A multi-criteria analysis is a formal decision process you might use when making a weighty decision. This is the final of a three-part post that walks you through the process, step-by-step.
- Step 1: Complete your research
- Step 2: Generate and weight criteria (i.e., define your desired outcome)
- Step 3: Identify and/or create options, alternatives or solutions
- Step 4: Complete a side-by-side comparison
- Step 5: Objectively assess each option against each weighted criterion
- Step 6: Make your decision
Step 5: Assess each option against each weighted criterion
Having completed your research, articulated a set of weighted criteria, converged on a rich set of options, and completed your side-by-side comparison, you now need to objectively assess each option against each weighted criterion. Let’s continue with the example of the Elmsford facilities task force.
First, task force members reviewed their completed side-by-side comparison and used a 1 to 9 scale to score the three facilities options against the 11 criteria on a worksheet. Then, in subgroups, they shared their worksheets and began to converge on reasonable, evidence-based scoring for each cell. Finally, the whole group used Prism’s Group Decision Support System™ to vote all the cells in the decision matrix. After all 33 cells were complete, the system automatically calculated the weighted scores in each cell and the total benefit (i.e., the sum of the weighted scores) for each option. See chart below.
Returning to the example of college selection: if you do not have access to sophisticated decision support technology, you can complete your decision matrix using a chart and calculator or a spreadsheet. For your convenience, you can download a working spreadsheet.
Simply follow the directions on the spreadsheet to enter your
- Decision criteria across the top row of the matrix (completed in Step 2)
- Criteria weights (completed in Step 2)
- Options down the first column (completed in Step 3)
While referring closely to your side-by-side comparison, score each option against each criterion in the appropriate cell. You can use a 1-9 scale or you can limit your scale to the total number of options (e.g., if you had four options, the scale would be 1-4). By the way, the download does all the matrix calculations automatically. See sample completed matrix below.
Step 6: Make your decision
With your decision matrix complete, you should now be prepared to make a confident, sound decision. You can
- Compare the total benefit of each option against the set of weighted criteria
- Examine the specific trade-offs
- Create scenarios by changing the decision criteria weights
Regarding trade-offs: a trade-off is the giving up of one thing in return for another. Just about every complex decision requires that you accept having less of one thing in order to get more of something else. The beauty of a decision matrix is that you can easily manage the tradeoff analysis because you can see where the trade-offs are.
In the college selection example, a family might decide to select Syracuse because it has the highest Total Benefit score and scores highest on three criteria: Distance, Clubs and Food. However, the trade-offs are also clear. Delaware is superior on two criteria: Social Life and Facilities. Temple, on one: Major. The decision framework creates clarity: by selecting Syracuse, the family achieves the greatest Total Benefit but gives up on superior Facilities, Social Life and Major. (See annotated chart below, highlighting the trades.)
Of course, the matrix above begs a powerful question: Is Syracuse University, a private institution, worth the more than 40% premium it charges in tuition, room and board and fees over public institutions such as Temple and Delaware? Put in quantitative terms, is it worth spending a 40% premium to attend Syracuse instead of Delaware if Syracuse only provides an 18% additional Total Benefit (236 points versus 200 points)?
Returning to our other example, the Elmsford facilities task force could not make a decision based solely on their multiple criteria matrix. They needed to take one more step and complete a cost-benefit analysis. A family looking to maximize its return on their college investment may want to do the same.
See this post for a detailed discussion of how to complete a cost-benefit analysis.