Robert Proudfoot recently completed a four-month, online environmental course with the University of Connecticut called "Decision Methods in Natural Resources and the Environment". This course provided an introduction to Structured Decision Making, a practical guide to Environmental Management Choices. Structured decision making (SDM) is an organized, inclusive and transparent approach to understanding complex problems and generating and evaluating creative alternatives to address these problems.
SDM can provide a sensible decision-making process for addressing such complex environmental problems as competing water uses; air quality; climate change; species at risk; pest outbreaks; cumulative effects; wildfire risks; parks and recreation management; timber, fish and wildlife harvesting; oil and gas development; mining; water supply options; or infrastructure investments--even when there are multi-dimensional choices to be made when there is uncertain science, diverse stakeholders or difficult trade-offs to be considered.
The process combines participants' values and scientific knowledge; it levels the playing field and allows traditional knowledge to be utilized in collaboration with science and community needs. The SDM process requires the various stakeholders and decision makers to plan and learn together before the decision is made, following an iterative process where the working group defines context for the decision, objectives and performance measures to identify and evaluate potential alternatives, expected consequences of implementing each alternative and how these affect management choices, and key trade-offs to be considered among the consequences. Management actions can also be revised through monitoring and review after the decision is made; what is learned before and after the decision is utilized to make or even improve the program implemented through the decision made.
SDM is a valuable tool for persons or groups involved in making important decisions, particularly concerning how we will share and thrive in our environment.