Fairness: Process as important as outcome

Posted on 09 November 2011

Politicians and public officials can heed research on fairness perception to provide principled leadership.

Fairness is like a cherry pie: To present the final cut of the pie is necessary but insufficient, as demonstrating cutting it is just as important. Especially with 2016 looming in the background.

Research on fairness perception is important. Especially so in the domain of public policy-making and leadership.

This is so as fairness perception research provides insights into how and why people think what is fair or unfair with public policy.

Very broadly, there are two categories of fairness: Outcome fairness and process fairness.

First, outcome fairness refers to the extent we perceive distribution of outcomes as fair.

For example, in the context of work, the distribution of outcomes include: Pay, promotion and praise.

In society, it could be the distribution of fungible resources, such as wealth.

Second, process fairness refers to the extent we perceive procedural rules to have been followed to be considered fair.

In processes, there is a reliance on accuracy, absence of bias, consistency and the capacity of individuals to influence outcome.

Therefore, the more people perceive processes as fair, the more satisfied they are and the more commitment they show to their work, for example.

Also, fair processes are as significant as fair outcomes.

Moreover, the current evidence suggests process fairness is a stronger predictor than outcome fairness in people’s evaluation of the fairness of leaders.

Therefore, it might no longer be tenable for leaders to only display outcome fairness.

Politicians and public officials ought to pay attention to how people see the process by which policies are decided and implemented, and the way administrative decisions are carried out. Process fairness is king.

Not to fear, as a robust body of research is available to help policymakers adopt evidence-based approaches to create processes that enhance fairness perception.

Towards noble ends, principled adaptive leadership follows the understanding of fairness perception. And this helps in practical actions and solutions.

Editor’s note: Although not explicitly mentioned, adopting principled adaptive leadership will be useful come 2016.

This is a 60-second reduction of the original article published in The Straits Times on Nov. 9. The writer is David Chan, director of the Behavioural Sciences Institute and professor of psychology at the Singapore Management University.

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Wang Pei can be considered a new citizen of Singapore. She has been here all her life, just that her environment's changed beyond recognition.

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