Filters and Factors in Deliberation

Deliberation – where strategic and personal perspectives meet.

We directors and executives all like to think that we are rational beings, engaged in objective decision making processes to achieve governance and management goals. All of our best practice models describe linear and logical steps we take (or aspire to) to optimise performance and meet our conformance obligations.

As noted in my recent post regarding ‘Empathy and Mindfulness’ however, “differences in physical and cultural settings, personalities, reporting relationships, history and other dimensions make it impossible to suggest a single solution that would meet all needs“. Further, my post on ‘Change resistance and response‘ observed that “human beings rarely engage with change in a simple, linear, step-wise manner“. That observation could be expanded to recognise that “human beings rarely engage in governance or management in a simple step-wise manner“.

The header image above reflects on the difference between the ideal or assumed way that groups of directors (or work teams) engage in deliberation, compared with the reality many of us observe. Libraries of research and best practice advice have been published on deliberative processes and dynamics, and this brief article only scratches the surface of the complexity of the topic. It merely seeks to remind readers of some of the ‘filters and factors’ affecting deliberative processes you are employing in governance and management of your non-profit organisation.

Unique perspectives

The individual people who sit at the deliberative table each come with a unique profile of physical, psychological and mental qualities and attributes, and indeed, from one meeting to the next, they may present with an infinite variety of subtly different dispositions, affecting the perspectives they bring to bear on the deliberation. Respecting their differences and avoiding ‘groupthink’, while seeking consensus on the policy to be adopted or the action to be taken, is by no means a simple undertaking.

Unpacking the idea that each person brings a unique set of perspectives to the table, the graphic below highlights just some of the dimensions in which those variations could be considered, including:

  • critical analysis knowledge, skills and experience
  • their values and ethical beliefs
  • cognitive biases
  • organisational and group ‘culture’ (what we actually do, as opposed to what we say we do)
  • Mindspace filters
  • which of de Bono’s 6 thinking hats we choose to wear from moment to moment
  • the Governance Framework we are using, and how well this is understood and utilised
  • which of Howard Gardner‘s Multiple Intelligences are dominant in our thought processes

The filters illustrated above all cluster in the psychological and mental domains, and to take a more comprehensive look at the personal profile of each participant in the deliberative process, we would also need to consider their physical condition and circumstances.

All meeting participants need a comfortable environment to perform at their best, including reasonable room temperature and lighting, ventilation, good acoustics to hear each other, catering to ensure hunger is not a distraction, and comfort breaks if the meeting is longer than an hour and a half. Those suffering chronic health conditions may also be distracted by pain or discomfort. Beyond physical issues, anxiety, grief, loss, depression, or other forms of emotional distress may significantly impede the capacity of the individual to contribute optimally to deliberation. These are not matters for criticism of course, but rather require sensitive support, and sometimes, referral to suitable professionals.

The following summary table lists just some of the factors affecting the capacity of an individual to contribute to deliberations in each of the three main personal dimensions. Certain of these restate filters and factors noted above, and whether a factor is listed under emotional or mental may be debatable in some cases.

Values and Consciousness

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs has been adapted to many business purposes over the years, especially marketing, and assessment of the overall health and orientation of an organisation. Richard Barrett’s important work on organisational values and leadership builds on Maslow’s hierarchy and re-conceives needs as levels of consciousness. These levels can be applied to an individual as much as to an organisation. Barrett re frames ‘physiological and safety’ needs as ‘survival’ level concerns, labels ‘love and belonging’ as ‘relationship’, retains the ‘self-esteem’ level, and then renames and expands Maslow’s ‘know and understand’, and ‘self-actualisation’ levels into four new levels of consciousness:

  • transformation
  • internal cohesion
  • making a difference, and
  • serving

Here’s a comparative chart illustrating the relationship between Maslow’s Hierarchy and Barrett’s Consciousness Levels:


Further to the insights offered by comparing Maslow and Barrett, the chart below demonstrates the stages of development associated with each of the levels of consciousness in Barrett’s model. Non-profit directors and executives will find it beneficial to reflect on the implications of this model for individuals within their organisation as well as for the organisation as a whole. This reflection may result in changes to director and staff development programs, as well as selection and performance management goals and processes.

For those interested in looking more closely at the personal and organisational interface, the following table offers valuable insights.

See also