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close this bookTraining for Elected Leadership - The Councillor as Decision-maker (HABITAT, 1994, 22 p.)
close this folderPart II. Workshop on the councillor as decision-maker
View the documentOverview
View the document3.1 Warm-up exercise: decision preferences checklist
View the document3.2 Trainer presentation
View the document3.3 Exercise: good and bad decisions
View the document3.4 Simulation: the allocation decision
View the document3.5 Case study: a central bus park for Rumai
View the document3.6 Skill transfer exercise



The performance of elected leaders is judged by the decisions they make. Better decisions can mean improved government performance and a more positive image of local government and those who govern.

This workshop is designed to provide participants with an understanding of the decision-making process and to explore the various styles and methods use by those with decision-making responsibilities. Councillors who complete the workshop mill be able to identify blocks to good council decision-making and to plan and implement strategies to avoid or remove them.


brief description of each learning activity is shown below with an approximation of the amount of time required. If you wish to change the order, omit something, or to add training material of your own, feel free to do so.

3.1 Warm-up exercise

Participants individually choose which of five types of decision-making they prefer in their councillor roles. The pros and cons of each preference are then discussed in plenary session. (45 minutes)

3.2 Trainer presentation

Brief presentation on council decision-making. Draw on material from the essay to cover how decisions are made, stages in the process, barriers to decision-making, and how council members can be more effective decision-makers. (30 minutes)

3.3. Exercise: good and bad decisions

In groups of five to seven, participants are asked to list characteristics of Councils that make good and bad decisions. Encourage participants to think creatively about ways to improve council decision-making performance. (120 minutes)

3.4 Simulation: the allocation decision

Participants take part in a decision-making simulation involving a council budget session where several citizen groups are competing for a large grant of money received recently by the council. Allow time for three presentations, council deliberation, and discussion of the decision outcome. (120 minutes)

3.5 Case study: a central bus park for Rumai

In small groups of five to seven, participants read a case containing a problem that might face any city council. Each group is asked to read the case, reach a decision, and answer questions about the approach they followed in arriving at the decision. Observers are assigned to each group to monitor the process actually followed. (60 minutes)

3.6 Skill transfer exercise

Participants reflect privately and, then, share with others what they intend to do after the workshop with what they have learned about decision-making at the workshop. Encourage personal commitments to change. (45 minutes)

3.1 Warm-up exercise: decision preferences checklist

Time required: 45 minutes


This exercise is a way for workshop participants to identify which of five common styles of decision-making they tend to rely on most often in their councillor roles. As you can see from reading the checklist, the styles vary from doing nothing at all (a decision of no decision) to the well-known "knee jerk" reaction (ready, fire, aim).

Have participants complete the exercise before presenting them with concept information on decision-making. This is important. The value of the exercise is to get a true picture of how participants see themselves actually behaving, not how they think they should be behaving.


Ask participants to complete the Decision Preferences Checklist working alone. Give them about 15 minutes to complete the task. Explain that there are no good or bad preferences and that any of the five might be an appropriate response to a particular problem or opportunity.

When participants have completed their checklists, call out each preference Decision- by name and ask for a show of hands from participants who selected each preference as the one on which they most often rely. Record the results on newsprint.

Initiate a discussion by asking what sorts of situations might call for a particular decision-making preference. Ask participants to give examples from their own council experience as recorded on the worksheets. Keep the process moving briskly to stay on schedule.


The following statements describe six typical decision-making preferences employed by councillors the world over. Read the six preferences. Identify the one you tend to rely on the most in your role as a councillor Mark your preference with a checkmark in the box.

· I am patient and wait since many problems resolve themselves without a decision being made-

· I do something immediately. Most of the time the decision I make is the right one.

· I get as much information as possible about the problem and its cause before doing anything.

· I discuss at length with others if there is need for a decision at all and what the decision is about.

· I make an effort to get the concurrence of everyone involved before doing anything. I follow the lead of the majority or others whose opinions I respect.

Describe in the space below a situation where you, as a councillor, had to make a decision. Describe the decision you made and the decision preference you used to make it.

Were you satisfied with the outcome? Explain. How would you handle it next time (what would be your decision preference)?

3.2 Trainer presentation

Time required: 30 minutes


This presentation is to provide participants with ideas and perspectives on the decision-maker role and a conceptual foundation they can use for the individual and group exercises included in this workshop.


Prepare the presentation based on information from the preceding essay on the decision-maker-role. Emphasize how decisions are made, stages in the process, barriers to decision-making and how council members can be more effective decision-makers.

