An Application of the PrOACT Process in Decision-Making

This work is not to be copied by anyone without prior notification to me because it is protected by copyright. If you don’t comply, I will sue you and ask for a fine of 1 billion dollars (lolll). Anyway, you won’t probably read it, but if you will, have fun and learn from it. I did this as homework in one class; it was fun and that’s why I publish it on my blog. I applied the PrOACT method, a process for making effective decisions, found in the book Smart Choice written by John S. Hammond et al.


During the 12 January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, more than 220,000 people died [2], and thousands of building collapsed. Most of Haiti’s buildings were made of reinforced concrete (RC), and a few were made of timber and steel. The RC structures were the most damaged while the few steel and timber structures performed better. This performance gap has created a stigma among construction materials, and many Haitians think that RC is not an adequate material for seismic resistance while timber and steel are more resistant. It is not true because seismic resistance depends more on design than material, but many people still believe it. This incomprehension surely impacts their decisions on material choice when constructing.

It must not be forgotten also that before RC was introduced in Haiti in 1914 [3], timber structures had been widespread and highly desired. However, their susceptibility to fire had led to their abandonment in the construction field during the 1920s [3]. The timber structures also have lower resistance to hurricane, and this had led to high economical loss because hurricane is frequent in Haiti. So, RC had taken over timber because it provides greater stiffness, greater resistance to hurricane and lower susceptibility to fire.

Thus, a shift in preference of construction materials has been observed at least twice in Haiti’s history: RC took over timber in 1925, but nowadays many Haitians dislike RC because they believe it is dangerous regarding earthquake. Thus, many Haitian citizens willing to build are concerned and are facing this dilemma: What material should I use to build a resilient and satisfactory structure? To help solve this dilemma, it is supposed that Marc, a Haitian citizen, is constructing his home, and the method of PrOACT presented in the book “Smart Choice” will be applied to make a choice.

Description and Application of PrOACT

PrOACT is an acronym for problem, objective, alternative, consequence and trade-off. It represents 5 steps through which a smart choice may be done as presented in the book “Smart Choice Choice” written by John S. et Al. The process does not tell what to choose but it shows compellingly how to do an effective choice. As presented, an effective choice should satisfy these criteria: focus on the most important factors; should be logical and consistent; account for tangible and intangible factors; uses enough information; uses relevant information and reliable opinion; is straightforward and flexible.

Step 1: Problem

The problem definition is the first step, and it is where the problem is explicitly defined. It is crucial because if it is done wrongly, it will affect all the other steps, and thus could lead to ineffective decisions. According to John S. et Al., a consideration should also be given to the trigger event – the reason why there is a dilemma or why the problem exists. In the case of Marc constructing his house in Haiti, the trigger event that has caused discomfort in undertaking his project was the 2010 earthquake. Before 2010, there was not too much concern on building vulnerability. But Marc witnessed lots of collapsed buildings during the 2010 earthquake and became aware of the high risk he will entail if his house is not earthquake resistant. So, he defines his a priori problem as follows: How can I build an earthquake-resistant home?

However, going further in the book, it is suggested to not narrow the problem definition too much because it could lead to unsatisfactory solutions. In fact, Marc defined the a priori problem as such because the trigger event was the 2010 earthquake, but this definition is lazy, obvious and incomplete. The concerns when constructing are not only about earthquake but also about other extreme forces such as hurricane and fire. In addition, the economic aspect and the intangible factors should not be neglected. So, Marc comes up with the following broad problem definition: how can I build a resilient and satisfactory building at the lowest cost? The term resilient encompasses all types of natural disasters, and satisfactory encompasses the intangible factors that Marc may consider.


Step 2: Objectives

In this step, the objectives and sub-objectives will be defined. While the problem definition was broad, the objectives are more specific. They are a list of goals, expectations, and needs that should be fulfilled at their best to have an effective solution. In the case of Marc, his objectives are divided into two broad categories: the tangibles, and the intangibles. The tangible objectives are maximizing resistance to earthquake, maximizing resistance to hurricane, maximizing resistance to fire and minimizing cost. The intangible factors are minimizing anxiety and maximizing self-satisfaction. The objectives and sub-objectives are summarized in Table 1.

Objectives Sub-objectives
Maximize Resistance to Earthquake Maximize ductility
Suitability to add Lateral Resistance System
Maximize Resistance to Hurricane Maximize Stiffness
Maximize Resistance to Fire Include Fire Detector
Prioritize Less Flammable Material
Minimize Cost Minimize Construction Cost
Minimize Rehabilitation Cost
Minimize Anxiety  Fear of Collapsing
Psychology Consultation
Self-Satisfaction Architecture
How Common Is It?

Table 1- Objectives and Sub-Objectives

Objectives 1: Maximizing Resistance to Earthquake
This objective is one of the most important because it directly addresses the problem raised by the trigger event, which is to address the seismic resistance. To fulfill this, Marc considers 3 sub-objectives based on his knowledge of construction practices. First, he wants to maximize the structure ductility so that it can undergo large plastic deformation. Second Marc considers the ability or difficulty to add lateral resistance systems. This sub-objective is important because Marc feels that different structures have different ability to receive lateral resistance systems. For example, it may be more appropriate to add X or V braces to a steel and timber structure than a RC structure. RC structures can more easily take shear walls and moment resisting frames which would require more sophisticated design details.

Objectives 2: Maximizing Resistance to Hurricane
This objective is important to fulfill because Haiti is in the Caribbean and is frequently hit by hurricane. To fulfill this goal, Marc wants to maximize his house stiffness so that it can withstand the winds load. The lateral resisting system which serves for Objective 1 is also important for Objective 2 because wind loads are horizontal, and structures need to be braced to withstand them.

