Multi-criteria decision aid as an approach for sustainable development analysis and implementation.

Omann, I. (2004). Ph.D. thesis. University of Graz.

Sustainable development is currently acknowledged as being a possible basis for solving life threatening problems, such as overpopulation, climate change, water scarcity, or loss of biodiversity. These problems occur in complex natural and socio-economic systems, characterised among others by self-organisation, dynamism and irreversibility. Helping these systems move to a sustainable path, i.e. solving the existing problems, requires specific action, e.g. well designed targeted policy measures. The implementation of such measures is in general preceded by various research and decision processes. Owing to the special characteristics of the systems addressed and those of sustainability itself such decision processes face a number of challenges.
Decision support approaches can be a means to meet those challenges. Specific evaluation requirements can be derived in order to examine the appropriateness of such approaches in terms of their supporting the implementation of sustainability. These requirements are developed to capture the nature of complex systems, the principles of sustainable development and the procedure of decision making.
As the aim of the present thesis is to evaluate the potential role of multi-criteria decision aid (MCDA) for decision processes aiming at sustainability, the defined evaluation requirements are used as criteria to test the appropriateness of the MCDA on a theoretical and empirical level. MCDA represents one form of decision aid, which can be very helpful in preparing the decision by revealing the decision context and the possible impacts of specific decisions. Two case studies, one on company level, and the other on the level of public policy making, were carried out as a basis for empirical research. The first case study is a multi-criteria evaluation of product service system concepts generated by Austrian companies. The second presents an MCDA for evaluating car road pricing implementation schemes as policy measures in reducing transport volume and supporting modal shifts in Austrian transport. The results show that MCDA is an appropriate decision support approach, as long as the facilitators applying it, take the following prerequisites into consideration. They have to make sure that (1) emphasis is put on the process and not only on the result, (2) that all relevant dimensions and perspectives of the decision problem are addressed, (3) that the characteristics of complex systems are taken into account, and (4) that both the persons affected and the decision makers are involved in the process. If these pre¬requisites are given, the chance of achieving effective decision processes and arriving at satisfactory solutions for the given problems is very high. However, it has to be noted that multi-criteria decision approaches can never replace the socio-political discussion processes preceding decisions and their implementation.

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