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Decision support tool for strategy selection Print

Authors: Gudrun Schwilch, Felicitas Bachmann and Hanspeter Liniger

 

Introduction

A newly developed comparative selection and decision support tool has been developed for application during Stakeholder Workshop 2. It allows better assessment and negotiation of remediation strategies and support of the negotiation process concerning the best option(s) for a given human and natural environment. The workshop participants conduct a multi-criteria evaluation to rank existing and potential remediation strategies for field trials. This involves stakeholders identifying and weighing relevant criteria (for example, technical requirements, costs and benefits of implementation, social acceptability, etc.), taking into account the technical, bio-physical, socio-cultural, economic and institutional dimensions.

 

Description of Decision Support Tool
The methodology applied consists of three main elements:

  1. The WOCAT database to choose the options or strategies of land conservation.
  2. A Decision Support System software supporting the single steps of the evaluation and decision-making process.
  3. A participatory approach guiding and leading workshop participants through the process of evaluation and decision-making.

The newly developed Decision Support Tool is the combination of these three elements and not just the DSS software itself.

Selection of options is based on a search in the WOCAT database, leading through a series of key questions. Setting criteria, scoring, and the decision making process are supported by software for multi-objective decision support. Both tools are embedded into a stakeholder workshop, continuing the "learning for sustainability" approach.

 

The objectives are:

  1. To select possible implementation options from a vast basket of options;
  2. To compare, score and rank these options;
  3. To negotiate the best option for implementation;
  4. To decide upon 1-2 strategies for test implementation.

 

Overview of steps to reach decision
Step 1: Review and adjustment of objectives
Step 2: Identification of options (from WOCAT database)
Step 3: Identification of relevant criteria for evaluation
Step 4: Scoring the options
Step 5: Creating a hierarchy and ranking criteria
Step 6: Analysis and interpretation (with Facilitator software)
Step 7: Prioritising of options - negotiation and decision making
Step 8: Embedding into the overall strategy

Selection of options in WOCAT database

The selection of options is partly done by the research team before the stakeholder workshop starts. They need to prepare the first selection step ahead, as this is too complex to be done during the workshop. It entails going through a series of key questions and using a predefined "search-by-criteria" form to find the most suitable technologies and approaches from the WOCAT databases. The database contains SLM practices from all over the world as well as those local and potential practices identified and documented in part II. The key questions allow for narrowing down the selection regarding climate, land use and other crucial issues. After coming up with a manageable number of solutions (i.e. about 5-10), the specialists have to prepare posters and cards illustrating these solutions, based on a predefined format and an automatic retrieval of the data, but possibly with a necessary translation and adaptations to the local context (i.e. what would this measure cost in their situation).

Use of a Decision Support System software
An open-source software called "facilitator" (Heilman et. al. 2002) is used to support the process. Some adaptation and debugging was made by CDE within DESIRE.

 

This Multi Objective Decision Support System (MODSS) software uses decision rules, a hierarchical system for ranking criteria, score functions and linear programming to identify a preferred management option consistent with the ranking of the decision criteria. Assigning an importance order to the decision criteria overcomes in part the need to assign individual weights. The matrix framework of management options and decision criteria is generic and open, encouraging participation by all stakeholders and can accommodate measured data, simulation model results and expert opinions in the decision making process. The results are displayed as horizontal bars with best and worst composite scores; the length of the bars representing the sensitivity of the resource management option to the individual ordering of the criteria. This software is written entirely in platform independent Java and is open source.

 

The software is used within the stakeholder workshop, but many steps are done on paper and without a computer. Depending on the (computer) literacy level of the participants, more or fewer steps can be done by computer. Ideally, an assistant or the second moderator is feeding the data from each step (results from work done in the different steps) to the Facilitator software. Only the calculations for the analysis of the assessment really need to be made by computer.

Embedding in stakeholder workshop
The stakeholders are the same as in stakeholder workshop 1 (Part I) and the moderators and SLM specialists again have practical guidelines at hand to plan and conduct the process. The workshop guidelines consist of didactic guidelines, which formulate learning objectives, and describe a step by step procedure for leading the participants through the decision-making process; thematic sheets, which provide theoretical and conceptual orientation on specific topics or steps; and instruction sheets on the use of the software.

 

The 2-day workshop follows up on what has been discussed in Workshop 1, including recently acquired knowledge from the documentation and evaluation process (Part II). This results in confirming or reformulating the main objectives of an SLM strategy. The moderators will then present the pre-selected possible strategy options to the participants with the help of the posters, and a plenary discussion will allow confirmation of their selection or a search for more options in the database. In a brainstorming session, the stakeholders identify criteria which reflect the most important qualities of the strategy options (e.g. costs, social acceptability, ecological effectiveness, etc.). During a game-like exercise, using the previously prepared cards, the stakeholders are asked to score all options against all criteria. They look at one criterion at a time and score all options against this criterion. The criteria are then organized into three groups, "environmental", "economic" and "social", and ranked within these groups according to their importance. This assigns relative weight to the criteria. Analysis of this scoring and weighting process results in graphs that illustrate the relative merits of the various options. The process is iterative, i.e. criteria, options, scores and rankings may be revised several times until participants are happy with the outcome. Finally, the options have to be negotiated. Options which score high socially, economically and environmentally are most probably the best options. The workshop moderators lead the discussion in such a way that a final agreement can be reached on which solution(s) should be selected for implementation. Commitment is sought from all the stakeholders concerned in how they can support the implementation process.

Conclusions
The development of this methodology mainly consisted of bringing together a number of existing tools and methods and integrating them into a coherent and comprehensive selection and decision process. This process can be applied in many local contexts, all aiming at sustainable land management, be it affected by desertification or any other form of land degradation. The tool, with its three elements, is being applied at 15 DESIRE study sites. It will also be used by various WOCAT initiatives in different countries and their experiences will show its suitability and usefulness. Further testing and application in any desertification-prone area around the world would surely be welcome.

     

    Reference cited regarding Facilitator software:
    Heilman, P., Davis, G., Lawrence, P., Hatfield, J.L. and Huddleston, J., 2002. The Facilitator - An Open Source Effort to Support Multiobjective Decision Making. 1st Biennial Meeting: "Integrated Assessment and Decision Support". The International Environmental Modelling and Software Society (iEMSs), Lugano, Switzerland, pp. 253-258.

     

    More details ... download the full report and materials needed to use the decision support tool

    iconWP3.3 A decision support tool for strategy assessment [1.82 MB]

    iconWP3.3 Stakeholder Workshop 2: Facilitator software [3.65 MB]

    If Java is not available on your computer you should also download

    iconWP3.3 Java runtime environment for Facilitator software [14.27 MB]

     WOCAT database online

     

     
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    Acknowledgement

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    The DESIRE project was 
    co-funded by the
    European Commission,
    Global Change and
    Ecosystem.
    Contract no: 037046 GOCE

    DESIRE brought together the expertise of
    26 international research institutes
    and non-governmental organisations.

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