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Evidence-Based Decision-Making

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Evidence-Based Decision-Making – What is it?


Evidence-Based Decision-Making is a blinding flash of the obvious. Of course, decisions should be made based on “facts” – but are they? Well…not that often.

There are a number of issues to consider. We will talk about a few of them here. A more through treatment is the subject of a new book being written on the topic. We expect it to publish later this year.

Among the things to consider is our unwillingness to approach topics with openness and honesty. Facts tend to get in the way of what we want to do. We often have an opinion about what is in our best interest and we “torture” the “facts” to try to make that happen. Sadly, the best of us can be found to be acting as self-centered, egotistical narcissists who just want our way. Too frequently, we will say almost anything to win an argument. It is only later that we starting thinking about just how sure we were about what we said.

There’s another facet to this that is often overlooked. There are many who simply cannot tolerate uncertainty. Uncertainty can be disturbing. It requires a determined optimism in the face of “not knowing” and many simply cannot deal with it. There really are people who are more comfortable with a “convenient lie” or myth rather than courageously admitting to an inability to be certain. For them, the cognitive dissonance of uncertainty drives them toward accepting anecdotal evidence (positive or negative) as sufficient “proof” to dismiss the pain of further analysis. It is unwise to overlook this strong tendency in the human condition. Challenges to the simple answer will frequently be met with derision and often with violence.

A second issue is difficulty in figuring out what is a fact. As mentioned above, we often say things, believe things and assume things without giving it much critical thought. Again, this can be clouded by self-interest or unwillingness to deal with uncertainty, but those issues aside, it is very difficult to determine what is true. The problem is:

From our perspective, truth is never absolute. It is a matter of having reasonable confidence in the “truth” based on objective evidence.

Often we are incapable of recognizing this. We want certainty and frequently suspend objectivity to create a false sense of confidence. Hence, we push confidence to the extremes of 0% and 100%, neither of which is likely to be true. This makes decision processes difficult. There really are no “facts” that are without dispute just as there is hardly any reasonable proposition that is completely impossible. If we will not invest the effort into understanding the reliability of our “facts” and work through the implications of our uncertainties, we are doomed to “selling” “facts” and “peddling” “plans” with no regard for what is actually true.

There are many other issues to contend with, these two make clear just how difficult it is to seek, comprehend and then act of the truth that we find. Our knowledge is always provisional and out rewards are frequently uncertain. Hence we find ourselves in need of certain kind of courage. Something that is more than a wishful hope and certainly not an ignorant, blind belief. 

What is needed is a faith that is both objective and optimistic while remaining wisely skeptical and cautious. We have trouble even expressing such ideas in our sloppy modern English. We find ourselves grasping at other languages that express combinations of ideas and nuances. We might use an ending from Japanese such as -do meaning "way" or "life-style." We might be tempted to grasp as German or French verb distinctions to somehow combine the ideas of "familiarity with", "understanding of" and "dedication to."  In any case, what we mean and hope to be able to say is that we need a new way of looking at and interacting with things and ideas. It needs to be a "way" of thinking, learning and doing that naturally brings us closer to and acting upon objective truth.

We do not doubt how difficult this will be. It is positively contrary to the trajectory of Western Civilization. That trajectory is toward more feeling, more hype and more fantasy. That is fine for enjoying a video game, but it doesn't the video game designed, manufactured and sold at a profit. Hence the beauty of the business world. It is the perfect intersection of things imaged and things real. We may be excited by many possibilities that seem to dupe Mother Nature for a time, but she will not hesitate to punish those who will not obey her rules.

So what is Evidence-Based Decision-Making? It is a way of thinking and doing that demands enough evidence to make a reasonable decision that is subject to improvement as more is learned.