7th February 2024
We’ve been talking a lot at Place Creative lately about how to make good decisions. By ‘good’ we usually mean evidence-based, fair, and constructive- choices that will have the most positive impact, and the least negative outcomes, in our projects.
Something we’re confronted with daily is how to make decisions with an uncertain outcome, so we’ve been on the lookout for a good example of this to pick apart and demonstrate the fundamentals of good decision-making.
Luckily, there are useful examples everywhere of both good AND bad decision making. It’s easy to list elements of the bad, as well, but more useful to look at how the good gets done.
For example, bad decisions are usually made up of
The presence of any of these indicate bad decision-making because they reinforce stereotypes or the status quo and predetermined outcomes, they remove nuance from a conversation, make it impossible to truthfully measure success, and dismiss the power of collaboration and the benefit of being able to compromise.
Inspiration came from an unexpected (to me!) place- in Todd Muller’s lovely writing about his friend, the former Climate Minister and outgoing Green Party Co-Leader James Shaw. In the piece, Muller illuminates how bipartisan agreement on the Zero Carbon Bill and establishing a Climate Commission was achieved:
“Our negotiation was unusual for the politics of our time. There was no “largely written” bill that I was consulted on at five minutes to midnight as often is the way when governments seek bipartisan support for legislation. Rather, it meant a lengthy series of weekly conversations that started with a whiteboard and a beer and ended with unanimous parliamentary support for the Zero Carbon Bill and the establishment of a Climate Commission, underpinned by targets and a series of five-yearly carbon budgets.”
Reading this surprised and comforted me that there are people in power who want to collaborate, and that working together is always better when you start from a place of mutual respect. It’s also a reminder that the same reason you’ll help a friend move house is why we have a Zero Carbon Act in this country.
So let’s unpack what Muller is saying in his description of how the Bill was passed.
The process “started with a whiteboard and a beer and ended with unanimous parliamentary support”
Consultants, designers, teachers, all love a whiteboard! Whether you’re using Miro with other remote workers, or you’re IRL scribbling up ideas and suggestions, the whiteboard is only marginally more technologically advanced than the stone tablet, because why improve on a classic! It’s a tool as old as time.
But, just as important as the physical space to jot down ideas, is the beer.
While Muller might be a beer guy, you might be more an iced-oat-latte, or a wine, or an early breakfast, or an evening walk up Maungawhau kinda person. The beer, to me, represents getting to know who we’re working with.
It’s a bit like you need to extract the purpose of the “Old Boys Club” or whatever happens on the golf course- if you’re committed to breaking down barriers, find out what activity, beverage, or time of day you have in common with others, and spend that time genuinely with them, as people.
Finding some kind of non-work-related common ground means you connect and understand each other more clearly.
“There was no “largely written” bill that I was consulted on at five minutes to midnight”
We’ve all felt it: the stomach drop when your phone dings and alerts you to a new email, marked urgent. It’s Friday afternoon and you’re packing up early to head out and take advantage of high tide. Whatever it is they’ve sent, you despise the person who sent it.
Collaborating takes a lot of time. A “lengthy series of weekly conversations.” When you’re committed to bringing everyone on a journey together, that’s the goal you have to be committed to- rather than the outcome. You have to make time a big part of your project budget for these kinds of conversations, when solving complex problems.
Some decisions are so quick to make- everyone’s on the same page about what needs to happen to achieve a shared goal.
The Vaxathon in 2021, for example, was announced a mere five days before Super Saturday, where the Prime Minister set the goal of 100,000 COVID vaccinations across the country in one day. Tamati Shepherd-Wipiiti, (a Senior Health Consultant at PWC, on secondment to The Ministry of Health,) masterminded both event concepts.
What began as a one-page idea, the Vaxathon took only around a month to come to fruition- and it was thanks to Shepherd-Wipiiti making calls to people respected in business, entertainment, and community, asking “‘Hey bro, just thought of this idea called ‘the Vaxathon’[...] but I have no idea how to do it. I think you do. Can you help me?’”
The success of Super Saturday and the Vaxathon speaks for itself- not only were around 130,000 vaccinations given, but Shepherd-Wipiiti’s initial objective was achieved; “We started with: how can we lift our Māori vaccination numbers? And then we thought, if we can make this work for Māori, we’ll make it work for the country. It was fun for everybody,”
But what about when you don’t necessarily have a shared goal? For instance, you’re a loveable duo of Right-wing and hard-left baby MPs with only a friendship and a dream between you?
Sometimes decisions happen slowly. When working with Mana Whenua, for example, we’re reminded that they’re always thinking multiple generations ahead- this requires care, many voices around a table, and allowing ourselves the time and humility to learn and be flexible. You have to build trust in one another, to trust one another’s decisions.
The last point about good decision-making is having a plan for what happens after the decision is made. Who will you tell, and how will you tell them? I.e. are they a beer guy, or a walking one?
Muller doesn’t go into this, but there’s much we can read into, about how James Shaw continued to feed and grow the trust capital he’d built in Parliament after the Bill came into law. It’s evident from the way his colleagues in the Greens, his Co-Leader Marama Davidson, and his friends from across the aisle are talking about his resignation, that his style of collaborative working will be missed in Parliament.
Decision making can be a long campaign, and it’s challenging to take seriously the long-term upkeep, and effects of our decisions. But it makes for a much more resilient environment when we take time to do good decision-making. Luckily, there are lots of examples like James Shaw’s that show there are many of us out there trying to do it, sharing the goal to continue making Aotearoa better.
Header image of the Exploding Rainbow Orchestra, by Connor Crawford, with thanks to Save Our Venues.