Making a decision can be hard, particularly when there is a lot of noise, people feel passionately on both sides, and the stakes are high. Whether it’s deciding to tell your child, “no more Thomas the Tank Engine!”, or a municipal councillor saying “yes, we are moving forward with approving a re-zoning”, or the Prime Minister deciding to pull out of air strikes in Syria, making a tough call can be exhausting. Decision fatigue is real, and deciding to go with what would be popular or less disruptive can be tempting. It can also be tempting to call for more engagement.
Engagement doesn’t take away the work of the decision from the decision maker. More engagement doesn’t negate the need to decide – if it did everything would be at the IAP2 level of empower. A neighbourhood doesn’t like the condo development – don’t do it. Allies want Canada to continue with airstrikes – why stop?
The reality is that public input, stakeholder perspectives and the insights we uncover during an engagement process are only components in the whole of a decision. Decision makers also need to consider financial, legal, environmental and policy elements of a decision. They consider the greater good, the short, medium and long-term impacts of their decision, and they apply their own judgement.
Decision makers are not simply listening posts for their communities. They don’t just weigh how many people are for or against something – they also need to consider broader implications and rise above the noise. It’s hard work, but it’s work they must do.