December 22, 2020
December 22, 2020



Critical thinking, as with decision making, relies on a rational, well thought out assessment of the problem, objectives, and alternatives (Norris, 1985). In effective decision making, tradeoffs must be valued when a decision has too many alternatives (Hammond, Keeney, & Raiffa, 1998). The tradeoff method, as discussed by Hammond, Kenney and Raiffa (1998), is the easy swap method. The easy swap method increases the value of one consequence while decreasing the value of another in separate alternatives, which can lead to dominance of alternatives (Luo & Bor-Wen, 2006). Dominance of alternatives can lead to elimination of one or several alternatives (Hammond et al., 1998). This post will evaluate and apply critical thinking concepts as it can and should be used in the easy swap method to support effective decision making.

Determining Dominance

Before the easy swap method is applied to evaluate tradeoffs, a decision maker can use a consequence table, a simplified rating scale, to evaluate if some alternatives may be eliminated (Hammond et al., 1998). In the elimination of alternatives, the decision maker has determined dominance of different alternatives using a scoring system of different criteria or objectives (Hammond et al., 1998). Determining dominance in this process could possibly leave one alternative remaining (Hammond et al., 1998). If the result of determining dominance still leaves more than one alternative, tradeoffs will be required using the easy swap method (Hammond et al., 1998).

Even Swap Method

According to Mustajoki and Raimo (2005), the even swap method exchanges values between consequences until only one alternative remains. A consequence table can be used in the even swap method to level the playing field between different objectives within different alternatives (Hammond et al., 1998). This process consists of compensating for changes to an objective, making an equal exchange or swap of value of the consequence (Hammond et al., 1998). This may cancel out the objective for any alternatives being evaluated and then allow the decision maker to identify dominance within the range of alternatives until the there is one remaining alternative (Hammond et al., 1998).

Application of Critical Thinking to Even Swap Method

In decision making, as in critical thinking, there are certain factors such as uncertainty and factual claims that can bolster decisions or derail them. In the example of choosing the right office, that Hammond et al. (1998) discussed in the chapter titled “Tradeoffs”, there were uncertainties in the decision making process. The world is constantly changing and it is nearly impossible to know what the future holds for a set of consequences (Rieke, Sillars, & Peterson, 2005). In the even swap method example, the character, Alan, is making assumptions about what a consequence could become if the values are adjusted. In the objective of Alan’s commute time, how does he know that the route he would take every day would not be altered at some point, in some way? In reality, he doesn’t. Not only are critical thinker’s and decision maker’s dealing with the uncertainty of things to come but they must also be concerned with the validity of the data supporting the value adjustments so they are not merely guessing at the uncertainty of the consequence. The decision maker is making changes to values based on as much fact as he understands on the subject matter. According to Norris (1985), a critical thinker must have knowledge of the subject matter being evaluated. In the example, by Hammond et al. (1998), are we to assume that Alan is an expert in all objectives (commuting, traffic patterns, ratio of price to office space)? In order for Alan to be thinking critically and to make a smart decision, this would require knowledge in all of the values being swapped. Alan or anyone using the easy swap method would want to ensure that changes to consequence values were factual claims. As Rieke, Sillars, and Peterson (2005) address, factual claims are supported by data and are reliable claims.


In this post, critical thinking was used almost synonymously with decision making. According to Norris (1985), part of critical thinking is using rational decision making to identify solutions with a firm understanding of the subject matter. The even swap method, while seemingly constructed to eliminate as much indecisiveness as possible, should rely on knowledge and factual claims regarding the objectives and consequences subject matter. However, the method is subject to value claims that may only be interpretable, at least in the example by Hammond et al., by the decision maker. According to Reike et al. (2005), value claims depend on the what the decision maker defines for themselves to be of greater or lesser value and cannot be backed up by factual data. In conclusion, if critical thinking skills are honed, have a strong basis in knowledge of the subject matter, a smart decision can be assured.


Hammond, S., Keeney, R., & Raiffa, H. (1998). Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Luo, C., & Bor-Wen, C. (2006). Applying even-swap method to structurally enhance the process of intuition decision-making. Systemic Practice and Action Research, 19(1), 45-59. doi:…

Mustajoki, J., & Raimo, P. H. (2005). A preference programming approach to make the even swaps method even easier. Decision Analysis, 2(2), 110-123. Retrieved from…

Norris, S. P. (1985). Synthesis of Research on Critical Thinking. Educational Leadership, 42(8), 40.

Rieke, R.D. & Sillars, M.O., 1928- & Peterson, T.R. (2005). Argumentation and critical decision making (6th ed). Pearson/Allyn & Bacon, Boston

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