work for the consideration of improvements in environmental decision making as the result of future research in the social and behavioral sciences.
Sound environmental decision making reflects the theory and practice of general principles for good decision making. These include commonsense steps, such as defining the problem correctly or identifying specific objectives that will be used to assess the pros and cons of alternatives, as well as being attentive to the limits of scientific knowledge, recognizing influences of the regulatory and political context, and the like. To a large degree, this same mix of common sense and awareness of constraints would help to define good decision making in other policy areas such as health protection or space exploration or economic development.
In addition, several characteristic aspects of environmental decision making muddy the theory and complicate the application of decision making to environmental problems. One of these is the importance of scientific knowledge to making good decisions. A second is that the needed scientific knowledge encompasses both the natural sciences and the social sciences. It is well known that the quality of communication between these two groups of professionals is often poor. A third characteristic of many environmental decisions is the level of uncertainty and disagreement associated with the science. Finally, environmental decision making often incorporates scientific and expert understanding and analysis within an explicitly deliberative and political context (National Research Council, 1996) in which technical experts work alongside community residents, representatives of local or state governments, and consultants or members of nongovernmental organizations and other interest groups. As a result, there is a need to combine the knowledge of scientists with that of local residents and resource users in ways that are readily understood by diverse groups of stakeholders and to use processes that help these same groups to make good decisions.
In this appendix, we link two primary fields of study, one based in the decision sciences and the other in environmental policy, and draw from a variety of other disciplines, including psychology, economics, political science, and geography. Rather than offering a comprehensive review of these contributions, we identify some key insights and promising areas of research that can be useful for improving decisions made by individuals, groups, and organizations that may affect the natural environment. We emphasize topics that have the potential for improving environmental decisions within the next decade. In each of these topic areas, substantial progress already has been made, but much more can be done.
Environmental decisions include management strategies or levels of funding for activities that either directly affect components of the natural