Reports and Papers

Fedra, K. (1995)
Decision support for natural resources management:
Models, GIS and expert systems.
AI Applications, 9/3 (1995) pp 3-19.


Natural resources are not only the basis for economic activities and human welfare, they also make up central components of our natural environment. They are subject to ever increasing demands and exploitation by growing populations and per-capita requirements. Government regulations and international agreements, market mechanisms, cultural traditions and individual preferences affect and control these resources, but rarely do these mechanisms suffice to ensure a sustainable management of resources, and in particular, the commons (Hardin 1968).

Obviously, we are in need of better procedures and tools if programs such as Agenda 21, the Rio Declaration, are to be more than a pious wishlist. Better, more useful, information needs to be made available, and effectively integrated into the otherwise economically and socio-politically determined decision making processes.

Resource management problems usually involve a mixture of natural science and engineering aspects, as well as socio-political and economic elements. While measurable phenomena and causal relationships characterize the former domain, the latter is better characterized by subjective or collective values and judgements, preferences, perceptions and expectations, and plural rationalities rather than a universal, agreed upon yardstick. And in the scientific and engineering domain, assessment also involves forecasting, designing and analyzing WHAT -- IF scenarios, which is an inherently difficult problem in almost any domain (eg., Biswas and Agarwala, 1992; Colombo, 1992, and fraught with usually large uncertainties.

Environmental and resource management problems are complex and multi-disciplinary in nature. They involve the need to forecast future states of complex systems often undergoing structural change, subject to sometimes erratic human intervention. This in turn requires the integration of quantitative science and engineering components with socio-political, regulatory, and economic considerations. Finally, this information has to be directly useful for decision making processes involving a broad range of actors. It seems obvious that no single method can address all these requirements credibly and satisfactorily.

However, methods which are based on modern information technology, and which are also embedded in the necessary institutional structures, offer at least some of the necessary ingredients of effective information and decision support systems. The integration of techniques such as data base management, geographical information systems, simulation and optimization models, expert systems, and interactive, symbolic and graphical user interfaces, animated graphics, hypertext, and multi-media systems, seem to have the necessary power and flexibility to support environmental planning and management in practical applications (Fedra 1991; Fedra 1994).

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