Evidence-led decision-making? More like ‘insight backfill’

I was interviewing a senior strategist in a global organisation the other day. It was part of some work that we’re doing about how organisations make decisions and the role of evidence within this.

We talked widely about the positive impacts of the greater availability of data about markets, customers, their behaviour and needs. We discussed the challenges of the assimilation of this data into her business, making sense of it and making it available to the people who make decisions. And we also talked about the way in which her organisation makes decisions.

The question then became: what really comes first, the evidence or the decision? In her business, it’s a very mixed picture.

Often decision-making isn’t evidence-led at all.

A significant amount of decisions are based on gut feel. But because it’s important culturally to (appear to) be evidence-led in her business, a whole lot of effort goes into justifying decisions already made by looking at the market and customers for evidence which fits. We come across this a lot in our work. We call it ‘insight backfill’; decisions lack real foundation.

Greater availability and accessibility of data means that decision-makers are able to cherry pick data that support decisions already made. They take what fits the picture and discard what doesn’t. They build an insight case after the fact, but portray it to the business as evidence-led. Gut-feel decisions still pervade; the business is at risk, but doesn’t realise it.

Evidence does take a lead in effective decisions that lead to consistently better outcomes. But only when it is one element in a structured framework for decision-making where objective analysis also plays a key role. Just because your business decision is evidenced, doesn’t mean it’s evidenced.

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