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How to Support Decision-Makers

In the public sector, every decision a leader makes affects the public in some way. It could be that there is a cost associated with it, or it affects the way residents and business owners go about their daily life. It could relate to a safety issue like the chemical composition in drinking water or a combination of these. Making decisions in public, or on behalf of the public, is neither simple nor black and white.

Public administration professionals are trained and often skilled in this type of decision-making and understand the need to prioritize, examine the costs and benefits, and when to bring in the public. But those who are not trained professionals, such as elected and appointed officials, often have to learn on the job, in the moment. Additionally, some elected and appointed officials have a different, even opposite view as compared to professional staff. Things can get complicated-and go sideways- quickly and easily.

In my experience serving two terms on the Portsmouth, NH city council, I was often in the position of weighing out the costs and benefits of large-scale, high stakes, technically complicated issues. There was pressure from residents, business owners, city staff, outside experts, advocacy groups, state officials, and others. Naturally, each of these groups wanted different outcomes for different reasons. Other than the professional experience and common sense I brought to the table, the was no outside training or preparation for my role. Nothing that would necessarily guarantee that I was qualified to make fact based, ethical, responsible decisions for the general benefit of the residents and the city.

As the world becomes more complicated, the decisions that leaders in the public sector make will also become more complicated. From cyber security to climate change, the stakes for decision-makers have never been higher, and only continue to grow.

Every municipality, advocacy group, and community organization should have a policy and a plan to provide training, professional development, and technical expertise to their decision-makers whether they are professional staff, volunteers, elected representatives or appointed officials.

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