Although their exact use in any situation may vary, certain stages of thinking and analysis are central to structured decision making.

These stages are often introduced as a series of steps, worked through in a largely linear way but with iteration throughout.


Step 1: Clarify the Decision Context

The first step in good decision making involves defining what question or problem is being addressed and why, identifying who needs to be involved and how, establishing scope and bounds for the decision, and clarifying the roles and responsibilities of the decision team. More

Step 2: Define Objectives and Evaluation Criteria

The core of SDM is a set of well defined objectives and evaluation criteria. Together they define “what matters” about the decision, drives the search for creative alternatives, and becomes the framework for comparing alternatives. More

Step 3: Develop Alternatives

A range of creative policy or management alternatives designed to address the objectives is developed. Alternatives should reflect substantially different approaches to the problem or different priorities across objectives, and should present decision makers with real options and choices. More

Step 4: Estimate Consequences

Step 4 is an analytical exercise in which the performance of each alternative is estimated in terms of the evaluation criteria developed in Step 2. Care must be taken to determine the focal areas of uncertainty and to ensure that these are represented properly in the analysis. More

Step 5: Evaluate Trade-Offs and Select

SDM is not a black box, and group discussion should always play a central role in evaluating preferences for alternatives. However, in many cases, preference assessment techniques (such as swing weighting) may be used to help people understand their preferred alternatives. More

Step 6: Implement and Monitor

The last step in the decision process then is to identify mechanisms for on-going monitoring to ensure accountability with respect to on-ground results, research to improve the information base for future decisions, and a review mechanism so that new information can be incorporated into future decisions. More

Key Ideas

  • These steps provide a framework for decision making
  • The steps are intended to be iterative – for example, feel free to loop backwards to amend objectives in the light of having developed alternatives