Multi-Voting

Choosing Fairly Between Many Options

Multi-Voting - Choosing Fairly Between Many Options

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Multivoting narrows down the field of options in a fair and inclusive way.

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.

Tip:

An alternative but slightly more complex group decision making tool is the Modified Borda Count. With this, group members nominate options, and are ranked by group members according to priority.

The key difference between the techniques is that multivoting is easier to understand (and can therefore seem fairer), while the Modified Borda Count can be used in a single round rather than several rounds (and is therefore quicker to use.)

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.

Step 1: Generate Options

Henry and his team have a difficult choice to make. Raw material prices for the textile factory they work in have just gone up significantly, but the company can't raise prices. Labor costs are going to have to be reduced if the plant is to survive.

He needs to decide how to do this, but he wants to bring his team along with the difficult decisions that have to be made. After a brainstorming session, his team comes up with a list of options that looks like this:

  1. Lower production employees' pay scales.
  2. Decrease break time.
  3. Make the lunch period unpaid.
  4. Purchase automated packing equipment and eliminate two full-time positions.
  5. Implement a better forecasting model and eliminate overtime.
  6. Reduce benefits such as subsidized child daycare.
  7. Reduce administrative staff.
  8. Outsource machine maintenance.
  9. Outsource housekeeping/janitorial service.
  10. Eliminate the shift supervisor position and pay a "lead-hand" premium instead.

Tip:

Henry has to be confident that the option selected is valid and will deliver the savings needed – otherwise a weak choice will have the weight of everyone's approval.

He needs either to make sure that all options are good at this stage, or allow exploration, investigation and debate between voting rounds.

Step 2: Clarify Options

Ensure that everyone understands what he or she is voting on.

Step 3: Assign Votes per Person

A "rule of thumb" is that the number of votes each person gets should be about half the total number of options. In our example, each of the 11 people voting would be given five votes, because there are 10 options.

Step 4: First Round Voting Begins

Each person is allowed to allocate his/her votes across the options as he/she sees fit. A common method is to use sticky dots (or equivalent) and have the participants place a dot, or dots, beside each option they like. Each person can put more than one dot against an option if they want.

Tip:

If decisions are contentious, you may want to conduct a secret ballot.

Option Votes
1. Lower production employees' pay scales.  
2. Decrease break time. 1
3. Make the lunch period unpaid. 1 2 3
4. Purchase automated packing equipment and eliminate two full time positions. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
5. Implement a better forecasting model and eliminate overtime. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
6. Reduce benefits. 1 2 3
7. Reduce administrative staff. 1 2 3 4 5
8. Outsource machine maintenance. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9. Outsource housekeeping/janitorial service. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
10. Eliminate the shift supervisor position and pay a "lead-hand" premium instead. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Tip:

To avoid having people cast all their votes for a single option, you can restrict the maximum number of votes that people can allocate to each option, if this is important.

Step 5: Narrow the Field

The top 40-50 percent of the original list is chosen to move onto the next round of voting. In our example the top four options are chosen.

  1. Purchase automated packing equipment and eliminate two full time positions.
  2. Implement a better forecasting model, and eliminate overtime.
  3. Outsource machine maintenance.
  4. Eliminate the shift supervisor position and pay a "lead-hand" premium instead.

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Step 6: Next Rounds of Voting

Repeat steps 3-5, for the next rounds of voting.

In the second round of our example, there are 4 options (40 percent of the original number of options) and each person receives 2 votes. The voting might go like this:

Option Votes
1. Purchase automated packing equipment and eliminate two full time positions 1 2 3
2. Implement a better forecasting model and eliminate overtime 1 2 3 4 5
3. Outsource machine maintenance 1 2 3 4 5 6
4. Eliminate the shift supervisor position and pay a "lead-hand" premium instead 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

The top 2 options will be chosen for the next round, and then each person will have just a single vote. 11 votes, one per team member, will be cast among the 2 favorite options:

Option Votes
1. Outsource machine maintenance 1 2 3 4
2. Eliminate the shift supervisor position and pay a "lead-hand" premium instead 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Key Points

In a team setting, where consensus is an appropriate method for making a decision or narrowing down a field of options, multi-voting is a fair and inclusive process. It respects the opinions of all participants and allows everyone to be fully involved in the decision. It works particularly well after a brainstorming session when you have a large number of options and need to narrow the field to those ideas that are most plausible and realistic.