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Making decisions is hard, especially as groups grow in size. And tools like email are notoriously bad for keeping track of who suggested what alternatives, and what people’s feeling are. While in principle work management tools — like chat and enterprise social networks — create a context for working toward decisions, aside from polling or voting support, there isn’t much in those tools to provide a scaffolding for decision-making.
The folks at Loomio have created an open source solution that supports group discussion and decision support, with some specialized support. Here’s a screen showing a group in a co-working space deciding what to do about bikes blocking the hallway:
MJ has proposed moving the bikes out to the street, which is the first tangible proposal. Now people can jump in either in favor, against, neutral, or raising a serious concern (the red flag). In this case, MJ is convinced to drop her proposal by a comment from another coworker, Sophie:
Daniel then proposes that a better approach would be to get a bike rack in the hallway:
The tool keeps track of the decisions in an archive, so the outcome is available for anyone to review.
The Bottom Line
Loomio is a good example of a narrow and deep tool. Its purpose is supporting decision-making, and it does a great job of that. However, it may be so narrowly defined that many will look on it as just a feature, something that could be added to other social tools as a new sort of object, like a task, file, note, or poll.
Nonetheless, I think that mediating the decision-making process is a key aspect of a great many activities, and therefore capabilities like Loomio might actually be inserted into almost every interaction. Someone in my work group assigns me a task? Isn’t there almost always a negotiation as part of that, where I ask when the work is due, and other factors are discussed, and other tasks are perhaps delayed?
Maybe Loomio has surfaced a foundational element of work that might need to be screwed into almost everything we do with others, and at some point — maybe when the groups becomes a group: when there are three or more involved — a Loomio like solution is beneficial.
In fact, I find it strange that we manage to deal with so many decision-making situations without the use of solutions like this. Perhaps that’s the legacy of a command-and-control past, where leaders would simply make decisions using whatever approaches they felt were appropriate, and that was that. As we slide into a more egalitarian present, we may find it more useful to ‘show our work’ — to make public the give-and-take around decisions — than we did in the past, and so tools like Loomio may become a commonplace.