Success Matters

Recasting the Relationship Among Geophysical, Biological, and Behavioral Scientists to Support Decision Making on Major Environmental Challenges

Published in: Water Resources Research, v. 42, no. 3, Mar. 2006, p. W03S09 1-2

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2006

by Debra Knopman

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Coping with global change, providing clean water for growing populations, and disposing of nuclear waste are some of the most difficult public policy challenges of our time. Unknowns in the physical sciences are one source of the difficulty. Real difficulties in meeting these challenges also arise in the behavioral sciences. A potentially rich vein of transdiciplinary research is to integrate the psychology of decision making, known as judgment and decision making, of JDM, with the development of technical information and decision support tools for complex, long-term environmental problems. Practitioners of JDM conduct research on how individuals and groups respond to uncertainty and ambiguity, hedge against risks, anchor decisions to the status quo, compare relative risks and rewards of alternative strategies, and cope with other classes of decisions. Practitioners use a variety of stimuli, chance devices, hypothetical and real choices involving small stakes, scenarios, and questionnaires to measure (directly and indirectly) preferences under varying conditions. These kinds of experiments can help guide choices about the level of complexity required for different types of decision-making processes, the outcomes can be cast to minimize decision-making paralysis. They can also provide a scientific basis for interacting with decision makers throughout the model development process, designing better ways of eliciting and combining opinions and of communicating information relevant to public policy issues with the goal of improving the value of the scientific contribution to the social decision.

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