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close this bookTraining for Elected Leadership - The Councillor as Decision-maker (HABITAT, 1994, 22 p.)
close this folderPart I. Essay on the councillor as decision-maker
View the documentDefinition
View the documentSummary
View the documentReflection
View the documentConcepts and ideas
View the documentBe rational!
View the documentProblem identification
View the documentAwareness and vision
View the documentReflection
View the documentProblems, symptoms and solutions
View the documentTalk to your problem
View the documentFurther analysis
View the documentQuality and acceptance
View the documentConsequences
View the documentWhat about group decision-making?
View the documentReflection
View the documentOther decision traps
View the documentMaking decisions in uncertainty
View the documentKey points
View the documentReferences

Problems, symptoms and solutions

One of the most common problems in making problem-solving decisions is the tendency to "solve" symptoms of the real problem and not the real problem. Symptom-solving, unfortunately, often leaves the real problem yet to be solved. If, for example, your street department continues to patch "potholes" on a street that has an inadequate base, or foundation, the department may be confronted with an endless job with no lasting consequences. It may also expend more resources over time on patching material and labour than it would cost to totally rebuild the street and eliminate the problem for years to come. The only problem, you say, is the lack of necessary funds to do it. And, influential motorists are complaining to the street committee members that something must be done! While it may be necessary to "fix" symptoms, councils should be aware of the opportunity costs involved.

Another common decision-making shortfall that can be traced back to the identification of the problem is the tendency to identify a solution to the problem as the problem. Your council might be saying, for example: "We need to buy a bulldozer and a grader to fix the dirt roads in our district." Is this the problem, or a solution to the problem? Once council has decided that the lack of equipment is the problem, they have ruled out all other options for fixing their dirt streets. Overlooked are other options like labour-based maintenance, contracting the maintenance out to a local contractor, or organizing the work to be done by neighborhood groups.

In other words, it is important when making decisions to solve problems, to ask yourself if you are really just chasing symptoms or promoting pet solutions. Rarely do either of these options have beneficial, long-term consequences. One way to overcome this common "dilemma" is to talk to your problem.