Optimizing Decision-Making Processes in Times of Covid-19: Using Reflexivity to Counteract Information Processing Failures

17 Pages Posted: 15 May 2020 Last revised: 9 Nov 2020

See all articles by Michaéla Schippers

Michaéla Schippers

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Department of Technology and Operations Management

Date Written: May 13, 2020

Abstract

The effectiveness of decision making of governments in times of crisis depends largely on their
ability to integrate and make sense of information. The Covid-19 crisis confronts governments with
the difficult task of making decisions in the interest of public health and safety. Essentially,
governments have to react to a threat, of which the extent is unknown, and they are making decisions in the midst of immense uncertainty. The issues involved are highly complex, and governments have to trade-off several interests, including (mental) health, economy, and personal rights. Two errors seem likely: either acting too strongly or acting not strongly enough. A third error is not updating the policies in light of new information. Importantly, the handling of the current crisis has been criticized for lacking a scientific basis. As early on, modelers predicted that the public health threat was comparable to that of the Spanish flu, governments made harsh decisions concerning suppressive measures such as lockdowns. Prior research has identified several information-processing failures, that can distort our thinking processes and can lead to negative outcomes. Revising and updating conclusions and policies in the light of new information is something decision makers have difficulty in doing. Two failures I also highlight are: the failure to search for and share information that is not in line with earlier information, and the failure to elaborate on and analyze information, especially information that diverges from original held ideas and conclusions. In the current crisis, it has become clear that especially forecasting has been an issue and seems to have failed. These failed predictions have been taken as a starting point for many decisions, such as draconian lockdowns and the consequences are quite severe in terms of economic, (mental) health and societal costs. This paper aims to offer practical advice to decision-making groups as to what information-processing failures may be most likely to occur, based on prior research, in the context of the current situation. Specifically, the current article proposes that team reflexivity—a deliberate process of discussing team goals, processes, or outcomes—can function as an antidote to biases and errors in decision making during a crisis. Prior research has identified several information-processing failures, such as groupthink, where decisions are made based on a biased sampling of information and the focus is on agreement at all costs. The circumstances surrounding the Covid-19 crisis may make the decision-making process more vulnerable to these failures (eg., Joffe, 2020). Thus, an important aim of this article is to explore which information-processing failures might play a role during the Covid-19 crisis. I highlight team reflexivity as a critical information-processing activity that can improve decision making processes in uncertain times.

Keywords: Covid-19, crisis, rflexivity, information-processing failures, groupthink

Suggested Citation

Schippers, Michaela, Optimizing Decision-Making Processes in Times of Covid-19: Using Reflexivity to Counteract Information Processing Failures (May 13, 2020). ERIM Report Series Reference Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3599939 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3599939

Michaela Schippers (Contact Author)

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Department of Technology and Operations Management ( email )

RSM Erasmus University
PO Box 1738
3000 DR Rotterdam
Netherlands

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