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Decision Making for the Environment: Social and Behavioral Science Research Priorities
the importance and value of finding more competent and legitimate ways to organize the processes that lead to public policy decisions affecting environmental quality. Moreover, the increasingly widespread practice among federal agencies and other governmental and nongovernmental entities of opening environmental decision-making processes to a range of stakeholders and potentially affected parties has raised the stakes for managing decision-making processes well. A decision science approach can increase the likelihood of success with such processes.
Likelihood of use. The increasingly widespread use in government of participatory processes requiring both analysis and broadly based deliberation indicates the potential demand for scientifically informed guidance on how to make decision processes work better. Despite the public commitments of various government agencies to openness, however, significant barriers remain to the use of results from the recommended scientific research on decision-making processes. These include commitment to standard procedures or past practices, perceptions of statutory constraints, and a shortage of organizational capability to conform to principles of sound process design (National Research Council, 1996). Key decision makers may not recognize that it is possible to put the design of decision processes on a scientific footing. Perhaps the most serious barrier to use of the results of the recommended research lies in the potential unwillingness of some decision makers to delegate responsibility for the design of decision processes or to involve a full range of affected parties in decision making in a serious way for fear that the ultimate decision might not fit their preconceived ideas or serve interests they wish to promote.
Despite such potential barriers, many environmental agencies clearly have backed their stated commitments to better and more open decision processes with significant investments of time, money, and institutional reputation, for example, in seeking out and responding to the input of a variety of stakeholders in these processes. Some have also shown serious interest in designing these processes with the help of sound knowledge. Such agencies are likely to take research results seriously if researchers are given incentives to disseminate their findings and if good lines of communication are established between researchers and practitioners. To make best use of research results, decision-making organizations should create internal incentives and assign responsibility within the organization for incorporating the best science into the deliberative part of decision making, and not only the analytical part. To the extent that these efforts are successful in some public-sector organizations, they are likely to diffuse to others over time.