This brief highlights common cognitive traps that can trip up philanthropic decision making, and suggests straightforward steps to counter them.
Many foundations are attempting to make better decisions by investing in evaluation and other data collection efforts that support their strategic learning. The desire is to generate more timely and actionable data, and some foundations have even created staff positions dedicated entirely to supporting learning and the ongoing application of data for purposes of continuous improvement.
While this is a useful and positive trend, decades of research have shown that despite the best of intentions, and even when actionable data are presented at the right time, people do not automatically make good and rational decisions. Instead, we are hard-wired to fall into cognitive traps that affect how we process (or ignore) information that could help us to make better judgments.
This brief highlights several common cognitive traps that can trip up philanthropic decision making, and suggests straightforward steps that strategists, evaluators, and organizational learning staff can take to address them.
These traps include confirmation bias, escalation of commitment, availability bias, bounded awareness, and groupthink. The brief outlines eleven techniques to combat and counteract those traps.
Foundations need to build new ways of thinking and interaction that help to combat cognitive traps, support rigorous inquiry, and foster more deliberative decision making.