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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Decision Making with Environmental Indices

Authors
item Hoag, Dana - COLORADO STATE UNIVERSITY
item Ascough, James
item Keske-Handley, Catherine - COLORADO STATE UNIVERSITY
item Koontz, Lynne - USGS BIO RES DIV

Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: February 1, 2005
Publication Date: June 1, 2005
Citation: Hoag, D.L., Ascough Ii, J.C., Keske-Handley, C.G., Koontz, L.R. 2005. Decision making with environmental indices. Book Chapter. In: Burk, A.R. (Ed), New Trends in Ecology Research. Nova Science Publishers, Hauppauge, NY. Chapter 7, pg. 159-182. 2005.

Interpretive Summary: In the past 25 years, the use of indices has expanded into several natural resource disciplines including ecological studies, environmental policymaking, and agricultural economics. However, despite their increasing use in natural resource disciplines, researchers and public decision makers continue to express concern about validity of indices to capture and communicate multidimensional, and sometimes disparate, characteristics of research data and stakeholder interests. Our purpose is to demonstrate how useful indices can be for communicating environmental information to decision makers. We discuss how environmental indices have evolved over four stages: 1) simple; 2) compound; 3) the impact matrix; and 4) disparate stakeholder management. We provide examples of simple and compound indices that have been used by policy decision makers. We then build an Impact Matrix (IM) framework that comprehensively accounts for multiple indices. The IM was shaped from the concept of a financial risk payoff matrix and applied to ecosystem risk. While the IM offers flexibility, it does not address stakeholder preferences about which index to use. Therefore, the last phase in our evolutionary ladder includes stakeholder indices to specifically address disparate stakeholder preferences. Finally, we assert that an environmental index has the potential to increase resource efficiency, since the number of decision making resources may be reduced and therefore improve upon resource productivity.

Technical Abstract: Since Ott's seminal book on environmental indices (1978), the use of indices has expanded into several natural resource disciplines, including ecological studies, environmental policymaking, and agricultural economics. However, despite their increasing use in natural resource disciplines, researchers and public decision makers continue to express concern about validity of these instruments to capture and communicate multidimensional, and sometimes disparate, characteristics of research data and stakeholder interests. Our purpose is to demonstrate how useful indices can be for communicating environmental information to decision makers. We discuss how environmental indices have evolved over four stages: 1) simple; 2) compound multicriteria; 3) the impact matrix and 4) disparate stakeholder management. We provide examples of simple and compound indices that were used by policy decision makers. We then build a framework, called an Impact Matrix (IM), that comprehensively accounts for multiple indices but lets the user decide how to integrate them. The IM was shaped from the concept of a financial risk payoff matrix and applied to ecosystem risk. While the IM offers flexibility, it does not address stakeholder preferences about which index to use. Therefore, the last phase in our evolutionary ladder includes stakeholder indices to specifically address disparate stakeholder preferences. Finally, we assert that an environmental index has the potential to increase resource efficiency, since the number of decision making resources may be reduced, and hence improve upon resource productivity.

Last Modified: 9/20/2014
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