In a previous article we took a top-down approach where we started with an idea and branched out from there to understand it better. In other words, we started with nothing and used Scrintal to add layers of information and explore relationships that emerged. Now we are going to look at a bottom-up approach where we take existing material that we already have and use it to support the creation of something new. In this example, it will be a decision, but it could be an idea, a piece of writing, a research insight or many other things. Scrintal is a general-purpose tool, which can be adapted to a variety of needs.
Whether you are operating a business, governing an organisation or planning a holiday, you are constantly required to make decisions. Some decisions are easy with little consequence (“should I have coffee or tea right now?”). Others are more complex where you must weigh various alternatives with multiple factors at play.
Scrintal can serve two purposes here. It can act as an information source, which you use to help when generating something (a decision in this case). It can also show you what steps you took when you review this in the future. When reviewing your work later, it is valuable to know how you got there as well as what the result was.
Scrintal is a great place to record thinking and activity. If you are having a meeting, you can put both an agenda and minutes in cards and link to other cards which document the decisions you have made and actions that arise from these. During a meeting, you can also use a Scrintal board as a presentation tool to visually show items and supporting material to others as it is being discussed. Afterwards, you have a record that you might find useful in the future when considering similar decisions.
More complex decisions
Multi-criteria decision-making is a complex topic that is beyond the scope of this article. In general, however, more complex decisions feature multiple conflicting criteria, which must be compared to choose the best option. Complex decisions are easier to make where supporting material is available for reference. Examples of supporting material might include:
- Reference material: documents, guidance, case studies.
- Domain-specific information: company policies, risk registers, previous decisions.
- Information on the current environment: e.g. the financial climate, competitor activity, available resources.
- A list of options and the criteria that relate to them.
All of these things together show the unique circumstances that surround the current decision.
Reference layers in Scrintal
There are various layers of information you might have at hand, which build upon each other from the bottom up, and which can then be referred to from the top down.
References can be put into cards with links to external sources and relevant documents. Over time this can be developed into a library of material that can be used interactively during meetings. Your Scrintal archive starts to contain a knowledge base that is specific to your area of interest and activity.
An example here might be company documents that describe policies or other business guidance and which can be put into individual Scrintal cards. Superseded versions of these documents could be put into linked cards for later reference.
This would reflect the environment at the time of the decision. These can be dated, so they provide a snapshot of what was going on when you made the decision. If appropriate, these cards could be linked to other cards showing environmental conditions as they were in the past for later comparison.
Sometimes there are just two choices, which are clearly different. Other times there are multiple options that are less easy to differentiate. You can record information about each option, such as the pros and cons or areas to consider.
Putting it all together
Now let’s imagine an example where a board of directors needs to make a decision. Some factors, in this case, might include strategy, risk, compliance etc. In each of these areas, there might be some accepted wisdom on the topic, a policy position that the organisation has, and then current environmental factors that are in place (but outside the organisation’s control). Finally, there are two or more options to consider.
When we start the discussion around the decision, it is helpful to refer to reference material for guidance. This is our bottom layer in Scrintal. This information forms part of our company knowledge base and may be useful elsewhere for other work.
Next, we consider our own company and its policies and related data. This is our next layer. It may contain ongoing information (e.g. policies) or be related to the present moment (e.g. the current budget).
Lastly, before considering our options, we look to the immediate operational environment, including external factors which are beyond our control.
Since cards on the board can contain links to other cards, it is easy to traverse a line of thought as it is being discussed. This approach provides a rich source of information for the decision-support process, where we go from the material we are creating to the underlying documentation.
All of these things can be considered interactively on screen during the meeting so that participants have access to documents and other information as the discussion takes place. It may be helpful to move cards around the board or recolour them to help to understand the thinking.
For each factor, we must consider the strengths of argument, risk and the like. We could use colours to represent this (in a traffic light system), or we might use a table where we sort risks and opportunities visually in order of importance.
Finally, we make notes in cards to document the thought process and information used to arrive at our decision.
It is helpful to be able to organise the information you collect and to record the things that you have done, so you can get value from this later on. Here are some suggestions:
- Information cards can be categorised using tags that reflect what they contain. For example #reference, #policy, #procedure etc.
- For meetings and the decision-making process itself, you might use tags like #agenda, #minutes, #decision, and #action.
- You can add multiple tags to cards so you can later show subsets of your archive. For example, it may be handy to classify decisions in terms of the factors that were taken into account, e.g. #strategy, #risk, #economy, or #government.
There are no fixed rules here; classify things according to how you see them or how they relate to your organisation. Also, think about how you might want to access them in the future, either by searching or browsing.
These can be used in several ways. You might use a new board for each meeting. This can show the agenda and decisions, but also the specific information cards that you used from the archive during that particular meeting. Another way to use boards would be as a means of collecting similar cards visually. For example, policies, decisions and action items. Experiment with these and see what works for you and your organisation.
Scrintal is well suited as a way to traverse layers of information and be used as a decision-support tool. It can also be used for interactive presentations on a shared screen during meetings. In this case, one tool can be used both for visualisation and as a data source.
The approach described here can be used for any type of activity in which new material is generated by reference to existing information in an interactive way. Your requirements may differ, but the process remains similar. It also highlights that Scrintal can be used incrementally over time to store a growing library of information that is tailored to your specific needs.