Problems with Deliberative and Allotted Decision-Making: Path-Dependency and the Polya Urn

According to Robert Goodin (2008), one problem with a deliberative forum (allotted or otherwise) is that:

conversations, seen as serial processes with dynamic updating, can easily be path dependent. The outcome of the conversation depends upon the sequence of conversational moves, particularly those early in the conversation that set it off down one path rather than some other. (p.114)

A path-dependent process displays the following features:

  1. Unpredictability. Because early events have a large effect and are partly random, many outcomes may be possible. We cannot predict ahead of time which of these possible end‐states will be reached.

  2. Inflexibility. The farther into the process we are, the harder it becomes to shift from one path to another.

  3. Nonergodicity. Accidental events early in a sequence do not cancel out. They cannot be treated (which is to say, ignored) as ‘noise’, because they feed back into future choices. Small events are remembered.

  4. Potential path inefficiency. In the long run, the outcome that becomes locked in may generate lower pay‐offs than a forgone alternative would have. (p.112)

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