A Checks and Balances Approach to Improving Institutional Decision-Making (Rough Draft)

by adnan68091 min read3rd Dec 201811 comments

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Abstract. A solution for improving institutional decision-making, so that motivated reasoning does not influence the decision-making process, is presented. The solution involves the use of a committee, that will serve as the vehicle for determining whether a decision made by an institution was influenced by motivated reasoning.

Motivated reasoning is a form of bias in which individuals arrive at conclusions based on their own subjective impressions. This is a major problem facing institutions like governments and corporations that carry out decision-making duties. Decisions influenced by motivated reasoning could lead to major errors in judgement, which then potentially results in negative consequences for members of society. The lives of many people from society being affected by the miscalculated assessment of a few, can seem very unjust.

A proposed solution to possibly countering motivated reasoning (that leads to common thinking errors) is a checks and balances type of system; a system in which a committee of non-partisan individuals could proctor whether a decision made by an institution was influenced by motivated reasoning. The members of this committee obviously need to be well versed in the issues(s) pertaining to the institution’s decision, and they should not be beholden to any special interest groups. The non-partisan nature of the committee should ensure that there is no bias in proctoring the institution’s decision.

In the trivial case that motivated reasoning has not played a role in the institution’s decision-making, the proctoring committee could simply approve the decision for going forward. If motivated reasoning played a role in the decision-making process on the other hand, then the members of the committee have the authority to override the decision made by the institution. The institution would have to then make modifications to the decision that they made. After making these modifications, the proctoring committee will have to again review the decision to make sure that there is no bias.

The non-partisan committee could use a ledger for keeping a record of all the decisions that they have had to proctor for the institution. For each decision made by the institution, they (the institution) can be allotted a fixed number of chances to revise that decision based on whether motivated reasoning contributed to that decision. If the institution made a decision (on one issue) involving no motivated reasoning in its first go, then they could be rewarded with an extra revision chance for the next issue they make a decision on and present to the committee. Failure to avoid motivated reasoning on a given decision will result in no extra revision chance for the next issue they make a decision on. In the case that the institution fails to avoid motivated reasoning on all of its allotted chances, then as a last resort the proctoring committee would have to make the final decision on the issue.

In conclusion, although the non-partisanship of the committee is supposed to safeguard against bias, this may not entirely prevent bias in the committee's proctoring of the institution's decision. Perhaps the ledger system used by the committee could be a blockchain system. In some cases decisions influenced by motivated reasoning could lead to positive outcomes, and of course the committee must also take this into consideration when proctoring the decision made by the institution.

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Two things I don't quite get about your proposal: How does the committee determine if the reasoning was motivated? Why not just have the committee make the decision in the first place?

How does the committee determine if the reasoning was motivated?

This is a good question. My proposal is entirely theoretical and still in the rough draft stage at this point, and getting any feedback would be of great benefit. I haven't fully worked out how the members of the committee would go about determining if motivated reasoning influenced the decision-making process.

Why not just have the committee make the decision in the first place?

The committee is acting as a check against the decision-making institution, and the ledger system used by the committee acts as an incentive for the decision-making institution to avoid motivated reasoning.

At a guess - there may be a difference in skill/s required to make the really good decisions versus telling if decisions aren't the best, or are "motivated".

Motivated reasoning plays into most high stakes decisions in big organisations as the decisions matter. You can't simply remove it and when you give a lot of political power to your "checks and balance"-committee that's going to act politically as well and won't just follow norms of abstract reasoning.

Adding extra committees is also a good way to damage the functioning of organisations.

Thanks for your feedback. I just want to go over some of your points:

Motivated reasoning plays into most high stakes decisions in big organisations as the decisions matter.

I came up with my proposal as a possible solution to the problem mentioned in the following article: (https://80000hours.org/problem-profiles/improving-institutional-decision-making/). I guess I should have mentioned this article in my proposal.

when you give a lot of political power to your "checks and balance"-committee that's going to act politically as well and won't just follow norms of abstract reasoning.

I mentioned in my proposal that the members of the committee are supposed to be non-partisan, so the members of the committee are not politically motivated. I didn't mention anything in my proposal about the checks and balances committee being regulated, and that is a modification that I should make.

I came up with my proposal as a possible solution to the problem mentioned in the following article: (https://80000hours.org/problem-profiles/improving-institutional-decision-making/).

It doesn't address the problem in that article. The problem that was described in the article there no mention of the committee making the decision engaging in motivated reasoning in their decision to go to war. It's rather about motivated cognition at the level of intelligence gathering which happened outside of the decision making about whether or not to go to war.

I mentioned in my proposal that the members of the committee are supposed to be non-partisan, so the members of the committee are not politically motivated.

Saying that people should be non-partisan doesn't help when the decision is important enough so that everybody with the skillset to make the decision has a stake in the outcome.

The US Supreme Court is supposed to be made up of non-partisan judges but the effect isn't that you don't see political influence in the outcome of the decision.

I hope that this doesn't come off as an appeal to authority, but hasn't the Supreme Court been effective in catching most (or at least a fair amount) of the misinterpretations of the US Constitution and breaches of power? To be fair I am not legal expert and that is a mere assumption so it could be very wrong. But if it is not, then what is to say that although this group may not be exactly non-partisan, just like the Supreme Court they will be non-partisan enough to catch most breaches?

Or is the flaw here assuming that they will be as impartial as the Supreme Court justices?

I don't have a strong opinion on how good a job the Supreme Court has done, but it does pretty clearly vote along party lines on obviously-party-line issues.

I guess my approach is slightly different to the approach discussed in that article.

I'm not entirely certain about this, but In regards to non-partisanship, is there perhaps some sort of screening process/background check that can be carried out to identify individuals who are non-partisan (for joining the proctoring committee)? Something like the Harvard Implicit Bias test but for motivated reasoning? Asking people to quickly make decisions in situations susceptible to motivated reasoning? This test has been criticized but also has some research in support so it may be the best option. Could a blockchain system eliminate bias within the proctoring committee?

Could a blockchain system eliminate bias within the proctoring committee?

How?

(I understand how the blockchain can be used for currency*, or perhaps like a decentralized google docs**, but "eliminating bias" I don't get. (Though that would be really amazing.)

*blockchain keeps track of how much money there is

blockchain keeps track of who has been given permission to view documents

)

Meta note: this entire post is in bold face, which makes it hard to read. Could you edit it to remove the bold?