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8/9/2010 Rational-iterative Decision-making

The Decision-making Process


The Goal of the Decision-making Process

The goal of making decisions is to:

Achieve some desired objective(s); and,


Avoid negative, unintended consequences.

Few decisions can provide all of the desired objectives and no unintended consequences. A good decision, however,
provides the most desired objectives with the fewest negative tradeoffs. Historians, psychologists, and management
science specialists have studied and formalized decision-making processes that increase the likelihood of making
good decisions.

The Rational-iterative Decision-making Process

The rational-iterative approach is one such decision-making process that is particularly suitable for management of
forest ecosystems. Repeated iterations of feedback between analysts and decision-makers lead to the development
of an understanding of the tradeoffs among objectives for the decision-makers and an understanding of the explicit
and implicit objectives of the decision-makers for the analysts. The rational-iterative decision-making process requires
a number of explicit steps, although some steps may be combined or further subdivided depending on the specific
situation:

The Steps of the Rational-iterative Decision-making Process:

Step # 1. Identify the roles of different people

Step # 2. Scope the target area

Step # 3. Determine the objectives

Step # 4. Develop measurable criteria to determine how well the objectives are being met

Step # 5. Develop as wide a range of alternatives as possible

Step # 6. Determine how well each alternative meets each objective

Step # 7. Explain the relation of each alternative to each objective to the decision-makers (and possibly stakeholders)

Step # 8. The decision-makers choose an alternative

Step # 9 The chosen alternative is turned over to the forest manager for implementation, monitoring, and feedback

Step # 1. Identify the roles of different people.

Decision-makers are responsible for deciding what objectives should be emphasized where tradeoffs among
values are needed. On private lands, decision-makers are the landowners or their designees. In the case of
public lands, the decision-makers are the appropriate elected officials or their designees.
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Analysts are professionals, scientists, or other specialists who analyze the effect of each alternative
management action on each objective. The analyst's role is advisory and is best performed if the analyst does
not exhibit a preference for certain objectives or alternatives. It is helpful if forest managers work closely with
the analysts, to ensure that the alternatives are operationally feasible.
Stakeholders are those who have an interest in some possible objectives, but do not have a legal ownership
and are not designated as analysts. Stakeholders could include people who purchase or otherwise use the
goods and services provided by the land or adjacent lands.
Process managers are specialists in the decision-making process. They direct the process and ensure that it
is followed correctly; however, they remain indifferent to the outcome or the chosen alternative.
Forest managers are responsible for implementing the chosen alternative. Their input during scoping and other
steps is helpful and their understanding of the nuances of discussions during the decision-making process
helps their management ability.

Each of these groups plays designated roles in the decision-making process. For large scale decisions, different
people or groups of people fill each role. For smaller scale decisions, often a single person or group can assume
several roles. Where a person assumes several roles, it is important that he/she understands the differences in
functions of each role being assumed.

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Step # 2. Scope the target area.

[Process managers, decision-makers, analysts, stakeholders, and forest managers can contribute to this step.]

The area to be managed is studied relative to its area, productivity, species composition, age class distribution,
special features, concerns, and other factors. Scoping is done both by examining existing information about the area
and by visiting the area. The purpose of scoping is to develop an understanding of the system, its inputs and outputs,
the component elements and the interactions among different groups of elements.

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Step # 3. Determine the objectives

[Decision-makers, analysts, stakeholders and forest managers can contribute to this step.]

Values, constraints, and other goals are collectively treated as management objectives--things to achieve (or avoid). A
thorough list of objectives should be developed to make the decision-makers aware of the potential effects of their
decisions. The decision-makers will later have the opportunity to ignore or give extra wieght to any objectives.

Management objectives are derived from many sources:

Specific desires of the landowner such as profitability, cash flow, or an aesthetically appealing landscape;

National laws (e.g., the Endangered Species Act) and state laws (such as Forest Practice Acts) which must be
followed;

Derived objectives are concerns such as fire safety that decision-makers may not be aware of, but could significantly
impact their land. They often become apparent during the scoping process.

International criteria (e.g., Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators) that provide a framework for forest management
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that addresses international issues such as carbon sequestration or biodiversity.

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Step # 4. Develop measurable criteria to determine how well the objectives are being met

[Analysts use their specialized knowledge to develop measurable criteria, and communicate them reiteratively to the
decision-makers and stakeholders.]

Certain measurements are identified as indicating that each objective is being met. These measurable criteria help
ensure that decision-makers, forest managers, analysts, and stakeholders understand the objectives and agree on
when and if each objective is being met. Measurable criteria also aid analysts in examining the consequences of
possible management alternatives.

Several important considerations of measurable criteria are described below:

Time period: Forest management is usually planned over an extended period, such as 50 or 100 years. It is expected
that the forest plan will be revisited and improved with each management cycle (e.g., 5 or 10 years).

Positive terms: Communication of measurable criteria is most effective if objectives are expressed in positive terms,
such that higher values of the measurable criteria indicate a more desirable condition.

Summary values: The measurable criterion for each objective is represented by a summary value for ease of
comparison among management alternatives. Summary values allow decision-makers and stakeholders to begin
developing an understanding of the consequences of different alternatives without being overwhelmed by the
complexities of the analyses. The iterative process allows the analyst to show the more complex numbers leading to
the summary value as they are requested. A summary value can be an average of the values for each management
cycle during the planning period or it can be defined to include nonlinear or threshold conditions.

Normalizing the summary values: Communication of summary values for many objectives is more efficient if the
values for each objective are normalized among alternatives. Normalization would give the highest possible value for
each objective the same number (e.g., 10), and no provision of the value a zero. The value achieved for an alternative
is given a proportional number, not a ranking.

