A Fair Process in Group Decision Making

How can one assign employees to offices, professors to time slots, college students to living suites, etc., so as to maximize fairness? An inherent difficulty is that any specific solution is viewed as preferable by some and less than preferable by others. Or put another way, no solution will be perceived as fair. The usual way around this dilemma is to design a process that is fair.

A commonly used fair process is a lottery. All interested individuals (or groups) are assigned a number randomly, and the individuals then make their choices in increasing order of their assigned number.

But what if there are additional global objectives or constraints that are important? In employee office assignment, suppose that we need certain employees to be near each other. In professor time-slot assignments, there are usually lots of constraints, including issues concerning room assignments and a desire to have certain subjects meet at different times. Student housing assignments may want to incorporate issues such as having drug free floors, or floors with an equal number of men and women, and possibly more..

Possibly, the lottery scheme will still work, or can be adjusted in a simple manner. But perhaps not.

Here is another approach that may be suitable for other situations. The persons in charge of the process can create a small number of solutions (say 10) with the help of OR tools. Subsequently, one of these solutions would be chosen at random. For the process to be considered fair, each individual should be able to inspect the collection of proposed solutions and believe that he or she is being treated roughly the same as everyone else and has a reasonable chance of getting a good solution.

The advantage of this approach over having a single decision maker (or even a committee decision) is the perceived fairness. The advantage of this approach over a lottery is that one can try to choose a collection of solutions that all satisfy some global objectives. This is nearly impossible to achieve in a typical lottery.

If you know of instances where this type of group decision making has been used, please let me know.

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One Response to “A Fair Process in Group Decision Making”

  1. Kathryn Says:

    Hello, you posted this quite a while ago, but I just came across it. I am with Ethelo Decisions. We have developed an algorithm that enables someone (a manager, political leader, strata council, polling company, community group etc.) to break a decision into its component parts (sub-issues and options for each issue). People can go onto the platform and rank the importance of each issue and then rate how much they like each option. Ethelo produces a “ballot stack” of everyone’s rankings that shows the combination of options that will have the most support by the most people. The process maximizes stakeholders support for the decision, and minimizes resistance. our website is undergoing renovations, but there is something there at http://www.ethelodecisions.com or you can also go to http://www.partyx.com

    hope this note reaches you!

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