We Are All Wonder Women Co-founder Eugenie is currently undertaking an Executive MBA at the University of Cambridge. This is one is a series of blogs she is writing giving insight into some of her learning from the course which she hopes will help other Wonder Women at work.
I’ve just started studying for an Executive MBA at Cambridge University. One of the course readings for the MBA is The Flaw of Averages by Sam Savage. It is a fascinating read and has already improved my decision-making - even if it is just to ensure that my husband and I are not late for events :-) One area that has particularly struck me is a concept from decision analysis called the Value of Information. I think it has huge potential application in conservation.
Basically, the concept is about understanding the value of having more information for a particular decision. In conservation science we are obsessed with having more information. I do wonder whether it is actually more information that we need. We know that biodiversity is declining. But do we need to know precisely what is declining and where? The Value of Information concept could help us answer this question.
Information helps us reduce uncertainty. Sometimes that information is cheap and sometimes it is expensive. Sam Savage quotes his father “One must indeed look before he leaps, in so far as looking is not unreasonably time-consuming and otherwise expensive.” In other words, sometimes the information can be too expensive for the decision in question so you choose uncertainty over the information.
So how do we decide how much the information is worth? And whether to bring it into our decision-making process? The answer is to create a scenario where you make the decision without the information and another scenario where you make the decision with the information. Would that decision have been different? If so, what would the outcome have been? The difference between the two decisions is the value of the information.
Take for example, a situation where you have to cross a river but you don’t know where to cross it. An information seller on the river bank offers to tell you where you can cross with only getting your feet wet for a small fee. If you cross in other places, you’ll have to wade up to your waist. So what is the information worth? It’s worth wet clothes. Are you willing to pay £5 for the surety of avoiding being soaked? What about £50? £100? £1,000? Or is there a point where the information is too expensive so you’re willing to take the chance of being soaked?
I wonder sometimes if we have enough information in conservation to just go ahead and make decisions? I am certain that when faced with a tough decision a scientist often defaults to wanting further information rather than weighing up the value of that information against the decision in question. I think it would be a very useful habit for us to develop.
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