Having a clear decision making process in an arts organization is important. With everyone wearing different hats and assuming different responsibilities as the situation warrants, sometimes it is unclear who has decision making authority. In other cases, someone makes a decision which obligates multiple people without consulting with them, giving rise to resentment.
I have looked at many organizational decision making processes from multivoting, nominal group technique, various forms of brainstorming, prioritization matrix, Six Thinking Hats, and a half dozen others.
The only one that I have come across that seemed it could be integrated into the daily practice of a non-profit arts organization was the RAPID method. This is not to say the other methods aren’t useful.
Nominal group technique, for example, is well suited to groups where some people dominate the conversation while others either like to take time to consider the options before contributing, or don’t wish to speak at all.
Six Thinking Hats prevents anyone from adopting the contrarian devil’s advocate role by making everyone the devil’s advocate at a certain stage in the conversation.
RAPID, which stands for Recommend, Agree, Perform, Input, and Decide, seems well-suited to empowering everyone in the organization to initiate a decision making process. This is literally the case since the person who initiates the process is responsible for seeing it through to the end.
R stands for recommend. A recommender initiates the decision-making process. A recommender is the go-to person who participates in the process from start to finish, ensures that others understand what they need to do, and keeps things moving until a decision has been made.
I stands for input. An I stakeholder must be consulted before a decision can be made. Although an I has the right to be heard, he has no vote or veto power. Including someone as an I says that an organization values her or his opinion.
A stands for agree. An A stakeholder must agree to or approve a decision. An A stakeholder is essentially an I, but with vote and veto power (such as a CFO, who needs to approve financial decisions). Generally, the more As who are involved in a decision, the more time a decision takes.
D stands for decide. A D stakeholder has final authority and is the only stakeholder who can commit the organization to action, such as hiring someone, spending money, or making a legally binding agreement. Generally, the D role is held by one person. But a board of directors in which each member has voting power can be a collective D as well. (Ultimately, if the committee head is a true D, it’s better to be explicit up front. Everyone knows where the power lies, anyway.)
P stands for perform. Once a decision has been made, Ps carry it out. Often, those who are Ps are also Is.
What differentiates this process from the others is that it recognizes and includes the roles of those who make the final decision and those who will be responsible for its execution. You may use some of the other decision making techniques I have mentioned in the course of discussion, gathering input and agreement, but that would fall within the RAPID process.
There are some trade-offs and issues in using this process. The Non-Profit Quarterly article notes it can reveal organizational weaknesses in the short term and “can mean trading a highly participatory decision-making culture for a faster and more efficient one.” (Though they note, despite the acronym, the process should not be rushed.)
A different analysis of RAPID says it can be extremely difficult to implement in a company with a highly competitive/individualistic focus.
“…RAPID information flows may result in the need for cross-departmental or increasing amounts of vertical communication, which may not have been practiced before, and organizational members may show resistance to this.
Whilst the model aims to remove constraints to creativity to encourage freethinking in decision-making, the need for speed and creative processes may often conflict. Creative professionals often have difficulty in setting deadlines as the creative process is not at all straight forward, and therefore the focus on creative freedom and the focus on speed may not be compatible.
These may not be as big an issue for arts organizations as the general business community, but in some cases ingrained organizational culture may still prove to be a challenge to successful integration.
There is also the change in dynamics that may result. People who were involved in the decision making process before may now be excluded or lose their role as the sole decision maker. People who now have responsibility and authority may be uncomfortable with that prospect.