Prism’s facilities planning process is driven by information discovery and accelerated by our Group Decision Support System that enables your group to complete a collaborative cost-benefit analysis in real time. By identifying the highest value option and the explicit trade-offs, they are able to make a complex decision efficiently. The process is straightforward and best illustrated by a case study.
Prism recently helped the Elmsford Union Free School District facilities planning task force grapple with a complex decision. Elmsford’s Dixson Primary, a PK-1 building built in 1894, enjoys the love of many community stakeholders but is considered woefully inadequate to serve the needs of its students. The issue is emotional and many task force members arrived with preconceived notions: some, that the building needs to be closed; others, that building should be renovated. This would be another great test to see whether or not Prism’s Group Decision Support System (GDSS) could make an intractable decision tractable!
According to Superintendent Barbara Peters: Although we began this journey with a wide-range of opinions and no agreement for future decisions, the adept guidance of Sean Brady and his deft use of Prism’s GDSS allowed us to work through numerous options, conduct a cost-benefit analysis, and reach group consensus. It was a magnificent procedure, and I would highly recommend his services to any group looking for an outstanding facilitator.
From impasse to agreement in five collegial meetings
The task force spent the first night walking through Dixson Primary and generating a research plan. At the second meeting, they walked through Grady Elementary, a grade 2 to 6 building, and shared the results of their research. The task force then achieved its first consensus decision: Having our students continue to attend Dixson Primary in its current state is unacceptable. Subsequently, the Task Force agreed to and weighted eleven clearly articulated decision criteria (see chart below).
- Demo the old Dixson primary and build a new one (Dixson New)
- Renovate Dixson primary (Dixson Reno)
- Renovate Grady to accommodate all students PK-6 (Grady)
With the help of the architects, the task force created evidence-based side-by-side comparisons of the three options against the 11 criteria.
Voting the decision matrix
At the fourth meeting, the group used radio response keypads to complete a weighted criteria and cost-benefit analysis matrix of the three options where:
- Value = (Benefit – Cost)
- Benefit = total contribution to weighted criteria
- Cost = total construction costs
First, individuals reviewed the evidence 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. Finally, the whole group used their keypads to vote all 33 cells in the decision matrix. After voting each cell, the task force looked at and discussed the bar graph of results, revoting if necessary to narrow the range. Because participants voted with integrity, we only needed to revote a few cells.
Total weighted score
Once the vote was complete, the decision matrix displayed the average of the 1 – 9 scores for each cell (Table 1). The matrix also multiplied these average scores by each criterion weight to calculate the Total Benefit score (i.e., the sum of the weighted scores) for each facilities option (Table 2). The Total Benefit score for Option #1 (Dixson New) was 4,262; for Option #2 (Dixson Reno), 3,276; and for Option #3 (Grady), 4,129. So Option #1 was superior and we had a decision, right?
Analyzing costs and benefits
Wrong. Thus far, we had only considered benefits. We now needed to look at costs. We added the construction costs of the three options in millions of dollars (Table 3): Option #1 costs $17.8M; Option #2, $14.3M and Option #3, $11.1 M.
The matrix then completes the cost-benefit calculation. It normalizes the numbers in both the Total Benefit and Cost columns so that it can subtract Cost from Benefit to calculate relative Value:
Value = (Benefit – Cost)
The value analysis in Table 4 shows that based on the Task Force’s analysis:
- Option #2 (Dixson Reno) is out of the running. Option #2 has a significantly lower Total Benefit score (3,276) and has the lowest Value score (-15).
- Option #1 (Dixson New) has the highest Total Benefit score (4,262), which is 133 points or 3% higher than Option #3’s Total Benefit score (4,129). However, Option #1 costs $17.8 million, 60% more than Option #3 ($11.1 million).
- >Option #3 (Grady), therefore, has the highest Value score (+29).Based on the Task Force’s analysis, the highest value option for the district is Option #3.
In the simplest terms, the Task Force’s analysis shows that Option #3 (Grady) provides the greatest bang for the buck: it provides 97% of the total Benefit at just 62% of the Cost of Option #1. In the language of a relative cost-benefit analysis: Option #3 is worth much more than it costs, whereas Option #1 costs much more than it is worth.
So we had a decision, right?
Not yet. When asked at the end of meeting #4 to indicate their consensus support for Option #3, only eight of 13 task force members did so. The final meeting began with additional information sharing to address some outstanding concerns, including the superintendent’s impassioned explanation for why it was critical for the committee to support the highest value facilities option with a strong consensus. The group revoted its consensus support for Option #3 with the caveat that the task force and staff members will have the opportunity to participate in the detailed design phase of a Board-approved facilities project. There was consensus: 10 members voted “Strong Support,” one member voted “Support,” four members voted “Can Live With/Will Publicly Support” and no members voted “Have Questions” or “Can NOT Support.” (See consensus chart below).
With that decision, the Elmsford Facilities Review Task Force completed its work. Hearty and warm congratulations filled the room. Prism’s Group Decision Support System proved once again capable of making a seeming intractable group decision tractable.