Making good (enough) decisions

When things go wrong in social care, we look for poor decisions. Good leaders and good professionals should get things right. When things go wrong, leaders get blamed and they resign; professionals get blamed and they get sick.

Writing a handbook for practitioners on Making Good Decisions gave me the chance to really think about what a good decision is. A good decision is not the same as a decision that turns out ‘right’. In the complex, uncertain world that social care inhabits, decision makers don’t have perfect information, people don’t act rationally and many factors are not in our control. It is impossible to know exactly how a decision will turn out, so judging a decision is by its consequences is unreasonable.

Instead we should look at how good the decision was at the time it was made. The test is: did the decision maker act reasonably? - Did they have the expected skills, knowledge and experience to make the decision? Did they have the resources and support that you would expect them to have? Did they act as you would expect of someone in their position to gather appropriate information, analyse it, draw conclusions, and act on these?

We need people working in social care to be able to make good decisions. We can’t afford for them to be over-confident but we can’t afford for them to be under-confident either. It is essential to ensure that people can develop their professional judgement, that they have appropriate time and support to make decisions, and that we defend them when they act defensibly.

Research in Practice for Adults (2013) Making Good Decisions: Practitioners’ handbook