 Objectives 3: Maximizing Resistance to Fire
Resistance to fire has always been a concern in Haiti. In the 1920s, wood was no longer used in the construction field because of its fire susceptibility [3]. So, to fulfil this goal, Marc considers adding a fire detector in his house, and to prioritize less flammable materials.

Objectives 4: Minimize Cost
Since Marc is not a wealthy man, he wants to minimize the cost of his house. To do so, he plans to minimize the construction cost and the rehabilitation cost.

 Objectives 5: Minimize Anxiety
Many Haitians, including Marc, are traumatized by the chaos observed during the 2010 earthquake and are anxious when they are inside a building. Even if the building is properly designed, the anxiety is still present because the trauma is deep. Since the RC structures were the most damaged, the anxiety is greater for them also. To cope with this, Marc include a sub-objective called fear of collapsing. Marc also include a psychology counseling sub-objective because he thinks that for some of his alternatives, he may need counseling to help him cope with anxiety.

 Objectives 6: Self Satisfaction
Considering all, Marc want also to be satisfied about his choice because he has some preferences. Marc likes some specific type of architecture (especially timber) more than others. Marc also would enjoy having his house as uncommon as possible.

Step 3: Alternatives

In this step, the alternatives will be defined. As John S. et Al. wrote: “alternatives are the raw material of decision making. They represent the range of potential choices you’ll have for pursuing your objectives.” Marc could define his alternatives based on many factors. For example, he could consider the size and location of the house, but he has some constraints. Marc’s wife is very demanding, and she has already chosen the size and location of the house. This could be an “assumed constraint”, but Marc would rather go to hell instead of rejecting his wife’s choices. So, the size and location are “real constraint” for Marc and are already fixed.

However, Marc has more power in choosing the material and structure type for the house. In Haiti, RC frame, timber frame, steel frame and masonry bearing walls systems are used in the construction field, and they can be considered as 4 alternatives. Each of them has different influence on Marc’s objectives. But before choosing, Marc needs to evaluate their consequences.

Step 4: Consequences

As described by John S. et Al., the consequences step aims to “compare the merits of the competing alternatives, assessing how well each satisfies your fundamental objectives.” To do so, a consequence table is made in Table 2.

Sub-objectives RC Timber Steel Masonry
Maximize ductility Poor Fair Great Poor
Suitability to add Lateral Resistance System Fair Great Great Fair
Maximize Resistance to Hurricane Great Poor Fair Great
Suitability to Include Fire Detector Great Great Great Great
Prioritize Less Flammable Material Great Poor Fair Great
Minimize Construction Cost Great Fair Fair Great
Minimize Rehabilitation Cost Great Fair Fair Great
 Minimize Fear of Collapsing Fair Great Great Poor
Minimize Psychology Consultation Fair Great Great Poor
Enjoying Architecture Poor Great Poor Poor
How rare Is this type of structure? Fair Great Fair Fair

Table 2- Alternatives and Consequences

Step 5: Trade-Offs

Marc has evaluated each alternative, but he still cannot choose because he must compare them. Some the objectives are conflicting, so Marc needs to make a trade-off analysis to make an effective choice. As written by John S. et Al trade-off is the process where “you need to give up something on one objective to achieve more in terms of another.”

To begin the trade-off, all the sub-objectives are weighted on a scale from 1 to 10. The score 1 is given when the objective is not too important, and 10 when it is highly important to Marc. Furthermore, the qualitative scores of the alternatives are quantified: a score of 1 is given to “poor”, 2 is attributed to “fair”, and 3 to “great”. These values reflect Marc’s preferences and enable him to calculate a total score for each alternative without applying the Even Swap Method. Table 3 gives the weight of each objectives and the scores for each alternative. As can be seen, the best option for Marc is timber, the second is steel, the third is RC, and the last is masonry.

Sub-objectives Weight RC Timber Steel Masonry
Maximize ductility 9 1 2 3 1
Suitability to add Lateral Resistance System 9 2 3 3 2
Maximize Resistance to Hurricane 8 3 1 2 3
Suitability to Include Fire Detector 5 3 3 3 3
Prioritize Less Flammable Material 5 3 1 2 3
Minimize Construction Cost 7 3 2 2 3
Minimize Rehabilitation Cost 5 3 2 2 3
 Minimize Fear of Collapsing 9 2 3 3 1
Minimize Psychology Consultation 5 2 3 3 1
Enjoying Architecture 10 1 3 1 1
How rare Is this type of structure? 10 2 3 2 2
Total Score 175 199 191 161

Table 3- Quantification of Alternatives Evaluation

Discussion and Conclusion

The Even Swap method was not applied because all the alternatives have a quantified score, and all the objectives have a weight. Marc came up with these scores by carefully comparing all the objectives with each other. However, if Marc would like to proceed with the Even Swap method, he could have probably removed the masonry alternative because it is dominated by the RC alternative. In addition, the “Suitability to Include Fire Detector” objective could also be removed because it has the same value for each alternative.

            Another aspect of Marc’s analysis is the non-consideration of uncertainty. Natural disasters are very uncertain in intensity and occurrence, but the uncertainty would be the same for all Marc’s alternatives if all the designs of the timber, RC, steel and masonry buildings are adequate. So, Marc feels satisfied and will design his house in timber.


  • Hammond, John S. et Al. Smart Choices. Harvard Business Review Press. Kindle Edition.”
  • EERI Special Earthquake Report. The Mw 7.0 Haiti Earthquake of January 12, 2010: Report #2, May 2010. Learning from Earthquakes, EERI.
  • Randolph L., Stephen K., Patrick S., Kevin R., Martin H., Olsen J. Preserving Haiti’s Gingerbread Houses. World Monuments Fund, 2010.




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