Executive Decision-Making: Challenges, Strategies, and Resources

Article 4 / 10 , Vol 37 No 3 (Autumn)

Executive Decision-Making: Challenges, Strategies, and Resources

Executive branches of government are exercising increased control over decision-making, using a wide range of strategies to develop policy preferences and oversee their implementation. Canada, for instance, has seen a steady presidentialization of its parliamentary system, characterized by a heightened centralization of decision-making in the Prime Minister’s Office. The first part of this paper identifies a number of the cognitive biases that impede sound decision-making by the executive and examines two demanding, yet effective, strategies – multiple advocacy and the use of honest brokers – for mitigating subsequent distortions. The second part of the paper discusses challenges to effective policy implementation in light of the systematic disconnections between the executive and the public service. Finally, the merits of political patronage appointments as a means of mitigating these challenges are discussed.

Executive branches of government are exercising increased control over decision-making, using a wide range of strategies to develop policy preferences and oversee their implementation. Canada, for instance, has seen a steady presidentialization of its parliamentary system, characterized by a heightened centralization of decision-making in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).1 In a democracy, decisions are not made in a vacuum, and the executive must work to overcome numerous political and institutional challenges in order for decisions to be fully and properly implemented. As decisions are increasingly attributed to a single elected official, it is more important than ever to identify, and develop ways to mitigate, the cognitive biases and distortions that are likely to influence heads of governments by sheer virtue of their human fallibility. Absent some form of intentional intervention, democratic systems do not naturally allow for the exact implementation of executive decisions due to communication breakdowns – familiar to anyone who has ever played a game of ‘telephone’ – and indirect reporting structures between elected officials and bureaucrats. This paper will address the challenges presented by decision-making biases, particularly with respect to the implementation of executive decisions, and will enumerate potential strategies for resolving these challenges.