Why Structured Decision Making is necessary for complex environmental problems.

Structured decision-making can be effectively used to combine many different opinions that will normally come into play from different stakeholders when attempting to manage the environment.

It will be necessary in all coastal management plans as there are many different stakeholders to be considered. The coastal zone has unique governance structures and regulatory arrangements and these are important for managing risks. It will be important for governments and local councils to work together as many coastal processes operate on spatial scales that cross local and state government boundaries.

Three dominant approaches

The three dominant approaches of environmental decision-making are science based, consensus based and economic and multi-criteria analysis. Decision-makers face the difficult task of balancing scientific knowledge, the inherent values of society and stakeholders, as well as politics and components that need addressing.

Issues arise such as scientific knowledge of the environment being unable to provide a solution to problems, especially when up against deep rooted morally charged environmental issues, meaning that usually environmental decision making needs to balance science and values in order to come to an effective decision. Additionally, economic and multi criteria analysis use tools that assign a monetary value to different possible scenarios of decisions, and finishes with possible outcomes each with a valuation.

Organised and inclusive approach

Structured decision-making (SDM) is an organised and inclusive approach used to inform decision makers of complex environmental problems, and Gregory’s article looks at the different steps in this process in detail.


Six Steps of SDM

The process is made up of the seven steps, and would be effective in coastal management, as it needs a large-scale technical analysis of consequences of alternatives.

  • Clarify the decision context. This is necessary because it defines boundaries, determines who needs to be consulted and what the focus of the process is. You cannot deal with all coastal management options with one decision-making process.
  • Define objectives. This lays out exactly what needs to be addressed – it can be used as a constant point of reference throughout the process and is handy to have when monitoring and evaluating if the option chosen has been successful. Funding limits need to be recognised and included to ensure feasibility.
  • Develop alternatives. Here a range of feasible options are presented – they are to be prioritised and dissected as to which one will be most environmentally effective, whilst also managing to balance values of society, science and be economically viable
  • Estimate consequences and evaluate trade offs. Here could be said to be relatable to the object of ESD, the precautionary principle – meaning that outcomes and future predictions of the alternatives needs to be defined. Tradeoffs are decided and evaluated so that the most efficient policy option is chosen. It is here where many conflicts can arise as different disciplines may feel their option is completely necessary and cannot be left out.
  • Select and implement. Chosen policy option progresses to implementation stage.
  • Monitor and Review. Often a forgotten aspect of decision making and implementation, monitoring and evaluation are just as important as any other step of this process as they hold the evidence of what has worked and what has not gone so well. This kind of data is essential for knowledge gathering and future policies as it provides tested examples which can be of assistance. To ensure monitoring and evaluation are included to their top potential, funds need to be allocated before the project is implemented.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Ailin Sun says:

    Hi Louise,

    Do you know of any case studies of coastal management applied through the SDM framework? It would be really interesting to understand the strengths as well as pain-points.

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