The four values of a participatory decision-making process

  1. The importance of a participatory decision-making process
  2. The four values of a participatory decision-making process

In the first post of the series, we talked about why have a participatory decision-making process is so important, and the value that it can bring. However, it can be quick difficult to define what that is. Fortunately, there is a set of four values that must present in each discussion or meeting or whatever the decision-making is. They are:

The four values of a participatory decision-making process are

  1. Full participation
  2. Mutual understanding
  3. Inclusive solution
  4. Shared responsibility

An in-depth analysis of the four values:

First value: Full participation

  • Participants are comfortable in sharing uncomfortable ideas and their first draft ideas
  • Participants are encouraging each other to think like that

The facilitators role in achieving full participation

  • Protect against injunctions against thinking in public (e.g. Can we go back to the topic, we are diverging, didn’t we already discuss this)
  • Build a respectful and supportive atmosphere
  • Protect against self-censorship

Second value: Mutual understanding

  • The participants understand and accept the legitimacy of the others needs and goals
  • The participants think from each other’s point’s of view
  • Dialogue is more important than persuasion
  • The participants take time to understand everyone’s perspectives

The facilitators role in achieving mutual understanding

  • Prevent the “I really can’t focus on what you are saying until I feel you understand what is my points of view” mentality
  • Help everyone realize the value of thinking from each others point of view
  • Always be impartial and honor the points of view of everyone involved. This ways, every member has the feeling that someone understands them

Third value: Inclusive solutions

  • Solutions emerge from the integrations of everyone’s perspectives, needs and goals
  • Everyone has a piece of truth
  • The solutions are not compromises, as they work for everyone involved
  • They might require the discovery of a new option
  • Innovation and sustainability of a solution are more important than the decision being expedient

The facilitators role in achieving inclusive solutions

  • Help the group find innovative ideas that result from using everyone’s point of view
  • Help the group engage in divergent thinking
  • And then build a shared framework of understanding in the groan zone
  • To, at last, converge with sound decisions

Fourth: Shared responsibility

  • Everyone is an owner of the outcome
  • Everyone is responsible for running the meeting: settings the goals, the agenda, the priorities and arriving at conclusions
  • Members must be able to implement the proposals that they endorse
  • The problem: the group relies on authority. This makes the leaders to “get on with it” and to the work themselves

The facilitators role in achieving shared responsibility

The facilitator helps the group build assertiveness, collaboration and the ownership of the decision process and outcomes.

  1. The importance of a participatory decision-making process
  2. The four values of a participatory decision-making process

The importance of a participatory decision-making process

I have been reading “The Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making” by Sam Kaner. The objective of this series is to write down some notes for me, and provide content that can be found by others, to assert if the book should be bought (so for, the answer is a resounding yes!).

  1. The importance of a participatory decision-making process
  2. The four values of a participatory decision-making process

Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making

Sam Kaner

Well, what is this book about?

Decision making is everywhere, from small things like how to divide tasks for an afternoon project to large multi-month enterprises with several stakeholders involved and many workers. Therefore making sound decisions is super important: it will lead to better products, less time wasted. Specially, it wil lead to better morale, as everyone feels that their needs are being heard.

Participatory decision-making

A participatory decision-making process means that every one that is touched by a decision is heard and participates in it. They suggest root causes, share their concerns, suggest solutions and implement the solution. Not only that, but they participate in the decision process itself: run meetings, prepare the agenda, etc.

Why is this so important? Well,

If people do not participate in the decision-making process, that decision will fail with misunderstood ideas and a half-hearted implementation

The diamond of participatory decision-making

Diamond of Participatory Decision-Making. Developed by Sam Kaner
Diamond of Participatory Decision-Making. It was developed by Sam Kaner with Lenny Lind, Catherine Toldi, Sarah Fisk and Duane Berger

This diagram summarizes the dynamics of group thinking. First, the group discusses a new topic as “Business as usual”. The participants stay in their comfort zone and make safe suggestions. Some times this is enough for a simple problem, and the meeting ends there. Many times it is not.


Then, the group moves into divergent thinking. It starts generating alternatives and exploring different points of view. It is important that its members feel safe to share novel ideas, without fear of judgement.

This will lead to the groan zone, where the most discomfort and heated moments exist. The group processes all the ideas created in the divergent zone to start building a shared framework of understanding. What is the shared framework of understanding? It is a “state” where the group is aware of the individual’s concerns, points of view and suggestions. Everyone shares the same level of understanding of the problem.


When this happens the group can start to converge. It summarizes key points, judges the ideas and evaluates alternatives. Hopefully, this leads to a decision without any compromise, where each affected party has its problems addressed.

Divergent thinking

  • Generating alternatives
  • Free flowing open discussion
  • Gathering different points of view
  • No judgement

Groan zone

  • Understanding foreign and complex ideas
  • Build a shared framework of understanding
  • The confusion moment

Convergent thinking

  • Evaluating alternatives
  • Summarizing key points
  • Sorting ideas into categories
  • Exercising judgement

Last but not least, there four values adjacent to all this process. They are fundamental in ensuring that the participatory part of the decision-making process happens. They are:

  • Full participation
  • Mutual understanding
  • Inclusive solution
  • Shared responsibility

There is an entire post on this series dedicated to dissecting them.

The facilitator role in participatory decision-making

Well, that explains the second part of “The Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making“, what about the facilitator? Who is that guy?

In short:

The facilitator supports everyone at doing their best thinking

The facilitator is a servant leader that ensures everyone is heard and feels safe to share their opinions. Lastly, the facilitator guides the group through the diamond of participatory decision making.

There are some “smells” that prevent traditional groups from reaching perfect solutions:

  • Fixed positions
  • Win/lose mentality
  • Self-censorship
  • Reliance on authority

It is the facilitator’s role to prevent them from creeping up and undermining the meetings. These smells are explained in a post dedicated to the values of participatory decision making.

To do its best job, the facilitator must have:

  • Content neutrality – he does not have a position in one of the discussion sides.
  • Does not have a position in the outcome – he does not benefit if a certain decision is made.
  • Does not advocate for certain processes – the group is responsible to choose how they decide things.

In short, the facilitator must be independent and act from outside any of the group’s individual interests.

During the discussion, the facilitator:

  • Builds and sustains a supportive atmosphere
  • Stays out of the content and respects the process
  • Teaches the group new thinking skills
  1. The importance of a participatory decision-making process
  2. The four values of a participatory decision-making process