The Advice Process protocol

How the Advice Process fits into different decision-making frameworks.

It’s important to understand where the Advice Process fits into different decision-making frameworks. Because we talk about flat organisations and distributed decision-making, people often make misplaced assumptions about the AP; hopefully this section will help to frame where it sits in the overall picture.

Different protocols for making decisions

The Advice Process is not about gaining consensus, consent or winning a popular vote to proceed with a given action. But it also differs from the traditional, top-down, ‘I have a mandate’ model that exists in most organisations today.

The messy reality of life is that people have things they prefer (“I want apples”), things they will tolerate (“I could have any fruit”) and things they object to (“I won’t eat junk food”.) On a basic level, this can be applied to the different decision-making protocols to highlight how each approach is impacted by group dynamics, as shown below.

Only me

Me and someone else

The messy real world...

From: London - Decentralised Decision Making - April 2019

Outline of the Different Protocols

Decision protocol

How the decision is made

Consensus

Seeks as much agreement as possible, so there is a general agreement around the proposal. Impact: your proposal moves to match that of the group despite your preference.

Consent

Seeks to remove objections or gain ‘permission’ on the proposal; “I’ll proceed if no one objects.” Impact: If you can’t remove objections to your proposal, then it fails to proceed.

Democratic

Seeks to bring a proposal to the point where a simple majority prefer or tolerate it. Impact: Your proposal moves to where you think you can gain sufficient support to proceed.

Advice (Process)

Seeks input, which influences the decision maker’s preference. Decision then made based on that preference. Impact: Your decision aligns with what you think is the best course of action for the proposal, given the advice you’ve received.

Mandate

Decision made within the boundaries of decision maker’s role. “I’ll proceed if I prefer.” Impact: The proposal aligns with the decision maker’s preference, but often without testing the proposal.

Different Characteristics of the Different Protocols

In the ‘Benefits of the Advice Process’ section above, we identified four key aspects EE is looking for when making decisions. Collaboration, Accountability, Transparency and an opportunity for Feedback and Learning. Here’s how each of the protocols stacks up against those requirements – it’s fairly obvious why we chose the Advice Process.

Collaboration

Accountability

Transparency

Feedback & Learning

Consensus

YES

NO

YES

?

Consent

YES

NO

YES

?

Democratic

YES

NO

YES

?

Advice (Process)

YES

YES

YES

YES

Mandate

NO

YES

NO

?

As outlined in the table, the core difference between the Advice Process and Consensus, Consent & Democratic Protocols is the focus on Accountability. This is important, because when looking to drive an initiative though what are essentially voting systems, you end up getting the worst of all worlds:

  • The initiative that the person is driving ceases to be their own, and turns into a watered-down set of compromises that no one can love or get passionate about.

  • In the event of running the initiative, it becomes easy to shirk responsibility because the ideas are not fully the owners.

In contrast, with the Advice Process:

  • The Decision Maker is clearly accountable for the outcome. They are under no obligation to implement the advice given (only to listen with an open mind), so it’s very clear where accountability and responsibility lie.

  • People are motivated when they feel they have ownership of what’s happening. That ownership just doesn’t exist in the same way with a vote.

  • People work hard to make the right decision when they are clearly accountable.

“In the Advice Process when someone only gets to give advice, they know someone heard what they had to say. They made their case. They had a conversation. They didn’t just cast a ballot.”[1]

Advice vs. Mandate

Like the Advice Process, accountability is clear when using a Mandate protocol. However, it cannot offer anywhere near the same level of collaboration or transparency. With collaboration – including advice from experts and those motivated to contribute due to the impact on them – the quality of decision making will only increase. And with transparency, the decision-maker will be motivated to make the best decision possible, and be prepared to own it. For us at Equal Experts, it’s just not acceptable to do away with either of these aspects.