Divergence justification principle

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Divergence justification principle (also known as Do-I-have-to-if-I-don't-want-to principle [in Finnish Onks pakko jos ei taho]) is a decision-making support for decisions where there are strong reasons to disobey a rule limiting the space of decision options. Such a decision-making situation is called a constrained decision in this context.

TODO: {{#todo:Katsokaapa pohdintaani. Tämä on mielestäni jo käyttökelpoinen yritelmä tavoittaa jotain olennaista päättämisen teoriasta. Tavoitteenahan on ymmärtää miten päätöksiä pitäisi teoriassa tehdä, jotta voidaan nähdä mikä nykytoiminnassa kaipaa parannusta. Tämä idea poiki eräästä eilisestä keskustelusta, joka koski päätöksenteon vaikeutta ja päätyi tunnistamaan rajoittavien sääntöjen aiheuttaman haitan. Lukekaa myös op_fi:Avointen arvioijien yhdistys Avary, jonne hahmottelen miten tätä työtä voisi tehdä käytännössä.--Jouni 07:13, 12 October 2011 (EEST)|Mikko Pohjola, Pauli Ordén|}}


When there is a rule that constrains the available options of a decision, and it seems that there exists other, better options if the rule is disobeyed, how can the situation be handled in such a way that

  • the intention of the rule is fulfilled but still
  • the potential benefits of disobeying the rule can be achieved?


  1. If a decision maker anticipates that there are rules causing non-optimal decisions, she contacts the rule maker and negotiates a right to follow this guidance.
  2. When a constrained decision is identified, the decision maker writes a justification paper and describes
    • the decision situation,
    • available decision options,
    • decision options that are unavailable because of a rule,
    • the rule and its intentions,
    • rationale for the option preferred by the decision maker,
    • justification for a divergence, i.e. the benefits and harms caused if the rule is disobeyed.
  3. The decision maker sends the description to the rule maker and also informs other decision makers who apply the same rule and may have similar problems.
  4. The rule maker allows the decision maker to diverge from the rule. This can be done on a case by case basis, or by agreeing on divergence principles in advance.
  5. From time to time, the rule maker and the decision makers gather and discuss the rule, the divergences made, and potential needs to change the rule permanently.


Many rules are designed to improve decision-making, and especially to prevent bad decisions. However, the rule maker may not always be able to anticipate the richness of situations decision makers are facing. Sometimes the rule prevents reasonable decision-making. Often this is because the rule was designed to avoid some major harm, and the rule maker is willing to accept (knowingly or because of ignorance) some minor harm to prevent a major harm. However, the minor harm may be much more common and thus cause a large burden for decision-making.

The divergence justification principle is based on a view that in general, both decision makers and rule makers are trying to do good work. Problems will still occur, and there is an obvious need to make rules to limit action leading to further harm. However, these rules are not free from problems, and they will themselves cause other problems. A decision maker is in a better position than a rule maker to observe the nuances of decision situations. Therefore, she is likely to identify problems the rule maker has not realised. The principle described here tries to capture the wisdom of the decision maker to improve decision-making in general.

The fuel for this process comes from the decision maker's desire to improve her own work. That is why she is willing to put effort in justifying divergences and discussing the possible improvement of rules. The rule maker is also better off, as the decisions in her jurisdiction will improve. In other words, she is able to use the decision makers wisdom to improve her own work. An important psychological thing is that there is no need to blame anyone or impose commands: the change comes from people themselves, as soon as the framework of how to improve things is set in place.


The divergence justification principle must be first tested with some lower-level rules that are not laws. It will also be easier to involve the rule makers in the process, if the rules are e.g. internal rules of an institute.

The effectiveness of the principle can be tested with an experimental trial. Organisations interested to participate in an experiment are randomly divided into two groups. The researchers collect information about decision situations in both groups. However, only the test group is given guidance about what the divergence justification principle is and how it can be applied. The test group is also given training and support to use the principle in practice. Both groups are followed up, and the satisfaction of decision makers, as well as the decision outcomes, are monitored and evaluated. The hypothesis is that applying the divergence justification principle will produce better decisions and more motivated decision makers.

Another approach, involving also stakeholders, can be taken. If stakeholders identify a constrained decision, they can notify the decision maker about the situation and its problematic rule. The decision maker is committed to investigate the notification, make conclusions, and inform stakeholders about her decision and its rationale, especially about how the notification was handled. This can applied in advanced cases where a decision maker and a rule maker already have experience on dealing with divergence justification among themselves.

See also



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