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 management is an inherently and increasingly complex task. To provide formal yet practical decision support requires a new approach, that supports a more open and participatory decision making process. A new paradigm of man-machine systems is needed where the emphasis is no longer on finding an optimal solution to a well defined problem, but rather to support the various phases of the problem definition and solving process.

Problem owners and various actors in the decision making process have a central role; supporting their respective tasks requires man-machine interfaces that are easy to use and easy to understand. An effective decision support system must first of all provide a common, shared information basis, framework and language for dialogue and negotiation. The dialogue between the actors in the decision making process is extended to a dialogue with the DSS, which plays the role of a technical expert and bookkeeper rather than an arbiter.

This requires that information provided is adequate for and acceptable to a broad range of users involved in the respective assessment and decision making processes, including analysts, technical managers, regulators and policy makers, as well as the affected citizen, interest groups and the general public.

An information system that can cater to all these needs must be based on more than good science and solid engineering. It requires a number of special features as well as an approach that takes psychological and institutional aspects as well as scientific and technical ones into account.

From a technical point of view, many of the basic tools are available, the underlying concepts well developed. And new technologies such as wide area networks and their promise of easy access to potentially large volumes of information are rapidly becoming available. Of course, many problems such as the availability and quality of data, remain and will always remain, since new and emerging problems will always require new data. Uncertainty of data and models and the limits of predictability are inherent in the study of natural systems, and decision support systems must address and communicate this uncertainty to make it a useful component of decision making strategy rather than a problem.

The need for better tools to handle ever more critical environmental and resource management problems is obvious, and the rapidly developing field of information technology can provide the necessary machinery. The integration of models and geographic information systems, expert systems, and interactive graphics, generating a virtual reality version of the decision problem, is a promising and challenging development in environmental systems analysis, strategic decision support, and applied informatics. The biggest challenge, however, seems to be the integration of new information technologies and more or less mature formal methods of analysis into institutional structures and societal processes, that is, putting these tools to work in practice.

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