Structured Decision Making for the Resilience Ecosystem: Tools and Training

Jennie Hoffman, Lara Hansen, Ann Baughman, Beth Gibbons, Louise Misztal
Posted on: 11/04/2021 - Updated on: 1/03/2023

Posted by

Jennie Hoffman

Project Summary

This project aimed to raise awareness of how the philosophy, framework, and tools of structured decision-making can help address common challenges in adaptation decision-making. With funding from the Climate Resilience Fund and NOAA, staff from Freshwater Future, the American Society of Adaptation Professionals, EcoAdapt, Sky Islands Alliance, and Adaptation/Insight developed resource materials and piloted two one-day trainings geared towards diverse issues and audiences. All project materials are freely available on CAKE


This project arose in response to needs identified at the 2019 Resilience Ecosystem Workshop, and a subsequent grant opportunity provided by the Climate Resilience Fund and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Many of these needs—how to link science to decision making, how to turn planning into action, how to handle uncertainty, and how to work with conflicting goals and objectives—are exactly the sorts of issues for which structured decision making (SDM) was developed (Keeney, 1982). In combining insights from psychology, economics, and behavioral decision theory, SDM embodies the “deliberation with analysis” approach recommended by the National Research Council for making decisions in light of climate change (NRC, 2009).

The overall goal of this project was to better link the philosophy, framework, and tools of SDM with the resilience ecosystem. We aimed to raise awareness that there are tools and best practices built on decades of decision science theory and practice that can save adaptation practitioners time (no re-inventing the wheel!), increase the robustness of adaptation decision making, and help avoid common pitfalls in decision making.

Each partner in this project brought distinct skills, knowledge, and experience. Jennie Hoffman (Adaptation/Insight) was responsible for providing expertise in structured decision making and decision analytic tools and approaches. Lara Hansen (EcoAdapt) and Beth Gibbons (ASAP) were responsible for sharing their broad and deep knowledge of adaptation practice and practitioners in North America. Ann Baughman (Freshwater Future) and Louise Misztal (Sky Island Alliance) provided connections with local organizations and stakeholders and support for the Flint and Tucson workshop respectively.


This project had two core components:

  1. To develop resource materials
  2. To lead two pilot trainings

Resource materials developed by this project include overviews of SDM and the challenges it can help overcome, case studies illustrating how the framework and tools of decision analysis have been applied to climate-related decision making, and curriculum materials to be used in the pilot trainings.

We purposefully piloted the training in two very different geographies to groups focused on different types of problems. Our first workshop, hosted by Freshwater Future, was in Flint, MI and targeted municipal decision makers and community-based organizations focused on blue-green infrastructure sustainability, and equitability. Our second workshop, hosted by the Sky Islands Alliance, took place in Phoenix, AZ, and targeted a group of people who were already working together on landscape-scale conservation tools and approaches for Madrean watersheds.

At both workshops we provided an overview of structured decision making, then delved more deeply into problem framing, values, tradeoffs, and uncertainty. We introduced participants to consequence tables and a spreadsheet-based tool that can be used to evaluate tradeoffs, to assess the sensitivity of a decision to uncertainties (both values-driven and scientific uncertainties), and to explore the benefit (or lack thereof!) of reducing uncertainty before making the decision in question.

For the case studies, we looked for examples of resilience-related decisions that reflected the SDM approach. We did this by reaching out to relevant communities of practice, searching the literature, and asking individual practitioners for suggestions.

Outcomes and Conclusions

The workshops provided value for participants and insights for the facilitators. The relatively non-technical participants in Flint responded well to the more technical portion of the workshop, including the spreadsheet-based tool, supporting the idea that these tools can be useful across a range of situations.

Outputs of this project include the files linked below:


Hoffman, JR, Hansen, LJ, Baughman, A, Gibbons, B, and Misztal, L. 2020. Structured Decision Making for the Resilience Ecosystem: Tools and Training [resource materials].

Project Contacts