Strangers Set An Agenda: Group Work

Governance-chart-1It’s not an easy task to get five strangers to agree on anything, but by following a classical agenda setting strategy, anything is possible.

In a lesson on group decision making, me and my fellow “committee” members were asked to set criteria for the awarding of a fictional scholarship.


First, we identified the problem by discussing the parameters of the assignment as a team and as a result, we were able narrow down some of our own ideas.  The objective of the assignment seemed pretty clear, and we all proposed not to make it any more complicated than it had to be.  We decided to limit ourselves to just a few (or at the very most, several) core principles from which we would adhere to.

In analyzing the problem, we reviewed our own principles to determine what we felt was most important to include based on the assignment parameters. Each member also considered what was least important in determining our group criteria.  Above all we wanted to ensure that every group member theft their own “stamp” on the process.  It was our singular aim for this to be a completely democratic process.  To determine our solution criteria, we explored our own philosophies and formed opinions on the subject at hand; we each offered our own suggestions as to what to include.  We went around the entire group listing every idea, including ones we were strongly against.  We would continue to brainstorm in order to narrow all of this to form our group criteria.

After forming our initial list, we went around the group again.  Now, each member had the opportunity to discuss their proposal.  When stating their case, everyone was encouraged to explain exactly why they thought their idea deserved inclusion. Simple “because” type answers led to prodding from other members, who asked intelligent questions help the respondent focus their argument.    Some ideas, we felt, over complicated the assignment, and each member who thought so explained diplomatically, why it shouldn’t be included.  Our group kept a very pragmatic approach, and in the interests of simplicity, we kept our list of core principles short. We strived to have our criteria be fairly open-ended, as to not delve too much into details.  If something couldn’t be agreed upon by all, it was left out.

We felt that if we made specific requirements, that that would unfairly exclude applicants before the review process.  All of our members did agree that the person worthy of our scholarship should show academic potential, and this could be measured by predictive scores.  However, we weren’t strict with potential grades as a requirement.  We also wanted someone with clear life goals, as this helps show a sense of purpose.  We decided that our applicant should be able to articulate themselves, as well as do so formally/professionally, considering the seriousness of the scholarship selection.  We figured we would be able to gauge all of this from the Personal Statements, which we had yet to receive.

The solution we selected involved placing less emphasis on all the superfluous elements of the application (such as need, jobs, age, etc.), and make our selection based solely upon how the applicant presented themselves in the Personal Statement.  In implementing our criteria, we chose an applicant who articulated themselves far beyond all the others.  It so happened, that the same applicant had the highest predictive scores.  Her statement was much more formal than the others, who used inappropriate language or “too much information.”  If we were to hold steadfastly to a particular requirement, such as civic engagement, the applicant may have been excluded.  By maintaining a narrow and simple criteria, we avoided a “-by numbers” selection, and awarded our scholarship to someone overlooked by other groups.

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