The current essay provides a general description of the group decision-making process and various methods for conducting such a process. Examples of a successful and unsuccessful experience of applying this method to making decisions form a background for understanding the factors which have a direct and an indirect influence on effectiveness of this process. This paper discusses the reasons why different decision-making groups can have successful or questionable outcomes.
Group decision making process refers to a situation in which several persons collectively discuss a certain problem, analyze it, consider possible solutions for it, and select one of the alternative courses of actions. This means that the taken decision is not made by a single member of the group, because the whole group reached the decision collectively with input from all of its members. Usually, these groups contain from two up to seven members. They can make either formal or informal decision. A formal decision is characterized by availability of a concrete goal and a formal designation. The process of making decisions may be structured or unstructured. The effectiveness of a decision-making process depends on various factors, such as the extent of cooperation and trust between the group members, formal and informal relationships between them, conflicting goals, time pressure, and etc.
The group can conduct the decision-making process by using several methods, some of which are brainstorming, dialectical inquiry, nominal group technique, Delphi method, and etc. Brainstorming is based on a verbal proposition of various courses of actions by all of the group members. The group leader records all of the propositions. After the group has exhausted all of the propositions, it can start evaluating the collected data. This is an unstructured method of decision-making. One of the weak features of this method is the unwillingness of some members to express personal ideas due to the fear of being judged by others. One more method of decision-making is dialectical inquiry, which is reflected in ensuring a full consideration of possible alternatives. Often, groups are divided into opposite sides. The debates between these sides help to determine strong and weak sides of various courses of actions. The nominal group technique is the structured method of the decision-making. Each member writes a comprehensive list of personal ideas. Then, all of the group members provide one idea from their lists. All the ideas are written on the board. After all of the ideas have been stated, the group starts to discuss and evaluate all of them. The last method analyzed in this paper is Delphi method. It is used when group members are situated in different places. Each member provides personal ideas independently by means of e-mails or fax. Other group members ask questions and evaluate the presented ideas. Finally, the group arrives to some consensus concerning the discussed matter.
In many cases, a group decision-making process is preferable to making decisions by separate individuals, because it provides a better analysis of the problem. Each member has a personal experience, knowledge and vision of the problem. Hence, the synergy of several views gives a deeper analysis of the situation from various points of view, and leads to making a better decision. Unlike a team decision-making process, group decision-making process is characterized by a lower synergy of efforts and feeling of collectivism between group members. Groups usually have a definite leader who has a strong authority and considerable influence on all of the group members. Personal accountability is a characteristic of all of the group members. After the selection of the alternative course of action, the responsibilities are delegated between the members. The effectiveness of the outcomes group decision-making process is measured indirectly
Among the examples of a successful decision making process in criminal justice is the application of Delphi method in the Belgian Federal Police in 2007. This judgmental forecasting technique with the project named the “National Security (Crime) Image” helped to determine the future developments of crime rates in Belgium and to anticipate some criminal trends. This particular method of group decision-making was chosen because it enabled performing the diagnosis of the problem and making a prognosis and a forecast by experts who resided in different parts of the country.
The project was based on a detailed analysis of the existing safety problems in Belgium by two groups of specialists. It incorporated some innovative methods such as “ risk analysis (focusing on threat, vulnerability and impact) and geographic profiling”. These methods enabled a systematic overview of the causes, seriousness and significance of various crime types (like, theft, corruption, sexual offences, and etc), various kinds of targets and offender groups.
The first stage of the realization of the “National Security (Crime) Image” was collecting the opinions of various criminal justice professionals about the future developments of crime. These opinions were collected in the forms of interviews. The experts received the questionnaires via e-mails. The participants were asked to describe the new social and criminal trends that could appear in Belgium within the next five years. Also, they provided a brief description of each trend (type, location, target, profile of offender, and tactic). The responses were returned to the organization anonymously. The second stage was the assessment of these ideas and providing the participants with feedback from the second team of experts. These feedbacks also required a better explanation of the provided ideas (or argumentation), and “confrontation with the possible contradicting answers of different experts”. The last stage incorporated open debates and discussion of the presented ideas. The major positive outcome of the realization of the “National Security (Crime) Image” was collection of various specialists’ opinions concerning the crime development in Belgium in the nearest future, analysis of these ideas, formation of some crime preventive actions, and implementation of these actions.
An example of an unsuccessful experience with a group decision-making process in criminal justice is the questionable decision of the jury on the case concerning a manslaughter described in the article Do juror pressures lead to unfair verdicts?. This article concerns to the case in which “a jury deciding the racially charged manslaughter case of a black man who shot a white teenager”. In 2008 jury deliberated on the case for more than 4 days and 11 hours without coming to an agreement. Actually, the majority of jury (ten persons) made their decision and concluded that the defendant was guilty. However, two members of the jury still had doubts concerning the guilt of the defendant. They considered that the shooting was performed for the protection of the defendant’s family.
In the end of the fifth day of the deliberation, the judge ordered the jurors to continue their discussions. Otherwise they would have been obliged to continue them on the next day. The decision on the case was made an hour later. Two jurors said that they changed their minds because of the pressure from the judge (Miller and Bornstein, 2008). The attorneys gave notice of appeal because they did not agree with the final decision made by jury under the judge’s pressure.
The above stated experiences of the successful and the unsuccessful group decision making in criminal justice provide understanding of the factors that affected the overall performance of the discussed groups. The major factors which formed the background of the success of “National Security (Crime) Image” in the Belgian Federal Police are the following: determination of concrete goals of the project, choosing professionals as group members, making a clear questionnaire that enabled providing ideas in a coherent and understandable manner, anonymity, and the ability to provide the argumentation for personal ideas.
On the other hand, such factor as time pressure from the side of the judge of the court has influenced the unsuccessful experience of group decision making as in the case of questionable decision in New York. Actually, the time for deliberation is unlimited, because jurors should thoroughly analyze the case and take a correct decision, since it has a direct influence on the life of the defendant. In this particular case, the time pressure had a negative impact on the soundness of the decision, because this factor facilitated changes of views of two juries. Monika Miller and Brian Bernstein provided the following description to this situation: “individuals who are tired and under social and time pressures are much more likely to lose willpower and give in”. The views of these criminal justice representatives should be based only on their analysis of the case, and not influenced by any external factors, since “pressured jurors are potentially reaching the right outcome for the wrong reasons”.
In conclusion, the current paper provides an overview of the decision-making process as a collective discussion on some particular problem, analysis of existing issues and determining the most beneficial course of action in an attempt to solve the problem at hand. Various methods may serve as a basis for this process. They can be, for example, brainstorming, dialectical inquiry, nominal group technique, Delphi method, and many others. All of them are based on expression of each member’s personal ideas to the group and a subsequent collective analysis of the presented ideas. Also, the concrete examples of a successful and unsuccessful experience of the decision-making process in the criminal justice system are presented in this paper. These examples help to determine factors which have positive and negative influence on the outcomes of the work of the group. The factors, which formed the background of the successful decision-making, are the following: stating concrete goals and clear questions, choosing skillful and professional group members, and an ability to provide argumentation for personal ideas. Such factors as time pressure have negative influence on the outcomes of any decision-making process.