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Losing With Facts

Trying to win with facts is like a boxing match using pillows instead of boxing gloves: you and your opponent will likely score a lot of points, but so what. Not that debating with facts is bad. But you probably think your issue, whatever it is – political, social, environmental – makes the most sense. If only others would see facts they way you do.

“The facts speak for themselves.” No they don’t. Never did, never will: facts are presented this way, that way, and the other way. I can pick my facts so they fit my preconceived conclusions perfectly. And what do you know, my conclusions are the opposite of yours! We both win, and nobody wins.

Facts are building blocks, and depending on how you choose them and how you place them, you have either built a bridge over water, or under water. Either way, it will take a lot of work – as the expression goes: spinning your wheels.

Facts don’t know who to take orders from.

Debates with consequences can involve decisions on spending money, making laws, safe traffic design, food safety – a whole huge range of topics. In a trustee or board meeting, the decision-making process will invariably include not only facts, but also subjective views of losses and gains: “Do it this way, and we gain this, but we lose that, and we do not want to lose that, therefore this gain is not worth this loss.” Someone else says: “But, changing that way just a little bit, and we lose less.” Then someone else has a different point of view, and around and around we all go. Debates can end with all parties feeling bad, and no one really understanding what just happened, why a decision was made a certain way.

As in this example, people will dance around issues of gains and losses just as they would in the formal practice of risk management. But without the formal practice.

You’ve got to tell facts how to behave. This means creating a structure that manages the relevant information – including facts and subjective points of view – so all issues can more easily be understood and compared. Then you can more easily and more reasonably compare the losses and gains of different proposals.

For cities, towns, and villages, the term for this process is community risk management.