Natural Resources Leadership Institute

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Decision Making Methods

Environmental issues, by their very nature, are complex.  They usually involve a multitude of stakeholders, are scientifically complex with some level of data uncertainty, often revolve around quality of life and economic issues, and are highly value-laden.  They nearly always involve people and organizations that are in conflict about the definition of the problem or are in strong disagreement over the choice of solutions.  Decision makers operating within an arena of conflict are often faced with policy choices framed by advocates and opponents as an either/or option.  Without a clear consensus on the problem to be solved, and lacking a range of policy options that can satisfy most stakeholders, decision-makers have difficulty making wise, efficient and stable decisions.

Through the Environmental Decision Making program, we provide decision support services to federal, state, and local government agencies, private firms, and nonprofit organizations to help manage conflict over environmental issues. The Institute supports decision makers by conducting a formalized approach to making decisions about the future.

Assessing the Issues and Designing Processes. Before convening a convening a decision-making group, the Institute identifies and interviews potential stakeholders to determine their willingness to engage in a collaborative process, barriers to their participation, their positions and interests relative to the substantive issues, and their vision of a successful outcome. Based on the interviews and other information gathered regarding the levels of contention and trust, the amount of citizen interest in the issue, and other background data, the Institute designs a process to improve the chances of a successful outcome.

Joint Fact Finding and Information Brokering. The Institute works with stakeholders to help them identify data needs, data sources, and rules for bringing data to the negotiating table. We also coordinate presentations by experts, bring relevant information to the group, display and interpret data in meaningful ways, and help groups resolve disputes over data.

Designing/Assisting in Decision-Making Processes. The Institute facilitates decision-making by helping stakeholders stay on task and topic, promoting open and balanced discussion, organizing information for efficient and effective use, protecting people and ideas from attack, and helping the group reach consensus. We also help the group find efficient ways to structure problems, generate options for mutual gain, and assist them to evaluate options.