Monday, December 17, 2007

Illustrating Procedural Fairness

Procedural fairness refers to using unbiased, equitable, and inclusive processes when a choice has to be made from among competing interests. When people believe they have been treated fairly by the decision-making process, they are more likely to go along with decisions with which they do not agree, and they are more likely not to break ties with leadership. (See last week's post - 12/10/07.)

To illustrate, suppose a church unexpectedly receives a large gift of money at year's end from one of their members with no strings attached. A special committee of six people is appointed to decide how to allocate the gift. At their first meeting, the chairperson asks committee members for their initial thoughts on the subject. They respond with a list of no fewer than 10 projects, all of which are strongly advocated by at least one committee member. The cost of each project is less than the total amount the church received; however, the total cost of all 10 exceeds the value of the gift. So the committee must prioritize the 10 to determine which projects to complete and which to leave undone.

The chairperson might be tempted to pare the list by reasoning that 1 or 2 of the ideas only have one person who feels strongly about them (the persons who recommended them initially). Unfortunately, even though such reasoning might make sense to most of the group, it likely will not make sense to the two people who feel strongly about their ideas. Other similar methods of cutting down the list probably will not fare any better. Someone in the group will be convinced that the process for making the decision has been unfair to them or that their idea in particular didn't get a fair shake.

So what can the chairperson do to insure that each idea is given fair consideration and each committee member an equal opportunity to contribute to the group's decision? Each committee member can be asked to rank all 10 projects in the order of priority as they see it. Next, the individual rankings can be collected and tallied to reveal the "consensus" of the group as to which projects should make the cut and in what order they should be completed. In this way, each committee member is assured that their "voice" has been heard. The process used by chairperson has treated both them and their idea fairly.

Application Questions:
1. What other method of making a decision like this one can you think of to ensure its fairness?
2. Have you ever served on a committee when a decision like this had to be made? What happened? How would you now assess what happened on the issue of procedural fairness?
3. Have you ever served on a committee when a decision like this had to be made and you or your ideal were treated unfairly? Describe your reaction. How difficult was it to overcome the negative feelings toward leadership or toward the decision that was made eventually?
4. What Scriptural support can you give for procedural fairness?


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