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Decision Making In the Collective Interest


When a public agency makes a decision, the guiding principle must always be what best serves the public’s interests, not the personal self-interests of the decision-makers.

That is because the very purpose of having public agencies is to provide mechanisms to engage in collective decision-making. The goal of this decision-making is to work through challenges being faced in a community, to provide services and facilities and, through laws, to guide individual behaviors to promote the overall safety, well-being and prosperity of the community.

Another way that public agency decision-making is different is that often the decision-making power is shared. For example, special district governing boards, county boards of supervisors, city councils, school boards and various other public agency boards and commissions make decisions collectively, typically by a vote of the members of those bodies.

The prevalence of shared power and decision-making has important implications.

  • Co-Leaders. For participants in the decision-making process, shared power and decision-making puts a premium on leadership skills that help one’s fellow leaders find common ground.
  • The Public. For those members of the public desiring to influence the process, shared power and decision-making frequently means having conversations with multiple decision-makers.
  • Reporters. For the media covering the process, shared power and decision-making means understanding that decision-makers may have diverse perspectives.

Shared decision-making provides checks and balances in the exercise of authority. Such checks and balances maximize the likelihood that decision-making does indeed serve the public’s interests.

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