Traditionally, people — especially economists — thought that human behaviour was dictated by outcomes. That is, we seek to maximize our outcomes, like getting a large profit. Consequently, most of the incentives and disincentives in business are outcome-centred like bonuses or suspensions. Working to maximize outcomes is called distributive justice.
In the mid-seventies, the social scientists John W. Thibaut and Laurens Walker combined their research on psychology of justice and the study of process to look into what makes people trust a legal system enough to follow the laws voluntarily. They discovered that people care as much about the fairness of the process as the outcome the process generates. Simply put, people want to be treated like people and not numbers.
Fair Process, or procedural justice, universally requires adherance to three principles:
Engagement. Involve individuals in the decisions that involve them. Get their input, allow them to actively PeerReview the ideas on the table. Respect individuals for their ideas.
Explanation. Everyone involved and affected must understand the reason why the decisions were made. Demonstrating the rationale behind decisions shows people that you have considered their opinions thoughtfully and impartially. Not only will this make people trust the decision maker but it will help them learn.
Expectation clarity. Once a decision is made, clearly specify the expectations for the people involved, what responsibilities they have. Even if the expectations are demanding, people want to know by what standards they will be judged and what penalties there will be for failure. Understanding what to do reduces useless political maneuvering and it allows people to focus on the task at hand.
For an application of the Fair Process Effect on online community management, see Not Just the Trolls