Optimizing Decision-Making Processes in Times of COVID-19: Using Reflexivity to Counteract Information-Processing Failures
The effectiveness of policymakers’ decision-making in times of crisis depends largely on their ability to integrate and make sense of information. The COVID-19 crisis confronts governments with the difficult task of making decisions in the interest of public health and safety. Essentially, policymakers have to react to a threat, of which the extent is unknown, and they are making decisions under time constraints in the midst of immense uncertainty. The stakes are high, the issues involved are complex and require the careful balancing of several interests, including (mental) health, the economy, and human rights. These circumstances render policymakers’ decision-making processes vulnerable to errors and biases in the processing of information, thereby increasing the chances of faulty decision-making processes with poor outcomes. Prior research has identified three main information-processing failures that can distort group decision-making processes and can lead to negative outcomes: (1) failure to search for and share information, (2) failure to elaborate on and analyze information that is not in line with earlier information and (3) failure to revise and update conclusions and policies in the light of new information. To date, it has not yet been explored how errors and biases underlying these information-processing failures impact decision-making processes in times of crisis. In this narrative review, we outline how groupthink, a narrow focus on the problem of containing the virus, and escalation of commitment may pose real risks to decision-making processes in handling the COVID-19 crisis and may result in widespread societal damages. Hence, it is vital that policymakers take steps to maximize the quality of the decision-making process and increase the chances of positive outcomes as the crisis goes forward. We propose group reflexivity—a deliberate process of discussing team goals, processes, or outcomes—as an antidote to these biases and errors in decision-making. Specifically, we recommend several evidence-based reflexivity tools that could easily be implemented to counter these information-processing errors and improve decision-making processes in uncertain times.