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Over the course of nearly two decades in the workplace, I’ve seen the inside of dozens of organizations and teams as an employee, consultant, or friendly collaborator. With rare exceptions, it seems, important decisions get made one of two ways. If an organization is particularly hierarchical or founder-driven, the leader makes the decision and then communicates it to whoever needs to know about it. Otherwise, the decision gets made, usually by group consensus, in a meeting.

All too often, those meetings are decision-making disasters.

Or at any rate, that’s what the research says. It might not be apparent right away…

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Quick: what’s the best decision you’ve ever made?

(I’m serious! Take a second to think about it.)




Now that you have an answer, think about what it was about that decision that made it a good one. Was it the impressive array of interlocking spreadsheets you amassed in support of your analysis? Was it the masterful way in which you facilitated a stakeholder discussion to promote shared learning while respecting the diversity of perspectives in the room?

No, I’m guessing you think the decision was good because it worked out well! And this is totally normal. Judging…

Okay, it’s more like a dozen not-that-weird tricks, but the point is…

For a while now, I’ve been sounding the alarm about the social sector’s crisis of evidence use. To put it bluntly, the human race expends mind-boggling resources bringing studies, reports, and analyses into the world that are read by few and acted upon by no one. As I argued at the time, “we are either vastly overvaluing or vastly undervaluing the act of building knowledge.” My sincere hope has long been that it’s the latter — that the knowledge we produce really does hold tremendous value, and all…

The evidence-based (or if you prefer, evidence-informed/data-driven) decision-making movement is riding some rough seas these days. With the rise of populist leaders like Donald Trump and Jair Balsonaro, we are seeing a new crop of digital-age politicians around the world who view information not as a resource to be cultivated for the public good, but as a weapon to be exploited for their own gain. News organizations, universities, and other mainstream institutions have had their hands full in recent years defending reality-based discourse from parties attempting to construct alternative narratives, and social media platforms have expended enormous resources fighting an…

Practical advice for donors and institutions responding to COVID-19

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Like many of you, I saw my world change dramatically in what seemed like the blink of an eye back in mid-March. Within a span of a long weekend, my older child’s preschool closed down for the day, then for a month, then indefinitely; the governor of my state ordered all restaurants and other gathering spaces closed with barely six hours’ notice; and confirmed COVID-19 cases in my home county ballooned nearly fivefold as testing capacity belatedly ramped up. …

I first heard of the Heath brothers (Chip and Dan) years ago when I saw Chip speak about their first two books, Made to Stick and Switch. So I was pleased to discover that they’ve written a book specifically about decision-making called Decisive.

I like Decisive primarily as an introductory take on personal decision-making. It’s also a good supplemental resource for organizational and business applications, though there are other books that offer a more thorough grounding in that arena.

According to the Heaths, the “four villains of decision-making” are as follows:

  1. narrow framing (not thinking about enough options)
  2. confirmation bias…

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Many nonprofit leaders express discomfort with attempts to translate their work into a statistic. For them, the notion of reducing a potentially life-changing experience to a number doesn’t just feel confusing, it’s kind of insulting. Meanwhile, fundraisers making their case to individual donors, advocates, and policymakers often find that a powerful story can work wonders where facts and figures fall flat.

It’s easy to see why most people prefer stories to data. A story is rich, full of detail and shape. Data is flat. Put another way, data is mined from the common ground between various stories, which means that…

The most important decision is how to decide.

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For about a decade now, I’ve been geeking out hard on decision-making. To be fair, my fascination comes from an honest place: I’m a walking stereotype of a reluctant decision-maker. Back when I was a teenager, I was paralyzed by challenges as mundane as what topics to choose for my high school English papers. Even now, I drive my wife and other dinner companions crazy whenever we’re at a restaurant, as I’ll study the menu, ask the server for a recommendation, ignore that recommendation, then call them over a minute later and…

We aspire to let evidence drive our actions, but in practice it rarely does.

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In 2015, the Center for Evaluation Innovation and the Center for Effective Philanthropy surveyed evaluation and program executives at 127 US and Canadian foundations with at least $10 million in annual giving. The result was the report “Benchmarking Foundation Evaluation Practices,” and it contains one of the most amazing facts I’ve encountered in nearly two decades of working in the social sector.

In response to a question about the challenges they encounter in their work, more than three-quarters of respondents said they have a hard time…

Despite their importance, we barely pay attention to most of the decisions we make. Fortunately, there’s a better way.

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Decision-making is life. Over time, our decisions carve an identity for ourselves and our organizations, and it is our decisions, more than anything else, that determine how we are remembered after we’re gone. Despite their importance, though, we barely pay attention to most of the decisions we make. Biology has programmed in us a powerful instinct to make decisions using our intuitions rather than our conscious selves whenever possible. There are good reasons for this; if we had to think about…

Ian David Moss

Smarter decisions for a better world

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