Research Handbooks on Impact Assessment series
Edited by Angus Morrison-Saunders, Jenny Pope and Alan Bond
Chapter 11: Multicriteria analysis for sustainability assessment: concepts and case studies
Essentially, multicriteria analysis (MCA) is a method to support decision making, by exploring the balance between the pros and cons of different alternatives. The comparison of alternatives is based upon a set of explicitly formulated criteria, which represent aspects of the alternatives that need to be taken into account during decision making. The term “alternative” is used here in a general meaning to include all types of options, choices or courses of action to accomplish particular goals (Steinemann, 2001). It can be argued that sustainability assessment – broadly defined as a process that directs decision making towards sustainability (Bond and Morrison-Saunders, 2011, derived from Hacking and Guthrie, 2008) – should always include the consideration and comparison of some forms of alternatives. These alternatives can be related, for example, to “different possible purposes, different locations and design, different general approaches to serving the selected purpose, different locations and designs, different packages of mitigation and enhancement components, and different implementation plans” (Gibson et al., 2005, p. 126). More specifically, MCA assists in framing decision problems, illustrating the performance of the alternatives across all criteria, exploring trade-offs, formulating a decision, and testing its robustness. All this is while considering, on the one hand, the “analytical” performance of the alternatives across all criteria and, on the other hand, the preferences and opinions of the stakeholders involved in the decision-making process.
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