New Forms of Decision Making


Existing Practice of Decision Making Processes

Despite today's general tendency to assign formal power to citizens and shareholders, the choice of goals and of the means for reaching them remain in practice largely delegated, centralised and hierarchical (OECD 2001). However, these established forms of decision making are unable to claim either the effectiveness or the legitimacy required to effectively face the challenges posed by the actual technological, economic and social changes.

Decision making forms, which are now used to resolve the problem, are often among the causes of this problem, and are at least as important as the "objective" factors such as lack of local resources, polarisation effects etc. The ever emerging question related to decision making processes is how to manage long term co-operation between the stakeholders. Missing interfaces for co-operation as well as unclear (or even wrong) distribution of responsibilities seems to be the main source of problems.

Two characteristics of traditional decision making forms need fundamental changes: the fixed and permanent allocations of power that are engraved in the structures and constitutions of many organisations; and, the tendency to vest initiative exclusively in the hands of those in senior positions in the hierarchy.
An example of The Initiative for More Democracy. (Source:

Pustertal "I’ve got something to say" – Referendum on traffic in the Puster Valley, South Tyrol, Italy

Prize winner of CIPRA’s "Future in the Alps" competition, 2005

In 2000, 300 people of South Tyrol, with no particular political affiliation, representing a cross-section of all ethnic groups, languages and social strata, founded the Initiative for More Democracy. Their objective was to get citizens to become more directly involved in drawing up legislation, e.g. by referendum. An "observatory" took a closer look at politicians and the established political process. A democracy workshop drew up bills of its own making and developed ideas and projects to motivate more people – using PR work and visits to schools – to become politically involved. The project aimed to establish a culture of equal rights, and boost the awareness of the value of direct political involvement.

One example was the issue of traffic. Although the Brenner Autobahn and its heavy goods vehicle traffic is a huge burden on the people living in the Eisack Valley, the government of South Tyrol had been planning additional transit routes. The Initiative for More Democracy solicited support from various associations to bring about a self-administered referendum on transport policy. In Italy, referenda at the local level are uncommon. 200 volunteers collected 2,900 signatures, the first step towards a referendum. And while there was plenty of resistance from local politicians, the cheerful style of the survey proved popular with local residents. On March 20th, 2005 no fewer than 80% of the people who took part in the referendum spoke out in favour of prioritising rail and bus transport over private cars.
The following overview of the existing decision making forms aims to support an ad-hoc diagnosis of the main shortcomings and identification of the opportunities for improvement and evolution of new decision making forms. Hence, the overview is by no means exhaustive or generally valid, but proves to be operational for the Alpine situation from the exploratory and "lessons learned" perspective.
Further Readings & Links

OECD (2001)
The paper discusses the future forms of governance.

MAUREL (2003)
This report summarises the main experiences concerning public participation in the field of water management.

Traditional decision making approaches

Market and politics are the two main arenas of decision making. While it seems that the general global trend leads towards the neo-liberal American model, calling for "less state" and considering the "invisible hand of the market" to be the most effective decision maker, the continental European tradition of rather strong political regulation still characterizes the decision making processes in the EU and the Alpine countries. Regarding the roles of stakeholders, these approaches could be labelled technocratic, consultative and participatory/deliberative.
  • The market approach: The main standard (reference) is efficiency, and the decision making process is generally based on trading. It is a "less state" approach based on individual wants and preferences and it is more and more determined by a globalisation of market relations. This approach leads to a loss of traditional decision making power mostly on local level.
  • The political approach: Politics are the main arena for settling the relations between individuals and society. The political approach is mainly used for non material or value oriented issues, where market approaches do not work or are less successful. It is based on rights and the idea of social justice. The main instruments are elections, votings and previous negotiations. Political decision making aims at ensuring the legitimacy of decisions in the public sphere.
  • Technocratic decision making: The formal decision is mainly based on the judgement of experts. This approach sometimes has little legitimacy because of lacking transparency, one-sided approaches and data entries as well as the exclusion of non-experts. On the other hand this approach is often least time and money consuming.
  • Consultative decision making: This approach often follows an established procedure, with additional opportunities for consultation with stakeholders. Possible problems are high bureaucracy and technocracy, non-transparency and the exclusion of less institutionalised interest groups.
  • Co-decision making: The stakeholders are directly involved, the decisions are supported by experts. This approach can lead to time consuming procedures in the beginning. The legitimacy of own interests of well organised groups in the name of public interests is often disputed. On the other hand, this approach leads to better empowerment and co-operation between different interest groups.
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