Group Decision Support System (GDSS)

     A Group Decision Support System (GDSS) is an interactive, computer-based system that helps a team of decision-makers solve problems and make choices. They are designed to enable a group of participants to work interactively in an electronic environment. GDSS systems help users to solve complex problems, prepare detailed plans and proposals, resolve conflicts, and analyze and prioritize issues effectively. They are excellent in situations involving visioning, planning, conflict resolution, team building, and evaluation.

GDSS are targeted to supporting groups in analyzing problem situations and in performing group decision-making tasks (cf., DeSanctis and Gallupe, 1987; Huber, 1984). 

     The name is very descriptive. A GDSS is a hybrid system that uses an elaborate communications infrastructure and heuristic and quantitative models to support decision-making.

A typical GDSS session includes four phases:

• Idea Generation
• Idea Consolidation
• Idea Evaluation
• Implementation Planning 


• Strategic Planning - Analyze the environment, develop a vision, identify objectives, and build action plans.
• Project Evaluation - Assess objectives achievement, impacts, relevance, cost effectiveness, and future directions.
• Focus Groups and Expert Panels - Elicit opinions and understand needs.
• Conflict Resolution - Compare points-of-view, understand differences, and seek common ground.
• Problem Solving - Identify causes, suggest alternatives, choose solutions, and develop implementation plans.

     The GDSS started originally from the Management Information System at University of Arizona. Some kind of problems has always been observed that are associated more with large meetings than with small meetings. By large meetings we mean meetings with generally more than 15 participants, but can go much beyond that, e.g. 40 or even 50. Some of the identified problems are: 

• time consuming;
• dominance over the meeting; and
• honesty and participation.

     The more details about these problems can be found here. However, it is important to realize that we are not therefore trying to say that small meetings do not have these above problems; these problems mentioned exist in any kind of meetings, but we are just trying to stress that they are more commonly found in large meetings. Small meetings tend to be more easily controlled than large meetings. 

     In a GDSS environment, there is usually a big room with something like 40 seats, which means that 40 people can be at the meeting at any one time. There are not only 40 seats but also 40 microcomputers. This enables every participant to have the use of one microcomputer during the course of the meeting. The reason why each participant needs a microcomputer depends on how GDSS works. 

     In the GDSS, with special computer software, the facilitator of each meeting will first make the agenda of the meeting, which will be projected onto a big screen that everyone can see. Then the participants will type simultaneously in their ideas of the topic of discussion on the individual microcomputers next to them. Then the computer will sort the ideas, and then the participants will then vote or comment on which ideas they like or they dislike. In the course of the whole meeting, GDSS stores, categorizes and prints out all the ideas, comments and vote tallies, so that each of the meeting participants will get a summary of the meeting when it ends.

     What so special about GDSS is that it enables meeting participants to simultaneously "talk", when the computer sorts and sends ideas to each of the terminal, all at the same time. That saves a tremendous amount of time, because all these are done electronically instead of manually, and the time saved will enable participants to spend more time manipulating and expressing their ideas. This can consequently increase the productivity and efficiency of the group. The time-consuming benefit also has an added bonus: when productivity and efficiency in meetings increase, it is likely that the team spirit can be consolidated, resulting in an increase of the strength of binding among team members. 

     Besides, under this GDSS, no one can dominate the meeting. This is because of another feature of GDSS. GDSS provides an anonymous scheme, so that whatever you type in the terminal (i.e. your opinion) will be protected. Under this circumstance, no one really knows who is typing what. Because of this, not a single person can dominate the meetings. In the worst case, we might say "some ideas" are dominating the meeting, but this is perfectly fine because this is as a matter of fact an aim of the GDSS: to help meeting participants voice their opinions from an idea-oriented mindset. For example, simply because you have a prejudice against person A does not mean that you are going to reject the idea being proposed in the meeting, because you do not know who is proposing that idea!! 

     Besides, this anonymity scheme will also help those team members who are shy to voice opinions. And with the anonymity, people are likely to be more honest, just as you'll say more, and more honestly on the professor's evaluation form if you know whatever you write will not affect your final grade on the course. This, of course, is because you know you don't have to worry about the consequences.

     However, whether this anonymity is good or not can be very controversial. The success of meetings supported by GDSS depends largely on the conduct of the participants. If people are taking advantage of the anonymity system by typing obscene words or foul languages, this system may be banned for the good of the organization.



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