Importance assessment of decision attributes: A qualitative study comparing experts and laypersons

Johannes M.G. Heerkens, Christiaan Norde, Beatrice van der Heijden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose – This paper aims to investigate differences between experts and laypersons concerning the way they assess the importance of each of the various decision attributes (cost, risk, feasibility) taken into consideration during decision processes in an organizational setting.

Design/methodology/approach – Nine project managers at building companies (experts), and 18 university students (laypersons) performed a think-aloud assignment aimed at assessing the importance of two attributes (safety and comfort) during an acquisition process of minibuses by a fictitious company.

Findings – Experts use less effort for the assignment, but perform the same mental operations in comparison with laypersons. Experts work in less detail than laypersons. Both laypersons and experts disregard important aspects of normative decision theory; for instance, they appear not to check for completeness of their assessments.

Practical implications – The authors propose that the main difference between experts and laypersons seems not to be the way in which they conduct importance assessments, but rather the fact that laypersons have to make “clean sheet” assessments, whereas experts can rely on their knowledge and experience to merely modify existing attribute weights. This relying on weights used in previous decisions may lead to sub-optimal choices in non-routine decision situations.

Originality/value – In much decision research, the focus is on elicitation of weights and on factors that influence weights, not on the way weights come about. By explicitly addressing the thinking process before the weights are actually set, we gain insight in a stage of the decision process that is rarely addressed. Hence, we potentially create possibilities for improving the weighing process.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)748-761
JournalManagement decision
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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