Scenario-Based Decision Analysis: Integrated scenario planning and structured decision making for resource management under climate change

Brian W. Miller, Mitchell J. Eaton, Amy J. Symstad, Gregor W. Schuurman, Imtiaz Rangwala, William R. Travis
Posted on: 4/12/2024 - Updated on: 4/17/2024

Posted by

CAKE Team

Published

Abstract

Managing resources under climate change is a high-stakes and daunting task, especially because climate change and associated complex biophysical responses engender sustained directional changes as well as abrupt transformations. This environmental non-stationarity challenges assumptions and expectations among scientists, managers, rights holders, and stakeholders. 

These challenges are anything but straightforward – a high degree of uncertainty impedes our ability to predict the environmental trajectory with confidence, and affected resources often span multiple governance jurisdictions or are subject to competing management objectives. Fortunately, tools exist to help grapple with such challenges. 

Two commonly used tools are scenario planning (SP) and structured decision making (SDM). SP is a well-established approach for assessing system response and facilitating decision making under a wide range of conditions that are uncertain and uncontrollable, such as those associated with adapting to climate change. However, SP lacks a defined structure for establishing objectives, quantifying tradeoffs, and evaluating the performance of candidate decisions to meet those objectives. 

SDM, on the other hand, is rooted in decision theory and focuses on explicit (often quantitative) assessment of the expected outcomes of choosing among a set of decision alternatives. SDM has been criticized for an inability to account for surprises and for imposing an overly narrow framing of problems to increase tractability. 

We discuss the strengths and limitations of SDM and SP as experienced through their application in various resource-management contexts, and then propose a new generalized framework – Scenario-Based Decision Analysis (SBDA) – that integrates these complementary approaches. SBDA structures resource management problems and solutions while considering uncertainties and surprises to inform resource management decision making.

Citation

Miller, B.W., Eaton, M.J., Symstad, A.J., Schuurman, G.W., Rangwala, I., Travis, W.R. (2023). Scenario-Based Decision Analysis: Integrated scenario planning and structured decision making for resource management under climate change. Biological Conservation, 286: 110275.

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