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University News

Center Offers Resources and Atmosphere for Decision Making
by Gail Matsunaga


from Dateline (April 24, 2003)

Decision Support CenterIn an ideal world, group decision making can be accomplished in a democratic fashion, with each member providing his or her input in an unrestrained atmosphere.

Often, however, variables such as personality types and group dynamics can cause some to feel less forthcoming with their ideas and suggestions.

The Decision Support Center provides the resources and atmosphere to assist with the decision-making process, be it brainstorming, problem identification, idea generation and/or consensus building through polling and voting on proposed ideas.

Operated and managed by the Faculty Development Center, the Decision Support Center is funded by the California State University Chancellor’s Office and is one of only two such facilities in the CSU system.

Each of the 20 workstations in the center is linked to a network and equipped with Group-Systems software, developed for group discussions and decision processes.

Key to the software program’s collaborative tools is anonymity, according to Sean Pollack, FDC academic technology consultant. Participants can submit ideas, comments and observations to the group discussion anonymously – allowing input to succeed, fail or be amended based on the merit afforded them by the group.

The program, says Pollack, seems to promote “better quality feedback. It’s able to capture frank participant reaction and improve the level of buy in from the group. Participation is almost 100 percent.”

In addition, the program can generate a printed meeting report, thus, eliminating the need for someone trying to record everyone’s input.

The Decision Support Center can be used for such applications as personnel decisions, curriculum design and redesign, departmental meetings that discuss or identify problems and solutions, collaborative writing projects, brainstorming and idea generation for new policies and focus groups, added Pollack.

This summer, the Pollak Library – whose website averages more than 2,000 visits a day – will unveil a redesigned home page.

To facilitate the redesign, a 13-member committee representing most areas of the library met at two different times at the center.

The initial session, according to Margaret Hogarth, interim library coordinator, was to “start with the big picture. Who are our audiences? And then we went into details, like how should it look. We worked on the results from our first meeting and had mock-ups ready for our second session.

“I thought it was very effective. We had brainstorming sessions and everything we wrote down was recorded – it saved a lot of energy, I think. People feel very strongly about how the Web page should look.

“This is a safer way to have discussions when it’s anonymous, especially when the subject is very controversial.”

“I thought it was fantastic,” says Angela Gee, executive assistant to the executive vice president who facilitated a brainstorming session with her colleagues.

“It was good in terms of narrowing down our ideas – ranking them, voting on them. You get something that’s workable. If you have a large group, you can move to a decision quicker with group consensus.

“It’s brainstorming in its purest sense. You don’t have to wait your turn – you can write in a stream of consciousness.”

Prior to any session, facilitators meet with Pollack to discuss their meetings – objectives, personnel, expectations – to fully optimize the facilities. He hopes more faculty and staff members and administrators will take advantage of the center.

“There’s a high value on reaching group consensus,” Pollack says, adding he expects “to see more people use this with their hiring – discussing candidates. Those who are often reluctant to speak are usually willing to communicate and articulate their ideas when using this software.”

For more information about the Decision Support Center, visit their website.

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