November 9, 2021

Choosing how to choose

 Making Better Choices: Design, Decisions, and Democracy

Making Better Choices is about how we make decisions together and the tools we use to get to those decisions. We make joint decisions out of necessity because the choices we make affect each other. Each decision we take has a consequence. This book reinforces why we need better systems design and analyses given the consequences of our decisions. It is also about carefully thinking about the values of the choices we make, whether they occur in a small meeting of individuals in a local association or community or in a national election. It will illuminate the differences between sincere behavior and strategic behavior to defeat an opponent in voting, the latter being quite common. The book will also review different voting systems, what their original intents were, and what their deficits are. In trying to bring all these topics together and more, the authors realized that the book is in essence an outcome of the arranged marriage between social choice and systems engineering that they conducted. The more one begins to explore the aspects of social choice and systems engineering, the more one realizes how much they have in common, and how much more they can offer if they are unified.

Charles E. Phelps is one of the authors of this book. He departs from health economics and enters into social choice. Great book. In the epilogue:

We live in a world with the consequences of pretending that complex systems have binary answers. Having open discussions on these complexities is sometimes difficult, perhaps even painful. But awkwardness and pain on such issues merely represent hidden problems that inhibit our collective progress. Ignoring them or stifling discussion about them will not make them go away.

In Making Better Choices we have seen how the ways we choose affect how organizations make decisions. Two major branches of human thought have approached this issue, but from wholly distinct directions. Systems engineering has created a repertoire of ways for product and service design with performance improvement and new insights as defining features. However, systems engineering seldom deals with the question of how to do this in the context of a group of individuals acting as the decision-maker. A traditional systems engineering approach develops requirements of a desired, even acceptable, solution to the problem but doesn’t necessarily consider where those come from. This is the realm of social choice.