Outlined information on note cards may help you cover the information systematically and stay on schedule. Ask questions from time to time during the presentation as a check on participant comprehension and to hold their attention. Augment the presentation with visual aids including pre-printed newsprint sheets and overhead transparencies as a further aid to comprehension

3.3 Exercise: good and bad decisions

Time required: 90-120 minutes


This exercise is to encourage workshop participants to reflect on their own experience with council decision-making and to share these experiences in a group setting. Further, the exercise provides an opportunity for participants to think creatively about what might be done to overcome weaknesses in their own council decision-making. Normally, this exercise is used after the presentation and discussion on council decision-making (see the preceding essay and the handbooks introductory materials).


You can introduce this exercise by saying that anyone with experience as a councillor has seen the council make some good decisions and some bad ones. In the heat of the moment, however, those involved in the decision rarely take the time to reflect thoughtfully on the decision and how it was made.

Write two questions in large letters on a sheet of newsprint:

1. What are some characteristics of councils that make good decisions?
2. What are some characteristics of councils that make bad decisions?

Divide the group into two smaller groups of about equal size. Assign the first question to one of the groups and the second question to the other. A worksheet on the next page may be helpful to participants in making individual lists of characteristics. Ask each small group to compile a list of characteristics on newsprint and return with their results in 20 - 30 minutes.

When both groups have completed the task, reconvene the total group and ask a spokes person from each group to take about five minutes to report the group's results. Allow a few minutes at the end of each presentation for discussion.

Good Decisions

Bad Decisions

With the lists of good and bad council decision- making characteristics taped to the wall of the room, write on a clean newsprint sheet the following question:

What can I do to improve the decision-making performance of the council on which I serve?

Ask participants to think of ways that this might be done and to write them down (see worksheet on the next page). Suggest to participants that they refer to the two lists for ideas. After about five minutes, collect improvement ideas from participants in round-robin fashion and record them on newsprint. As time permits, discuss the results of this activity and focus the discussion on those ideas which have the most merit and how they might be implemented.


What can I do...


What have I learned from other councillors about good and bad council decisions?


3.4 Simulation: the allocation decision

Time required: 120 minutes


This exercise is to provide an opportunity for participants to learn about decision-making while engaged in the process of making a decision. Simulations are strong aids to learning. They place participants into hypothetical situations that resemble what they are likely to experience in real life. Because they are just simulations, participants can put themselves into the roles assigned to them and act out the real-life situations using new behaviours and techniques. Participating in a simulation is much like having a dream - an experience so vivid that you can't get it out of your mind even after waking up.


Divide the group into four smaller groups with one of these groups composed of five members. Give each group a copy of the situation and role descriptions. Note: If possible, distribute handout materials (based on the situation described below) in advance of the workshop to give participants a chance to become familiar with the situation and their roles,

You may either appoint participants to play the town council member roles (five members) or ask for volunteers. At any rate, participants should be found for the role of council chairperson and each of the other (four) councillor roles. You may select names for each of the councillors or ask role-playing participants to use their own names.

Assign the remaining participants to groups 1, 2, or 3. From each of these three groups, select one person as an observer. When all remaining participants have been assigned roles, ask those who are members of the three groups to go to their assigned rooms to develop a plan of action for "selling" the council on their proposal. Ask them to complete the task in 45 minutes. Suggest that they choose one of the group to serve as its spokesperson. Explain that the council has a very crowded agenda and that each group will have only five minutes to make its presentation.

While the three groups are deliberating, have those participants who are playing councillor roles arrange the chairs and tables in the training room into a town council room as shown on the next page.

With council members seated, the presentations are made in turn. Other than the three observers, allow only members of groups that are presenting or have already presented to be present in the council room. In other words, no group should be permitted to hear another group's presentation until after it has made its own.

After all presentations are made, council members begin their deliberations as the three observers listen, watch, and record their comments.

Call time after 15 minutes whether a decision has been reached or not. Ask for reports from the three observers and comments from each of the council members and group leaders. Focus the ensuing discussion on the process used by the council to arrive at a decision and its effectiveness.


Councillors at front of room seated behind tables placed end-to-end. A smaller table placed at centre for use by citizens who wish to make presentations to the council. Squares at the back of the room represent citizens after they have made their presentations.


The situation

A wealthy merchant and resident of San Pedro has died and left a large sum of money to the town. The sum is US$50,000 (or the equivalent amount in another currency) to be made available to the town council in five annual instalments of US$10,000 each. The merchant has stipulated that the money is to be allocated for some worthwhile public purpose at the discretion of the town council. However, should the council fail to allocate the money or delay its decision beyond the next council meeting, the offer will be withdrawn irrevocably.

