In this step the estimated consequences of the alternatives developed in Step 3 are presented in terms of the objectives and evaluation criteria developed in Step 2.
This step is primarily an analytical task, involving the assignment of consequences, NOT the assessment of value-based judgments about the relative importance of those consequences or the identification of a preferred alternative. This step is usually undertaken by scientists, economists and specialists in traditional ecological knowledge.
“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future” – Yogi Berra.
This step involves estimating the consequences of the alternatives with respect to the evaluation criteria using available knowledge and predictive tools. The assignment of consequences is an analytical task, conducted by technical experts with, in some cases, input from stakeholders in the form of selecting the experts and defining their terms of reference.
There are, in a social and ecological context, inevitably more uncertainties than budgets and timelines can address. One of the key challenges involves identifying which uncertainties are critical to decision making, prioritizing and scoping studies accordingly, and ensuring an honest exploration of key risk factors.
An important principle for ensuring decision quality and for managing project timelines and budgets is a commitment to decision focused information. Data collection and analysis resources should be allocated across the evaluation criteria in proportion to the extent to which they are expected to contribute useful information for decision making. Expert judgment must be considered as a means of filling data gaps, but must, like modeling and data collection, be performed according to accepted standards, incorporating best practices related to expert selection, elicitation protocols, bias avoidance, treatment of uncertainty, documentation and peer review.
Proposed studies should be scoped to deliver information directly relevant to the decision process; in most cases this will be by improving the estimates of impacts with respect to stated objectives and evaluation criteria, or in some cases, by identifying which criteria are most relevant. Models must be designed as decision aids, not as complex mechanistic models of ecological or economic processes – the latter may have benefits in terms of an overall management and/or research plan, but it should not be assumed that such models will be useful for decision making. From a project management perspective, this focus will improve both the relevance and efficiency of information gathering and help to manage scope creep.
Ultimately, objectives, evaluation criteria and alternatives are linked in a consequence table. A consequence table is a kind of “table of contents” that concisely summarizes estimates of the predicted consequences of the alternatives, relative to the objectives and criteria. It exposes key trade-offs among objectives across the alternatives under consideration.
- Step 4 is an analytical exercise in which the performance of each alternative is estimate in terms of the evaluation criteria
- Estimating the consequences of alternatives in terms of the evaluation criteria is primarily an analytical task
- Ideally, a group should agree that the consequences are being represented fairly BEFORE considering which of the alternatives are preferred by whom
- A Consequence Table is of central importance to SDM, since it illustrates the estimated consequences of various alternatives on the objectives of participants