[-empyre-] On Making Decisions

michael simeone mpsimeon at gmail.com
Sat Apr 12 05:57:30 EST 2014

We typically use the word "make" in combination with decisions to signal
choice.  What actually gets made when one "makes a decision" gets lost in
English idiom.  But when I say "make a decision," I want to talk about the
making of the environment within which one can come to make a choice--a
decision environment and solution space. We can think of "making" a
decision as the fabrication of the possible choices available to a decider.
These choices would be the result of a process that include multiple inputs
and experts, consider multiple predictive models, and compare solutions.
 The decision is made before it is made.

This making is the work of a decision support system. Increasingly,
decisions are "made" in this way before they become choices by engineers,
policymakers, scientists, and leadership.  The ability to make a decision
computationally Decision support systems (I'll just use DSS from here on
out) are interlaced models that generate multiple possible solutions to a
given problem (how to mitigate flooding in a neighborhood, which cancer
drugs to use for a given patient, how to stimulate economic growth, etc.).

So when I think about critical making, I want to bring DSS into the
conversation about making and the humanities.  A decision is an artifact of
its conditions, and its footprint extends temporally before and after the
choice itself.  What models go into a DSS, what is considered data for
those models, how we evaluate the impact of a decision based on a
DSS--these are all areas where experts in the humanities have important
things to say. Moreover, they are parts of a DSS workflow where the entire
process of decision science may be enriched by non-scientific expertise. If
we are to mitigate the impact of a flood in a coastal area, for instance,
we might, in addition to climatological and geological factors, consider
the history and behavior of the agents involved, the social significance of
affected urban zones, or even the likelihood of certain kinds of messages
to succeed when ordering evacuations.

Critical makers can make decisions, because decisions are things even
before there is a formally recognized choice.  And the breadth of who makes
those decisions impacts the quality of solutions we collectively generate,
and the choices made among them.  Apropos of HASTAC, making decisions ins't
just a chance to produce better solutions, it's also a new site for
collaborations across disciplines.
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