Three community groups have declared an intent to submit proposals for use of the money. The task before the council is to hear each of the three proposals and to choose one of the community groups as the recipient.

Description of San Pedro

San Pedro is a commercial town within a developing country. The central government is in the process of implementing a decentralization plan that will affect local government in San Pedro. The town is governed by a town council of five members, each representing a separate district. Councillors are elected for two year terms by obtaining a simple majority of the votes cast at an election in their respective districts.

Councillor roles

The Council Chairperson. You are Council Chairperson, elected from one of San Pedro's non-industrial districts. You were voted as Chairperson by your fellow councillors on a vote of 4 to 1. You are widely respected for your leadership skills and ability to arrange compromises between warring factions on your council.

Your council's task today is to decide which of three community groups will receive the finds from the merchant's gift to the community. You have arranged for the leaders of each community group to present that group's case for the funds and for the council to discuss the merits of each proposal. Your objective is to ensure that:

1. The funds are not lost owing to the council's failure to reach a decision;

2. Reach a consensus on the best use of the funds; and

3. Maintain the council's reputation as reasonable, fair, and concerned with the best interests of the community overall.

Two pro-business councillors. San Pedro is a mill town. The town's economy depends in large measure on several plants that process agricultural products. As councillors, the two of you share a common interest. Both of you represent districts which are home for plant employees. Many of your constituents have lost their jobs owing to the recent closing of a jute mill, one of the town's principal employers. Your constituents would benefit most directly from a vocational training centre which one of the three groups is proposing as the most worthy use of the merchant's gift.

Two pro-social service councillors. Not all of the town's problems are economic. The industrial character of San Pedro has produced many social problems as well. A by-product of unemployment has been the departure of many non-working males for more promising areas of the country, leaving wives and small children behind to fend for themselves. Moreover, lacking in adequate health facilities, the community is vulnerable to the rapid spread of many infectious diseases including the dreaded AIDS virus. As councillors, each of you has long championed the cause of the poor and the disinfranchised of San Pedro. Both of you are on record supporting more funds for health care and the needs of indigent children. You intend to support either the day-care centre or the health programme depending upon which of the two proposals is presented to the council in the most convincing manner.

Community group roles

Group No. 1. You represent a private company formed with the backing of local businesses to retrain workers for other employment in town. The corporation has acquired space from one of the plants and is seeking funds to operate a vocational training centre. Your main concern is the high rate of unemployment in the community. You believe your company can help reduce joblessness. But you need a supplemental source of funds for several years to sustain your efforts to put people back to work.

Group No. 2. You are an activist group with strong support in the non-industrial areas of San Pedro. You are supported by public health and medical groups in the area and are seeking funds to underwrite a new programme aimed at preventing the spread of diseases, and especially AIDS, through education in the face of a growing epidemic. You feel your organization most deserves the funds because of the urgency of the health problems facing the community.

Group No. 3. You are a church-based group with strong support from every religious denomination in the community as well as the public schools. Your organization is the principal provider of services to the most disadvantaged in the community, and, owing to its non-profit status, is dependent totally on outside funds. You need funds to open and operate a day-care centre in a low-income neighbourhood for the benefit of marginally employed, single parents with many small children. The centre would care for small children while their parents were working. As heads of their households, single parents are responsible alone for the welfare of their children. If they do not work, these parents cannot feed their children. However, these parents cannot afford to pay for housekeepers to care for their children while they are working. You see the centre as the answer for this chronic community need.


1. Did the council make a decision? (check one)



2. If "no," why not?

3. If "yes," how was a decision made? (check one)

Decision not to respond to ideas suggested by others.

Decision made by the council chairperson on behalf of the council.

Decision made by two or three of the stronger members of the council.

Decision by majority vote.

Decision made by consensus (general commitment to go along and support a particular course of action that is not necessarily everyone's Councillor as first choice).

Decision by unanimous consent.

4. In making the decision, was there a tendency of councillors to be nice to one another at the expense of critical thinking? (check one)



Explain your answer below:

3.5 Case study: a central bus park for Rumai

Time required: 60 minutes


This exercise is to give participants practice in looking at problems objectively, considering a variety of solutions for the situation stated in the case. While cases are only an approximation of reality, they can help to give workshop participants a taste of real-life decision-making without the usual responsibilities and risks.

An objective of the case method is learning by discussion. You can facilitate this process by initiating and guiding discussions and by encouraging even the most reticent participants to express themselves. Subject matter mastery is also important. You can help others to learn by reading carefully and forming some conclusions of your own about the case. Be prepared to help participants relate the situation in the case to the body of knowledge about decision-making discussed earlier in the workshop.


