Opinion v evidence-based decision making: Evidence-based practice

The counter-intuitive side of evidence-based practice

The counter-intuitive side of evidence-based decision making

What is evidence-based decision-making? It may not be what you think? The counter-intuitive side of evidence-based practice.

Opinion-based decisions

When people make decisions about things on a daily basis, for example, what eat or what to wear, they usually do so based on their own opinions, likes, dislikes, personal taste, habits and a range of other criteria which stems from from their experience as well as recommendations from friends and other influences.

This is fine if the results of those decisions only effect the individual or their immediate friends or relations. The cost of getting a decision wrong at this level is usually a sandwich we don’t like or a pair of shoes that hurt or an argument. These are what is known as opinion based decisions.

As stated above their decisions and choices are largely based on the individuals’ own their likes, dislikes, values, beliefs, emotions and habits which drive and at the same time are often a result of their own subjective and idiosyncratic experiences of the world.

What we find is that many people including leaders, managers and employees fail to make a distinction between the self-oriented decisions which abound in their personal lives, and group, team or organisational decisions in their work environment. In effect they don’t shift their decision-making habits from opinion-based decisions to more evidence-based decisions.




The counter-intuitive side of evidence-based decisions

This does not mean that the opposite of an opinion-based decision – the evidence-based decision is just to find evidence to support your decision.

An evidence-based decision is one where people try to put aside their own opinions, likes, dislikes, personal tastes, habits of thinkings, values, beliefs and emotions, and look for evidence, not to support their decision, but rather for evidence against their decision.

The problem with looking for evidence to support a decision is that we are human and very likely to filter and deny evidence that doesn’t support our views. The true evidence-based practitioner turns things around. They treat a decision like a hypothesis and then look for evidence that the decision is wrong. The problem is it is very easy to be convinced by something, especially if it fits our views and make the evidence fit the decision. It is called conformation bias and everyone does it. The only way around this is to arrive at a decision and then hunt out the evidence that doesn’t support that decision and then adjust the decision until you are at a place where the evidence against the decision is either minimal or has the least noxious consequences.


Side effects

Which brings me to the next principle of evidence-based practice – there are no side-effect free decisions or perfect solutions. If you think you have the perfect solution you, most likely, have missed something. More about this in my next post.




Cycles of evidence searching

In actual practice what tends to happen is that we cycle the evidence search. First looking for the evidence (different from data – see here) that builds our argument or position/decision. Then in phase 2 we then search for as much evidence as we can that suggests tat this is not the right course of action and then readjust the argument to accommodate the counter evidence. This occurs in a series of iterative or repeated steps until you have a position that is tenable and where you can live with the consequences. The advantage of this approach is that at least you will know what the likely consequences will be and that you can afford them. Reducing unintended and unaffordable consequences is a big part of evidence based practice.

Other articles in this series:


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David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page