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Step # 5. Develop a wide, creative range of alternatives

[Decision-makers, stakeholders, analysts and forest managers can contribute to this step.]

It is important to obtain as wide a range of alternatives for several reasons:

to determine the compatibility of different objectives;


to give the decision-makers a wide range of alternatives with different tradeoffs;
to seek alternatives that fulfill as many of the objectives as possible, while having the fewest negative
consequences.

Several important considerations should be made when developing the range of alternatives:

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Number of alternatives: A limited number of alternatives (e.g., 10) should be analyzed and presented to the decision-
maker. These alternatives should span as wide a range of management scenarios as possible. (If decision-makers
are interested in an alternative that is intermediate between two or more of those presented, they can request it as
they narrow their preference of alternatives.)

Uncertainty and alternatives: An alternative should not be rejected from consideration because its effects on some
objectives are uncertain, as shall be discussed later.

Standard alternatives: In addition to a creative range of alternatives, several standard alternatives can be presented
and analyzed. These alternatives help "bound" the extremes of management alternatives. Examples include:

a "no action" alternative, in which no active management occurs;


a "continue previous action" alternative, in which the previous management plan (formal or informal) is
continued;
alternatives which maximize single objectives of concerned, single-issue stakeholders (e.g., timber volume, old
growth habitat).

Naming alternatives: Value-neutral names (e.g., Alternative A, Alternative B) should be used. This will help decision-
makers and stakeholders focus on the consequences of the alternatives.

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Step # 6. Determine how well each alternative meets each objective

[The analyst performs this step.]

The relation of each alternative to each objective is displayed with the summary values listed where the question
marks are shown.

Alternative Alternative Alternative Alternative


A B C D
Coarse Filter
? ? ? ?
Biodiversity
Optimum Owl Habitat ? ? ? ?
Suitable Owl Habitat ? ? ? ?
Commodity Fair Share ? ? ? ?
Wind Safety ? ? ? ?
Fire Safety ? ? ? ?
Net Present Value ? ? ? ?
Cash Flow Stability ? ? ? ?
Total Employment ? ? ? ?
Stable Employment ? ? ? ?

The interpretation of how well each alternative meets each objective is judged by specialists--professionals,
scientists, or other people who are learned in various subsystems and have clear conceptions of how the subsystems

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will react when treated with various, alternative inputs. Specialists use tools, such as computer models (e.g., LMS)
and decision keys, and their expert opinion ("mental models") in providing their assessment of the relation of each
action to meeting a given objective. The necessary qualifications of the experts depend on the significance of the
decision being made. For a relatively non-contentious decision, a professional forest manager may serve as the
expert on all objectives--from economics to wildlife to recreation. For more potentially contentious decisions, experts
from a range of disciplines may be required. In all cases, experts are responsible for the quality of their analyses--just
as in any other profession (e.g., medicine, aeronautic engineering , land surveying). They are responsible for choosing
which analysis tools to use and which not to use. Since all analysis tools are imperfect, the expert is responsible for
interpretation of the results and, thus, should know the relative strengths and weaknesses of different analysis tools.
Experts are responsible for appropriately addressing uncertainty in the consequences of each alternative. Because of
the stochastic nature of ecosystems and the variance inherent in the systems approach, no alternative guarantees
certain consequences. The best analysis occurs if the experts maintain their objectivity by remaining disinterested in
the eventual choice of alternatives. Experts are encouraged to seek advice from other experts.

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Step # 7. Explain the relation of each alternative to each objective to the decision-makers (and possibly
stakeholders).

[Analysts are responsible for conducting the explanations, with feedback from the decision-makers (and stakeholders
in the case of some public forests.]

Many, creative, teaching aids can be used to give the decision-makers an understanding of the alternatives and their
consequences. These aids can include:

Matrices
Graphs
Visualization (Stand and Landscape Scale)

The iterative approach allows the decision-makers to request additional or further clarification of objectives,
measurable criteria, alternatives, and analyses. Such additional input, and consequent delay, is minimized if the
analysts keep the decision-makers informed of each of the steps described above.

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Step # 8. Choose an alternative

[The decision-maker is responsible for the choice of an alternative, but may delegate decision-making authority to
stakeholders, analysts or others.]

When the decision-makers are satisfied with the alternatives and analyses, they choose one management alternative
for implementation. It is not possible to choose more than one alternative, and delaying a decision is a temporary
choice of the No Action alternative. The decision-maker is free to choose any alternative; however, the choice of
alternatives reveals the importance the decision-maker places on various objectives. For example, the decision-
makers could not choose Alternative A from the matrix below and claim that biodiversity is their highest priority.

Alternative Alternative Alternative Alternative


A B C D
Coarse Filter
4 6 5 6
Biodiversity
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Optimum Owl Habitat 0 2 1 2
Suitable Owl Habitat 6 6 5 5
Commodity Fair Share 0 8 4 5
Wind Safety 9 7 3 8
Fire Safety 7 9 7 9
Net Present Value 0 2 1 0
Cash Flow Stability 3 9 6 10
Total Employment 0 7 3 5
Stable Employment 0 5 2 0

Similarly, a choice of Alternative C indicates that the decision-makers have objectives that they have not asked the
analysts to consider, because this alternative does not provide the best condition for any objective.

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Step # 9 The chosen alternative is turned over to the forest manager for implementation, monitoring, and
feedback.

[At this time, the forest manager becomes directly responsible to the decision-makers for implementing the chosen
alternative.]

Other aspects of management are applied at this time, including:

Portfolio management
Operations coordination, contract management, etc.
Monitoring and feedback (Continuous Quality Improvement and/or Adaptive Management)

Back to Decision-making Steps

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