Begin the exercise by giving a copy of the case, A Central Bus Park for Rumai, to each workshop participant and ask them to read the case. Divide the group into three discussion groups. Send each group off for about 40 minutes to answer the five questions at the end of the case.

Decision- At the end of 40 minutes, reconvene the small groups and ask for written maker reports from each group on newsprint. Guide a discussion comparing each small group's results. Guide the discussion to increasingly higher levels of abstraction in order to address the underlying issues in the case for council decision-making.


For many years it has been the practice of area bus companies serving the city of Rumai to encourage their drivers to drop off and pick up passengers anywhere along the city streets. The practice has been a great convenience for shoppers and office workers who use the bus to commute into the city each day from nearby villages.

Recently the City Council has received complaints from local merchants about bus service. According to the merchants, noisy "touts," who are competing for customers, and the indiscriminate dumping or collection of passengers at and between street corners is resulting in excessive noise, littering, and overcrowding in front of their business establishments. They claim these practices are bad for business and demand that the City Council do something about it.

Responsive to the wishes of area merchants, councillors are considering a proposal to designate an area near the centre of the city as a bus park. The successful operation of such a park in a neighboring country has convinced the council of the feasibility of this idea for Rumai. Once established, arriving and departing passengers would be required to meet their buses at the bus park at scheduled times rather than wait for them on the city's street corners. Noisy crowds waiting for buses and bus drivers holding up traffic while competing loudly for riders would become a thing of the past.

The Rumai City Council has never before taken a stand for or against the passenger loading and unloading practices of area bus companies. The absence of an official position by the council has always been interpreted by bus company owners as council sanction for their passenger-handling practices. They are shocked and dismayed by the council's thinking. The situation is further maker complicated by the involvement of wealthy expatriates from neighbouring countries who have invested heavily in the area bus companies that would be affected by the council's bus park idea. These investors fear that the council's idea would make buses less accessible to riders and that this would jeopardise their learnings. They want the council to stay out of the bus business in Rumai and are prepared to make a fight of it if necessary.

1. What is the decision problem? (Define it precisely.)

2. What steps should the council follow to solve the problem?

3. What are the alternatives and probable consequences at each step?

4. Given the conclusion reached in the previous questions, how should the decision problem be addressed by the council?

5. What are the implications of this case for council decision-making as discussed in this workshop?

3.6 Skill transfer exercise

Time required:30-45 minutes


This exercise is to help participants transfer the learning experiences of the workshop into their real-world activities as elected officials. The focus of this exercise is on raising expectations, engaging in realistic planning, and making personal commitments. Most of the work is done on a personal basis with some interpersonal sharing.

Between knowing and doing there is a wide chasm.

It is generally agreed that the purpose of training is to improve the way people do things by showing them a better way.

In fact, the success of a training experience can be measured by the amount of personal growth and change that takes place both during training and after the training is over.

Training rarely has the impact on workshop participants that trainers hope it will have, particularly after an exposure of only a few hours. The exhilaration of the moment fades quickly when the trainee is confronted with old work habits and of work associates who have not shared the training experience.

On the other hand, commitments to learning and change made at the close of a workshop can help participants overcome learning resistance in themselves and in the work environment. A trainer can help learners make a successful transition from the world of learning to the world of doing through a few simple planning exercises. Think about it this way. The time taken to encourage learning transfer could be the difference between a brief exposure to some interesting ideas and a life-changing experience.


Spend at least half an hour at the end of the workshop to focus the attention of participants on important learnings and encourage them to continue experimenting with these learnings in their council activities. Begin by giving participants about 15 minutes to work independently on a simple learning transfer questionnaire.

When participants have completed the questionnaire, ask them to share quickly with the group two or three things they intend to do differently in their council roles as decision-makers to close the workshop.

Take a few minutes to reflect on the role of the decision-maker, the new ideas you encountered in this workshop, and how you feel about them. Then, in the space below, write a sentence or two to describe something interesting you have learned about yourself during this workshop.



Based on what you have learned about yourself and the many possibilities for change presented by this workshop, what two or three things do you intend to do differently in your council role as decision-maker?




Finally, what obstacles in yourself or in your work environment do you expect to experience during your efforts to implement these changes? What will you do to remove or minimize these obstacles?


Action to remove the obstacle

1. ____________________

1. ____________________________

2. ____________________

2. ____________________________

3. ____________________

3. ____________________________

If you can learn it, you can do it