Choosing Fairly Between Many Options

© iStockphoto/jgroup

Have you ever felt short-changed because of the result of a traditional vote?

The democratic system of majority wins is usually a fair way to make a decision. So long as voters have sufficient information on which to make a choice, the system tends to work well, just as long as there are only a few options from which to choose.

Do we nominate Mary or Bill as the team representative?

Hands up of those in favor of Mary. 3 hands.

Those in favor of Bill? 12.

Great, Bill it is.

But what happens when the choices expand and each vote is then dispersed over a wider range? A winner emerges but there are many more people who didn't vote for the winning option than people who did.

Who should we nominate for employee of the month? Sara, Suzanne, Katherine, Joseph, or Charles?

Sara gets 3 votes.
Suzanne gets 4.
Katherine gets 3.
Joseph gets 5.
Charles gets 4.

Here, Joseph is nominated by a hair, but only five people feel their opinions were taken into account. The remaining 14 people have had their choices cast aside like yesterday's news.

When there are many choices, simple majority rule voting is often not the best method for reaching decisions, if you want everyone to feel that they own the decision. Yet with idea sharing and brainstorming activities frequently taking place in workplaces today, voting is needed more and more. This is particularly the case where the decision is subjective, where different strong views are held, where many members of the group have power, or where strong commitment to the outcome is needed.

When group consensus is needed, multi-voting is a simple process that helps you whittle down a large list of options to a manageable number. It works by using several rounds of voting, in which the list of alternatives becomes shorter and shorter. If you start with 10 alternatives, the top five may move to the second round of voting, and so on.

In addition, in all but the last round, each person has more than one vote, allowing them to indicate the strength of their support for each option. Everyone votes in each cycle, so more people are involved in approving the final outcome than if only one vote was held.

Multi-voting helps group members narrow down a wide field of options so that the group decision is focused on the most popular alternatives. This makes reaching consensus possible, and gives an outcome that people can buy into.

How to Use the Tool

Multi-voting is really very straightforward once you get the general idea. The easiest way to understand how to conduct a multi-voting session is through an example.

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