How do we choose? Using a Decision Matrix to Weigh Alternatives

Debra T. Davis, PhD

A few posts back I wrote about using deBono’s 6 Thinking Hats process to stimulate thinking about a problem or an issue from different perspectives. In this post, I want to share an idea for a process that works well when you have a number of alternative ideas to consider and need to narrow them down or select only one—The Decision Matrix. Here’s how it works:

The group defines the criteria against which they desire to evaluate the alternatives and assigns a weight or value to each. For example, the group may decide that time, cost, audience reach, volunteer availability and expertise available to carry out an idea are all critical criteria against which to measure an idea. The group may decide that all criteria are equal and that none is more important than the others so a simple ranking process will work. If the group decides for example that audience reach is twice as important as the other criteria then the score individuals assign to audience reach would be multiplied by 2.

Using a ranking scale that mirrors the number of criteria against which the items are evaluated, each individual then fills out a Decision Matrix Worksheet. So for the idea that best meets criteria #1, it would get the highest score which is the total number of criteria. The idea that least meets the criteria would get a 1. Each number is used only once in each column. The individual scores are then tabulated at the end of the rows and averaged to generate an overall ranking.

Let’s look at an example. Here we are trying to decide the best way to get information to the clients in our parish. In this example, we are making the assumption that all criteria are equal so we are using a 1-5 ranking with 5 being the delivery method that best meets the criteria and 1 being the one that least meets our criteria. Working in one column at a time, we rank the ideas based on each individual criteria. So looking at Criteria #1 -volunteer support, for which delivery method do we have the greatest access to volunteers?  That delivery method would get a 5 because that’s how many criteria we have. Which one has the fewest volunteers available? That one would get a 1. The others would fall someplace in between.  Next we’ll consider Criteria #2-expertise available to implement each delivery method and do the same thing. Once we’ve worked through all criteria, we’ll add up our scores and average them with others in the group.

One word of caution: Clearly define your criteria—are you looking for the idea with the most or least of a certain criteria. Be sure everyone is clear on the ranking instructions. In some criteria, the highest score may go to the alternative that has the most of something and in others it may go to the one that has the least of something. It can get confusing! But it does work.  So the next time you have lots of great ideas and need to decide with your group which is best, try this technique.

Reference:

Justice, T. & Jamieson, D.W. (2006). The facilitator’s fieldbook. Second edition. New York: HRD Press.

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