(IGP) IAS Pre Paper - 2: GS - Decision Making and Problem Solving (Part 1)

Decision Making and
Problem Solving

Matters at Stake

Good problem solving and decision making can avert tragedy and help the people recover from the event more quickly. Conversely, poor decision making? or the absence of decisions? potentially can result in injury or death to victims or responders. (Clearly, in our case study, if the District Magistrate makes a poor decision-or simply doesn’t make any decision before it’s too late-the consequences could be disastrous for the people of Murariganj and Dumdum.

But the repercussions don’t stop there. Poor decisions in the early stages of an event can make the responders’ job more difficult and more dangerous. In addition, they can give rise to much more critical or complex decisions later on? not to say the consequences on the lives of the local people. Good decision-making skills are one of your most critical assets as an Administrator, and CSAT will test on this account before you step to the next stage for the selection to top administrative jobs in India. In this book , we shall familiarize you with what CSAT will actually attempt to test in you. We take here a case study to understand this aspect of making decisions in emergency.

Making Decisions in Emergency

Case Study* - Flood’s Fury and Koshi’s Wrath in North Bihar
Instructions: Read the following case study. As you read, try to identify what decisions must be made by the District Magistrate or other emergency management officials. Mind your ideas as you read the situation.
Background: Heavy rains have hit, and the entire area of the Koshi belt in the North Bihar bordering Nepal is inundated due to change of course of Koshi. The district town of Sakri-located in the North Bihar—sits high and well away from the fury of Koshi, so the fear of floods is riot much of concern of the people in the Town. As the DM of Sakri district, last year you got a new chute (gutter, passageway) built to increase the capacity of the Reservoir in Sakri to 35 Crore litres of water. Two other sub divisional towns downstream-Murariganj and Dumdama are less than 15 minutes of drive from Sakri. Each Town has about 10,000 residents on both the sides of National Highway 77.

Events’ Chronology

Late afternoon Rains begins, and the Meteorological Office at Patna predicts it will be a strong, pachhuwa (Westerli(e), which will produce heavy rains.
8:12 p.m. A flash flood watch is issued by the Meteorological Office.
8:30 p.m. Heavy rains begin.
10:15 p.m. The Executive Engineer of Sakri stations a Junior Engineer on the dam to watch for, and report any problems.
The Junior Engineer sees water pouring a good 2 feet over the chute. (It was later estimated that the reservoir was holding 55 Crore litres of water during and after the storm )
11:30 p.m. Six inches of rain have fallen over the last 3 hours.
1:15 a.m. The Junior Engineer sees a section of dirt break away.
1:30 a.m. When water recedes below the top of the dam, Junior Engineer and other workers discover that water has eaten around the drainage and is gradually carving away the side of the earthen dam. A first attempt at closing the hole with sandbags fails when the force of the water carries the bags right through.
1:45 a.m. As the DM of Sakri , you are now in meeting with the Executive Engineer of Sakri, the PWD Engineer, the SP, the Chief Medical Officer of Sakri, and the District Disaster Cell Manager to discuss the situation.
* The names of some of places and other recognized symbols could be fictitious and resemblances to events already occurred or occurring to the situations described here are only coincidental. This is just an academic reconstruction.

Decision Points

What decision points did we identify in the above situation? It is to be noted that the central problem is that if the dam breaks, the people in the downstream towns will be flooded. Numerous decisions must be made to address this problem. Some of the key decisions that must be made are as follows, and we probably identified others as well.

1. Should residents in the two downstream subdivisional towns of Murariganj and Dumdama be evacuated?
2. If the decision is to evacuate, when should the evacuation take place?
3. Who will notify the populace of the evacuation, and how?
4. What additional resources will be necessary to accomplish the evacuation and provide any shelter needed?
5. What is the most effective way to keep the dam from collapsing, and what resources will be needed to accomplish that?


Whether making ordinary day-to-day decisions or critical, time-sensitive decisions during an emergency, using a standard problem-solving model will help ensure that your decisions are rational and logical.

Problem Solving VS Decision Making

Let’s first clarify what we mean by problem solving and decision making and how they go together:
• Problem solving is a set of activities designed to analyze a situation systematically and generate, implement, and evaluate solutions.
• Decision makings a mechanism for making choices at each step of the problem-solving process.
Decision making is part of problem solving, and decision making occurs at the every step of the problem-solving process.

