Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Alternative Facts And Other Sources Of Disagreement At Staff Meetings

I don’t usually weigh in on politics because I consult with public and nonprofit managers.  When I heard Kellyanne Conway use the words, alternative facts, it brought up and old paper a professor of mine, Robert Sahr, had written on sources of disagreement in public policy making.  Usually we think about the dynamics of staff meetings from a psychological perspective, but you can apply the language of policy making to your staff meetings as well.
Ms Conway wasn’t so wrong when she said there were alternative facts.  I’m not talking about incorrect, inaccurate, or confusing facts.  If your organization uses performance measures, you’ve surly disagreed about whether you have the right measure, whether you can include or exclude certain data, what outside factors affect your measurement.  Say, you train people for jobs.  You can disagree on what number characterizes the economic situation your client faces, the unemployment rate, people who are not working but are looking for a job; the number collecting unemployment, a portion of those looking for a job; or the number of discouraged workers who have given up looking for a job.  None are wrong.

Related to that disagreement is a disagreement over the interpretation or consequences of the fact.  Do any of these ways to measure unemployment have consequences for your ability to find your clients jobs.  Do you think it matters how many are collecting unemployment, nationally, in your state, in your area? 

Another source of disagreement is based upon your ideology, your belief system.  If you train prospective workers, you are probably pretty sympathetic to the difficulty of your clients finding jobs.  You may have a cynic amongst you who is a naysayer about any new ideas for training and employment.  Those outside of your program may say there are plenty of jobs available.  This program is not necessary.

As you sit around the table, you may disagree based upon your professional backgrounds. Admittedly, this is more likely to happen at your board meeting or town council meeting.  When you received your degree, particularly a professional degree, you began to see the world through that lens.  A minister seeks to solve problems through the church and god while a social worker seeks to solve problems within the family and community and if that doesn’t work through government intervention.  I sit on my town’s budget committee, a citizen review committee.  Those who have been in detail oriented careers, engineering and architecture, keep saying that the increases in the cost for our schools are unsustainable.  They look rationally at the increases each year.  Yet the voters keep approving the increases to the school budget.

Finally, your self-interest affects how you react in your staff meeting.  You want the program to succeed; you want to keep your job.  You agree with one person rather than another.  We even use the word, you act politically.  It makes political sense to agree with that person versus another person. 

Before I started writing this, I googled sources of disagreement and certainly there are others who have found ways to describe disagreement, but do any these hit home?