Challenges of Shared Decision-Making and Promising Practices to Address Them

Aug 5, 2015 by Heather Britt Comments (1)

Heather Britt is the Senior M&E Specialist for USAID/PPL/LER’s Complexity-Aware M&E initiative. The C-AM&E initiative provides technical assistance to M&E innovators, conducts research on new M&E approaches, and shares field-friendly resources.

Key programming decisions are often distributed across a number of people, even when the authority to make a decision may lie formally with one individual. In USAID, people from different parts of the organization regularly gather around the table with implementing partners to make decisions. They come from different professional backgrounds and bring varied expertise and perspectives. As groups often seek consensus or broad agreement, negotiation and influence become an important part of decision-making. We call this shared decision-making.

Shared decision-making can result in better decisions overall, but it can also make providing actionable data for specific decisions difficult, and discourage innovation.

USAID/PPL/LER's Complexity-Aware M&E team experienced challenges with shared decision-making while supporting M&E innovation in the Agency. The team pilots complexity-aware M&E approaches in different contexts to generate a body of evidence about the uses and benefits of these approaches. When a potential trial partner comes forward, the team helps them identify a primary user with a specific intended use and designs an evaluation or monitoring system to meet their information needs. This process proved to be more challenging than the team expected.

Groups of diverse stakeholders found it difficult to agree on primary users or identify a common use for monitoring data and evaluation findings. It's even more difficult to reach a decision regarding new processes and new methods, because it is more likely that one individual will feel uncomfortable and exercise their veto. 

Based on the Complexity-Aware M&E team's initial experience, we concluded that shared decision-making, despite its potential benefits, can have negative effects on attempts to innovate in the Agency. We're trying out a few promising practices to address the challenges presented by shared decision-making. While originally intended to support trials of new M&E approaches, similar interventions might benefit from adopting these new practices throughout the Program Cycle.

1. Assessing readiness to learn and innovate – We are using a checklist that helps us listen better and identify partners who are ready and able to try something new.

2. Distinguishing the primary users from the broader learning circle – We are engaging a broad spectrum of people with a stake in the trial, all of whom make up the broader learning circle, We are also narrowing in to identify key decision-makers in the learning circle who have the responsibility and authority to use data generated by new approaches.

3. Data report simulations – We are using mock reports of hypothetical data to help us confirm the proposed user and use, and to test whether a complexity-aware monitoring approach provides data that will lead to action.

Have you ever experienced challenges making decisions with a large and diverse group of actors from Missions, operating units, and implementing partners – especially when trying something new? With the ADS 200-203 under revision, now is a good time to think about how the Agency’s approach to shared decision-making affects innovation throughout the Program Cycle. The USAID/PPL/LER Complexity-Aware M&E team shares lessons learned in this short paper. We'd love to hear from you about your experiences in the comments section below.


The challenges of shared decision-making are also keenly felt in other areas of the program cycle, in particular the design process. The Agency prides itself on consultation and consensus building in order to produce the highest quality product, but sometimes you end up with a slow clearance process and high levels of frustration--which definitely doesn't leave much space or appetite for risk taking and innovation. It would be interesting for the CAM team or PPL to take a look at common team dynamics related to design, and propose some useful interventions to help get things "unstuck." Thanks.

posted 6 years ago