Problem-Solving Model

There are many different decision-making/problem-solving models that a decision making person can use. Following is a five-step model which may be used in an emergency situation

Step 1 Identifying the problem
Step 2 Exploring the alternatives
Step 3 Selecting the ‘best’ alternative
Step 4 Implementing the solution
Step 5 Evaluating the solution situation

When using this model, each step may be completed quickly, but every step must be considered. It is not necessary to document each step, but it is important to think through every step.

Step 1 Identifying the Problem

Problem identification is undoubtedly the most important? and the most difficult? step in an situation. Whether all subsequent steps are productive or not, will be based on how you define and assess the problem at hand.

What is a “Problem”?

Situation or condition of people or the organization that will exist in the future, and that is considered undesirable by members of the organization is called a Problem

Problem or Solution?

We must distinguish between a problem and its solution in carrying out Step 1. Defining problems in terms of their solutions is the most common error in problem solving. Sometimes people think that they are articulating problems when actually they are stating a potential solution.

Marking Out the Problem Parameters

1. Identifying the problem also involves analyzing the situation to determine the complete extent of the problem.
Problem parameters include :
1. What is happening (and is not happening)?
2. Who is/are involved?
3. What the stakes are?

Step 2 Exploring the Alternatives

To explore alternative solutions to the problem identified in Step 1 is the second step in the decision-making process. This step really consists of two parts

  • Generating alternatives
  • Evaluating alternatives

Methods of Generating Alternatives

So, what process should we use to generate the alternatives for the case study? There are three ways to generate alternatives.

  • Brainstorming can be done individually or in a group. Brainstorming requires an environment in which the participants (individuals or group members) are free to “think out loud.” Participants blurt out as many ideas as possible within a specified time period.
  • Surveys economically tap the ideas of a large group of respondents. Surveys present respondents with the problem and a series of alternative solutions.
  • Discussion groups should consist of those who are directly involved in decision making. In generating alternatives, the group members should
  • Focus on the problem, not on the personalities of the people involved in the decision-making process. (But be sensitive to the impact of personalities on the process.)
  • Avoid initial judgments (as in brainstorming).
  • Be comprehensive.

Criteria for Evaluating Alternatives:

We must have some means of evaluating them, after we have generated alternative solutions. We should lists criteria by which we can evaluate alternatives. Another part of evaluation is identifying contingencies-what could go wrong. Think in terms of Murphy’s Law (“If anything can go wrong, it will.”) and identify what could get in the way of solving the problem you are facing.

Criteria for Evaluating Alternatives

Questions to Ask
1. Identify Constraints, Do any of the following factors serve as a limitation on this solution?
        •Human resources (limited ability of relevant people to understand or initiate certain actions)
        • Social (restrictions imposed by organized groups with special interests)
        • Political (legal restrictions or ordinances)
        • Economic (cost or capital restrictions)
        • Technical (limited equipment or technology)
        • Time (requirements that a solution be found within a prescribed time period, thereby eliminating consideration of long-range solutions)
2. Determine Appropriateness Does this solution fit the circumstances?
3. Verify Adequacy Will this option make enough of a difference to be worth doing?
4. Evaluate Effectiveness Will this option meet the objective?
5. Evaluate Efficiency What is the cost/benefit ratio of this option?
6. Determine Side Effects What are the ramifications of this option?

Step 3 Selecting the “Best” Alternative

To select one of the alternatives explored in Step 2 for implementation is third step in the problem-solving model. After you have evaluated each alternative, one should stand out as coming closest to solving the problem with the most advantages and fewest disadvantages.

Implementing the solution may not be easy, however. There may be repercussions, and you should complete a “reality check” to identify and evaluate the possible consequences of implementing the solution. Carefully consider how the solution will be implemented before selecting an alternative.

Selecting an alternative is a critical step in the problem-solving process. When selecting an alternative, you
will encounter factors that affect your decision making. These factors may include:

        • Ethical factors.
        • Financial factors.
        • Political factors.
        • Environmental considerations.
        • Safety factors.

All of these factors may not be readily recognizable. Be alert for these potential limits on the solutions that you can implement, as you examine the situation and apply the problem-solving model, .