Julia Rutherford Silvers, CSEP

Certified Special Events Professional

Event Management Authority

Like angels and elephants dancing on the head of a pin, our dreams and responsibilities may have no limits, but must be balanced according to the music of the moment.









Decision Making Systems

05 April 2011


You make decisions everyday in your life – choices about what to do, make, or buy; when and which way to go to get from one place to another; how to best achieve your needs and dreams, overcome your problems, and meet your obligations. Life is full of choices, and often you do not even consciously realize how many decisions you’re making.


Making decisions and solving problems is a large part of event management, and a skill that any event organizer must master. And like your everyday decisions, you might not realize the scope and nature of the decisions you need to make in order to bring an event to life and achieve the expectations surrounding it. Decision making for events also varies from making personal decisions in the scope and nature of the potential impact of those decisions. They can affect hundreds or thousands of people and involve vast amounts of money. This is why the event organizer must understand and employ effective decision making systems.

One must understand the nature of a decision. First there is a need to make a decision (cause), then the decision is made (choice), and finally there is the impact that decision will have (effect).

The typical types of decisions are:

Yes/No (whether, only two alternatives)

Which (more than two alternatives)

Level (measurement, quality, or rating scale)

If/Then (threshold or rule-based)

The amount of time one has to make a decision can have a significant impact on the way a decision is made and its effectiveness.

Making a decision based on little or no information, one’s personal preferences or prejudices, wishful thinking (or wishful listening) or panic are signs of professional immaturity.

Not recognizing the need for a decision is due to either ignorance or incompetence. “I didn’t know” or “I didn’t care” might be excuses but are not acceptable reasons.

Deciding not to decide is still a decision; perhaps appropriate or the abdication of one’s responsibilities.

Keep in mind that, as a professional, you are responsible (and sometimes liable) for the decisions you make, the decisions you failed to make, and the decisions you did not prevent others from making who did not have the authority to make them.

This is the system for making decisions broken down into its separate parts. It may seem complex and burdensome, but can be accomplished in what seems like the blink of an eye.

It is an iterative system that promotes due diligence. It helps one consider the variables of the cause, choice, and effect facets of a decision, and facilitates comprehensive and strategic thinking.

Having a structured system allows one to purposefully move through a process as well as establish policies and procedural tactics that ensure and improve quality decision making for an event.

Why are you making a decision? What went into the need to make that decision? What do you want or need to happen as a result of that decision? How important is this decision? How quickly must you make it? What factors must be incorporated into this decision?

Know the Needs.

In the planning stages of an event you have more time to spend determining the parameters of a decision. Review the scope and typical variables associated with this particular event project. Identify what you know and what you don’t know, or don’t know yet, so you can plan for contingencies.

The 35 categories of the EMBOK domains provide a comprehensive framework for approaching your decision planning. As you go through each category you can determine both the decisions to be made and the factors that go into these decisions (see the Speaker Integration Example).

How many decisions do you have to make? It depends on the scope and nature of the particular event project, but it could be anywhere from several hundred to hundreds of thousands. You NEED a decision making system!

Once the need has been defined, you must generate and evaluate the potential options for solving the need. This is often done by gathering ideas and information from others. Sometimes, however, you are limited by access or time, in which case you probably rely on heuristics – intelligent guesswork based on experience.

Consider the factors that affect the capability of an option to achieve a satisfactory solution. Some factors are pre-established, some are fundamental, and some are limitations. Often there isn’t one single best solution and you have to weigh and measure the choices.

For example, this chart shows the costs, trade offs, constraints, and acceptance factors that would go into a decision about what type of conference badge to use for an upcoming event.

At first glance one might say that stick-on or RFID badges would be the last choice, but that doesn’t take into account the nature of the event. For some budget events the stick-on badge would be the best choice; an RFID badge could be the most appropriate for a high-tech event.

You need to know how and by whom the decision will be made. Many of these methods use quantitative or qualitative criteria that determine choices, for example first come/first served for assigning exhibit spaces or vicinity quality for site selection.

Determine who has the authority to make the decision and if there are any conditions placed on that authority. It might be the event organizer, the event host or owner, a committee, or a panel of judges.

Contingency plans need to have the if-then-when thresholds or triggers clearly defined.

In order to effectively implement the decision you need to recognize and integrate the factors that affect the action plan. These include the resources (time, money, personnel, space, etc.) and their use, as well as the potential side effects of that use.

Communication, clarity of expectations, and controls will be imperative, particularly when the cause or effects of a decision involve numerous people and activities. A single decision can create waves that spread throughout an event project and its operation.

No change is a small change.

It has been said that no decision is ever “final” (although it might not be changed during an event project). Things change. Things don’t always turn out the way you thought they would. Stuff happens.

You have to keep your eye on how things are going, and if a decision is not delivering the solution you expected, you might have to change course. This is why contingency plans are made. This is also why the decision structure has a loop back up to the start of the process.

Having thought through the decision needs should prepare you to face the challenges that inevitably occur during an event project. Make certain you learn from them.

2001-2016, Julia Rutherford Silvers, CSEP. Albuquerque, NM, USA. All Rights Reserved.

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