clearly address how to go about it or how to use the objectives to guide your thinking.

Value-focused thinking includes a process for identifying objectives. This process usually involves discussions with relevant decision makers and stakeholders.

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In these discussions, a number of techniques can be used to stimulate creativity in identifying possible objectives see Table 1. If you try each technique, you will develop a redundant list, but redundancy is not a shortcoming in this endeavor. It is much easier to recognize redundant objectives when they are explicitly listed than it is to identify missing objectives.

The initial list of objectives will contain many items that are not really objectives. It will include alternatives, constraints, and criteria to evaluate alternatives. With some thought, each item on the list can be converted into an objective.

click What is an objective? I define it as a statement of something that one wants to strive toward.


An objective is characterized by three features: a decision context, an object, and a direction of preference. But simply listing objectives is shallow. We need greater depth, a clear structure, and a sound conceptual basis for relating objectives to each other in decision contexts. For this, I distinguish between fundamental objectives and means objectives. Fundamental objectives concern the ends that decision makers value in a specific decision context; means objectives are methods to achieve ends. To separate means objectives from fundamental objectives and to establish their relationships, we use the Why Is That Important?

WITI test. One answer is that the objective is one of the essential reasons for interest in the situation.

Such an objective is a fundamental objective. The other response is that the objective is important only because of its implications for some other objective. In this case, it is a means objective, and the response to the question identifies another objective. Apply the WITI test to this objective in turn to ascertain whether it is a means objective or a fundamental objective. Repeatedly identifying ends objectives from means objectives should progressively identify more fundamental values and lead to at least one fundamental objective in a given decision situation.


Value-Focused Thinking: A Path to Creative Decisionmaking [Ralph L. Keeney] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. The standard way of. A Path to Creative Decisionmaking To illustrate these uses, Keeney shows how value-focused thinking works in many business contexts, such as designing .

Consider a decision involving the transportation of hazardous material. One objective may be to minimize the distance the material is transported by trucks. Why is that objective important? Because shorter distances would reduce the chances of accidents and transportation costs. However, it may turn out that shorter transportation routes go through major cities, exposing more people to the hazardous material, and this may be undesirable. Why is it important to minimize exposure? Because we want to minimize the health impacts of the hazardous material.

Why is it important to minimize health impacts? It is simply important.

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CMI is a small, privately held organization concerned with negotiations and dispute resolution. Principled negotiation shows you how to obtain what you are entitled to and still be decent. The principals at CMI are well aware of the value of making objectives explicit. They recognize that both the process of explicating objectives and the results matter. Their language is a bit different from mine: they talk about articulating the interests of each negotiating party.

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By exploring interests, they are better able to generate creative alternatives. CMI is also aware of the advantages of having outsiders assist organizations in identifying and structuring objectives. Consequently, as part of their periodic review of the firm, in late , CMI asked Howard Raiffa of the Harvard Business School, who is also a senior consultant at CMI, and me to identify what they hoped would be a long and insightful list of decision opportunities worthy of pursuing.

As we began our task, Raiffa and I held private discussions with nine principals at CMI to carefully articulate all of their objectives for the firm. To illustrate the type of discussion that occurs in identifying objectives, let me describe a small part of my meeting with Elizabeth Gray, one of the founding principals. In discussing what type of work CMI should be doing, Gray said she and her colleagues prefer challenging and interesting work. Asked why this matters, Gray responded that interesting work improves the contribution to clients and affords greater personal enjoyment.

What exactly is interesting work? Gray mentioned that one aspect of interesting work is to do original inventive things. Why was that important? Because it afforded the opportunity to work with bright and talented individuals, it contributed to creating a new field of endeavor, and it allowed CMI to do cutting-edge work. Elaborating, Gray stated that it was important for CMI to promote principled negotiation as a way to think about important conflicts in our society.

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In such discussions, we uncovered a wide range of objectives not previously made explicit. The next two steps were to structure the objectives for each individual and then to integrate them into a common set of objectives for CMI.

For each of the principals, we used a meansends logic to relate different objectives to each other and then we grouped specific objectives under more general objectives. As a result, we had two lists of objectives for each individual: a list of fundamental strategic objectives for CMI and a list of means objectives contributing to the strategic objectives. All of the fundamental concerns identified in the individual interviews were combined into a strategic objectives hierarchy for CMI see Table 2.

Each individual mentioned around twenty means objectives in the discussions.

Collectively, there were more than sixty means objectives that pertained to potential CMI products or activities such as management and marketing. Table 3 provides a partial list of means objectives in several different areas that contribute to CMI strategic objectives.

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It is insightful to relate the means objectives to the strategic objectives using the meansends logic referred to above. The interrelationships are illustrated in the network in Figure 2 , where an arrow from one objective to another indicates that achieving the former objective has a major influence on i. To reduce clutter, only the objects of the main objectives are indicated in Figure 2.

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The detailed meanings of the strategic and means objectives are found, respectively, in Tables 2 and 3. The next step is critical. The strategic objectives and the means objectives are used to generate potential decision opportunities. At CMI, we could have organized a meeting of principals to devise the decision opportunities, guided by the objectives. However, we had previously asked questions to suggest possible decision opportunities in our individual discussions with the principals. Here is a sample of our efforts:. This list demonstrates one simple but critical point. Unambiguous and complete statements of strategic objectives and means objectives can be a guide to identifying decision opportunities and creating alternatives that enhance both the likelihood of achieving those objectives and the degree to which the objectives are achieved.