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Decision making and Social Work

Decision-making and Social Work

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Decision making and Social Work

  1. 1. Stephen A,. Webb Glasgow Caledonian University Scotland
  2. 2. “People classified in a certain way tend to conform to or grow into the ways that they are described, but they also evolve in their own ways, so that the classifications and descriptions have to be constantly revised” Ian Hacking, Rewriting the Soul
  3. 3. John Dewey said that liberal democracies would work better if they stopped trying to give universalistic self-justifications, stopped appealing to notions liked “rationality”, “human nature” and “science”, and instead viewed themselves simply as promising social experiments. In other words Dewey would be more satisfied if liberal democracies abandoned a significant chunk of the Enlightenment project of “rationality”.
  4. 4. Increasingly public sector professionals, such as social workers and teachers, are required to be self-conscious about their reasoning process in relation to decision making. They should think about how they make judgments and reach conclusions, not just about the judgments and conclusions themselves. In social work, practitioners are increasingly required to make what are called “defensible decisions”.
  5. 5. Webster's dictionary defines judgment as arriving at a "decision or conclusion on the basis of indications and probabilities when the facts are not clearly ascertained." Judgment is what experts use to fill gaps in their knowledge. It entails going beyond the available information and is the principal means of coping with uncertainty. It always involves an analytical leap, from the known into the uncertain.
  6. 6. Judgment is an integral part of all social work. While the optimal goal of intelligence collection is complete knowledge, this goal is seldom reached in practice. Almost by definition social work, involves considerable uncertainty. Social workers or teachers are commonly working with incomplete, ambiguous, and often contradictory data. The social workers function might be described as transcending the limits of incomplete information through the exercise of analytical judgment.
  7. 7. What have the past fifty years of cognitive science research taught us about decision making?  Human cognition is not under our control  We are rarely aware of our judgement and decision making processes.  That our verbal and written reports about those processes are not be trusted.  In other words, we live in a world of flawed judgement due to irreducible uncertainty and duality of error. Irreducible uncertainty refers to uncertainty that cannot be reduced to by any activity at the moment that the action is required.
  8. 8. Irreducible uncertainty: No one can say with certainty whether child abuse will occur, when it will occur (if it does), to what extent it will occur (if it does) or whether it is likely to happen again (if it did occur). Nor is there agreement on the degree of uncertainty involved in child abuse cases. These kinds of uncertainty will remain whatever mode of organization is undertaken in child protection at a national level.
  9. 9. Duality of error: Error will always occur in child protection decision making. The error will be a version of two different kinds. The first type of error concerns the risks and costs of taking precautionary action should child abuse be suspected, and the second consist of the risk and costs of not taking precautionary action should child abuse be suspected
  10. 10. Duality of Error as False Positives and False Negatives Cognitive science refers to this duality of error as false positives and false negatives. The false positive, although usually associated with medicine, has obvious applicability to social work. A false positive refers to accepting a warning sign or signal as true when in fact it is (or will be shown) to be false. The costs associated with false positive may be considerable.
  11. 11. During the Orkney child abuse events in Scotland it was alleged a hooded, masked and cloaked figure known as "The Master", who also dressed as a Mutant Ninja Turtle, and who was identified as the local vicar, had led dances around a bonfire at a local quarry. Police seized items associated with "black magic" from the parents' houses. These included a book of erotic poetry, and Oriental statue of a couple making love, a letter written to the tooth fairy by one of the children, and a Guy Fawkes mask!
  12. 12. In 1994 a government inquiry has concluded that satanic abuse does not exist. The three-year investigation by the Department of Health found no evidence to substantiate any of 84 cases which allege children were sexually abused during black magic rites. The report was commissioned in 1991 after children had been snatched from their homes by authorities in Rochdale and the Orkneys. Some have argued that Evangelical Christians are blamed for the stories. Speak of the Devil: Tales of satanic abuse in contemporary England by Jean La Fontaine, Cambridge University Press, 1998
  13. 13. False negatives The false negative, is when the alarm does not sound when it should. This type of error appears to be the kind that occurred in the Climbie case. Again this can be costly for children and social workers.
  14. 14. Just as important are the ways in which we can fool ourselves about decisions. There are many mental devices we use every day to help with decision-making tasks. Known as heuristics, many of these rules-of-thumb can actually reduce our chances of making good decisions. Heuristics are about selective processes or what we pay attention to in order to help us make a decision. They are internal devices within the brain that help us make “quick fire” or fast and frugal decisions about something or some event. They are economic triggers that help us to make decisions quickly.
  15. 15. Our memories of the past, although more indirect, are no different from our perceptions of the present. In both cases a selection is made, which means that some elements in our perception will feature more prominently, and others will remain hidden in the background. So in our cognitive perception of reality, the importance of some elements of experience is raised, whereas other elements or likelihoods are pushed into the background. We are not aware of the selection being made, and the emphasis being given.
  16. 16. Heuristics do not take into account the real probability or likelihood that something will or will not occur. Heuristics generally fall into four categories known as availability, overconfidence, anchoring and adjustment and representativeness. There are several heuristics that have been classified as “hard wired” into our cognitive processes. TWO main types are often discussed:
  17. 17. People using the availability heuristic will judge an event as either frequent or likely to occur if it is easy to imagine or recall, i.e., if it is readily available to one's memory. If an event is truly frequent, availability can be a very appropriate cue. However, availability can be affected by many factors other than frequency of occurrence. Example: The film Independence Day could convince many people that the risk of alien invasion is either probable or imminent, when in fact the risk is at best nonexistent, or at worst no different than before the film was released. Another effect of the availability heuristic is the mistake of viewing the future only in terms of the immediate past.
  18. 18. The representativeness heuristic is based on the fact that we tend to judge events by how much they resemble other events which are similar or with which we are familiar. If we did X with Mrs B, then it makes sense to do X with Mrs T because the situation is similar. In so doing, we ignore relevant facts that should be included in our decision making process, but are not.
  19. 19. The reason why our mental faculties often fail us today probably has to do with the fact that we are still "programmed" or "hard wired" to deal with life-threatening situations that occurred eons ago, when reflexive reactions were critical to survival. Reaction time was at a premium then, so unconscious or subconscious decision-making was the fastest way to literally remove oneself from harm's way. Heuristics are fast and furious economic devices that help us make decisions.
  20. 20. Recognizing which heuristics interfere with our ability to make accurate judgements about risk and uncertainty is the first step in overcoming them. The paradox is that because heuristics have evolved to assist in decision making its very hard “to think” about them because they are based on taken-for-granted situations to help us economize in our decision making. This is why they are so hard to detect. Heuristics generally fall into four categories known as availability, overconfidence, anchoring and adjustment and representativeness. Lets look at two others types of heuristic at work in decision making.
  21. 21. There are many ways in which people tend to be overconfident about their judgements regarding risk. Importantly, it isn't just laypersons who are at the mercy of these heuristics. Experts can be just as overconfident in their assessments as well. Thus, an understanding of heuristics which lead to overconfidence is critical, since we can't always rely on the experts to overcome their own biases. People tend to place great faith in their own judgements
  22. 22. People also tend to be sure that bad things "won't happen to them." Even though exposure to smoking, is the same for one person as another, each of us tends to see ourselves as being at a lower risk level than our neighbors. This effect helps explain the shock we feel when something happens to us, but the lack of shock felt when it happens to "the next guy." (This is the same type of situation that leads 85 percent of UK drivers to rate themselves as "better than average" drivers!)
  23. 23. It is not uncommon for us to make estimates by starting with a value we know (the anchor) and adjusting from that point. The initial value colors our perception of future events because we judge the probability of the future by looking at what has occurred in the past. This is how stereotypes occur in social work thinking about particular clients. Young Johnny’s Mom has always been neglectful of her other children so it’s likely that she will neglect Johnny.
  24. 24. Alexander George has identified a number of less-than-optimal common strategies people adopt in making decisions in the face of incomplete information and multiple, competing values and goals: • Satisficing: Selecting the first identified alternative that appears “good enough,” rather than examining all alternatives to determine which is “best.” • Incrementalism: Focusing on a narrow range of alternatives representing marginal change, without considering the need for dramatic change from an existing position. • Consensus: Opting for the alternative that will elicit the greatest agreement and support. Simply telling the boss what he or she wants to hear is one version of this. • Reasoning by analogy: Choosing the alternative that appears most likely to avoid some previous error or to duplicate a previous success. Relying on a set of principles or maxims that distinguish a “good” from a “bad” alternative.
  25. 25. Social workers practice is conducted in a manner very similar to the satisficing mode (selecting the first identified alternative that appears "good enough"). The social worker identifies what appears to be the most likely hypothesis, that is, the tentative estimate, explanation, or description of the situation that appears most accurate.
  26. 26. Herbert Simon is the key researcher who has studied “satisficing” in context. He opposes the dominant rational decision maker model with the satisficing model. Information is collected and organized according to whether they support this tentative judgment, and the hypothesis is accepted if it seems to provide a reasonable fit to the data. The good practitioner would then make a quick review of other possible hypotheses and of evidence not accounted for by the preferred judgment to ensure that he or she has not overlooked some important consideration. Satisficing often leads to something called “the self fulfilling prophecy”, in which outcomes are based entirely on initial beliefs and opinion rather than the actual events.
  27. 27. This approach has three weaknesses: the selective perception that results from focus on a single hypothesis, failure to generate a complete set of competing hypotheses, and a focus on evidence that confirms rather than disconfirms hypotheses. item of evidence helps the analyst determine the relative likelihood of alternative hypotheses.
  28. 28. Deliberative versus Non Deliberative Thinking Non Deliberative constitutes what we do 95% of the time. It’s fuzzy thinking whereby thoughts, feelings pass us by without us giving consideration to them. We exist in a sort of dream-like state most of our waking time. Non deliberative is also rule-bound and based on basic habits or rituals in which we do things without thinking.
  29. 29. This distinction developed by Herbert Dreyfus is very instructive in the way we think about cognition and decision making in social work. Non Deliberative = Daydreaming, fleeting, transitory moments + habit and convention (unthought-of rules that we acquire over time) Deliberative = Requires an intentional push to do something. Deliberative thinking is a mode of attention whereby something is given an effort to do.
  30. 30. 1. It is not always linear. 2. It is often holistic, or too generalized. 3. The information on which the reasoning is based is often not known to be true. 4. Practitioners often have to make decisions based on incomplete information. 5. Practitioners sometimes encounter and must decide between conflicting information. 6. Practitioners often make unconscious use of tacit knowledge, which they may be unable to articulate
  31. 31. Glasgow Caledonian University, Department of Social Work, Cowcaddens Road, Glasgow, Scotland