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Research fellow: Maj Warren Coaker will investigate decision-making processes
around procurement in the ADF.
Photo by Cpl Max Bree
Cognitive biases in procurement decisions will be investigated to
ensure rational and objective purchasing, Cpl Max Bree reports.
BIASES in Defence
procurement are under
the microscope after
the announcement of a
new CDF’s research fellow on
Maj Warren Coaker, of
Diggerworks, will investigate
decision making and cognitive biases
in the ADF’s procurement processes
on behalf of the CDF, with research
starting early 2014.
Though there have been
many “top down” studies into
procurement, such as the Mortimer
and Kinnaird reviews, Maj Coaker
will take a different approach.
bottom-up perspective to identify the
issues that exist at the staff level, so
that we can better advise star-rank
decision makers on capability.”
Maj Coaker said any number
of cognitive biases could impair
procurement decisions and there was
potential for better decision tools to
help the process.
“For example, confirmation bias,
cost-sunk bias, single-issue zealots
and group think all might influence
decision making without the
individual realising it,” he said.
“There’s a whole series of
cognitive biases where people might
think a particular way just naturally,
where in actual fact there is a better
way of approaching something.
“There might be methods and
tools that are not quite as intuitive
but are better ways of making a
Although the research is focused
at capability improvements of DMO
processes, Maj Coaker was certain
similar lessons could also be applied
outside Defence procurement.
“Cognitive biases are
widespread,” he said. “People
don’t realise they’re thinking in
a particular way because of their
personal background or the way
they’ve been trained.
“The challenge is to measure
their effect on our decision making
to ensure, as an organisation,
we make rational and objective
Maj Coaker said after common
biases had been identified, the idea
would be to develop strategies to
reduce their effect on decisions.
“One is trying to make sure
people have the right experience
and background in making those
decisions, and if they’re aware of
those particular biases, they can be
taken into consideration,” he said.
“Another is to ensure personnel
have the right decision-making tools
available to make those decisions.”
Maj Coaker said this meant
taking a new look at the military
acquisition process through the
lens of the bottom-up staff view of
procurement, though he believed
current high level processes were still
useful for procurement decisions and
were not likely to change.
“There are likely to be some
methods and tools we can add
to existing military appreciation
processes to make it more relevant
and helpful for acquisition
The research will hopefully lead
to new processes to better inform
star-ranked officers on acquisition
“I’m looking to change how
different considerations are made as
a part of that process,” he said.
“It’s probably the detail in the
process rather than the overall
Maj Coaker said social biases
could also be examined as part of his
“Group-think is an ideal
example of the group biases that are
potentially there,” he said.
“Part of this research may look at
things like whether decisions are best
made in a committee discussing a
particular component of a capability,
or whether it’s better for an expert
in his field to just make a decision
without committees blurring the
The idea to apply for the 2014
CDF’s Fellowship came to Maj
Coaker after his experience working
“Just seeing equipment that’s
come into Army, some good, some
bad, and being interested in the
decision making and how we get
there, germinated the idea for a
research proposal,” he said.
“The next step is improving
that process so we don’t make the
mistakes we have in the past.”
Maj Coaker, an infantry
officer, plans to centre his research
on procurements in the Army
dismounted combatant capability but
things might expand from there.
“Depending on where my
research leads me it might also
branch-out into the wider projects as
well,” he said.
“My plan is to research Army
because that’s what I know. However,
I’m hoping the outcomes will be
applicable across the wider Defence
organisation and be applicable
generally as decision-making tools.”
Maj Coaker said this should lead
to Defence saving money and better
equipment for soldiers.
“Bad procurement doesn’t happen
that often but when it does, it takes
time and money to fix it,” he said.
“Primarily for me it’s simply
about getting better equipment
often but when
it does, it takes
time and money
to fix. For me it’s
– Maj Warren Coaker,
CDF Fellowship recipient
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