Associate professor speaks on using math, computer to resolve group decisions

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Dave VinsonDecisions made by committee often can be frustrating and time-consuming. But there is a mathematical “solution” for making the process easier, says Dave Vinson, associate professor of Mathematics at Pellissippi State Community College.

Vinson shares his solution when he addresses “The Order of Everything” on Feb. 22. The free lecture is 4:30-5:30 p.m. in the Goins Building Auditorium on the Pellissippi Campus, 10915 Hardin Valley Road. The community is invited to attend.

“Group decisions can often be swayed by a charismatic individual, and unfortunately the end result isn’t always the best result,” said Vinson. “By removing the element of personality and giving everybody an equal voice, a plan of action can be easily reached.”

He suggests that groups faced with making a decision apply the “pairwise comparison” approach. With that approach, the group brainstorms, creating a list of all suggested ideas. Those ideas are then paired randomly and reevaluated by group members according to specific criteria. The underlying premise is that it is much easier to choose between a pair of ideas than a long list of them.

Ultimately, the data are entered into a simple computer program, which “decides” what suggestions are the best.

“By combining ranking by pairwise comparison with a simple algorithm,” Vinson said, “decision-making becomes a democratic process where everyone’s input is equally valuable.”

Vinson’s lecture is sponsored by the college’s service-learning club, Gnosis. Gnosis members do charitable work for the community, and the club hosts many educational events throughout the year. The college has recognized Gnosis as its top student club for the past two years. The event is supported by the Faculty Lecture Series.

For more information, contact Gnosis faculty sponsors Annie Gray,, or Trent Eades,, or call (865) 694-6400.

To request accommodations for a disability, contact the executive director of Human Resources and Affirmative Action at (865) 694-6607 or