Decision Framing

Structured decision making begins by establishing a decision frame that defines what the decision is about and sets bounds on what will be considered. The main elements of the decision frame are (1) the context and purpose of the plan, (2) its scope, and (3) the process by which decisions are made.

A plan’s context and purpose constitute its foundational elements. This is where the motivation for the plan and its role in the broader decision-making hierarchy are defined. In most cases, there is some form of problem to be resolved or a desired outcome to be achieved. This is often predetermined by a higher authority.

A plan’s scope describes the range of objectives and management options under consideration. It also defines the planning area and time horizon. The intent is to establish boundaries to keep the planning process focused and manageable. There is a limit to how much complexity can be accommodated before the process bogs down. High-level plans with a broad scope must generally sacrifice detail to remain tractable. Refinement of the scope may occur in later stages of planning, as the problem becomes better understood; however, the process should not be allowed to drift.

The scope should reflect the planning agency’s mandate, its capacity for planning (including time, funding, and expertise), and the extent of its authority. Other constraints, including existing laws and policies, also need to be respected. If the planning agency cannot ensure that the management options under consideration can be implemented, then either the planning agency or the scope should be changed. Regional planning presents the greatest challenge because, as we saw in Chapter 7, management authority at the regional scale is fragmented among sectors and jurisdictions.

The decision frame also describes how decisions will be made. The main questions are: Who will be involved? How will they be involved? And, how will control over decision making be exercised? Operational planning can often be handled internally, within the planning team. But as the scope of planning broadens, there is an increased need for social input and interdisciplinary technical expertise (Fig. 10.3). External voices bring new facts, ideas, and perspectives to the table, resulting in more informed decisions and a greater likelihood of successful implementation (Gray et al. 2012).

Diagram of decision hierarchy 1. Small planning teams rely primarily on internal expertise. This approach is common for operational planning within a narrow well-defined scope (e.g., the restoration of a selected wetland site).
2. Large planning teams may conduct planning internally but often obtain advice from external experts and periodically solicit feedback from stakeholders. An example is the development of a species recovery strategy.
3. Complex planning systems may include a core planning team, a stakeholder advisory committee, and one or more technical committees that operate in concert. Insight into public opinion may be obtained through outreach efforts. Recommendations from the planning team are passed on to elected officials who make the final decision. This type of planning is common with high-level decision making, such as regional planning.
Fig. 10.3. Planning systems exist along a gradient of increasing scope and complexity. This diagram illustrates three common forms, arranged in order of complexity. Many variants of these systems exist in practice.

Obtaining Social Input

There are two main approaches for obtaining social input. One is to collect input through surveys and requests for public feedback on draft plans. The benefits of this approach are that it provides broad insight into public values and preferences and it is relatively straightforward to administer. The main shortcoming is that the responses tend to be superficial and are contingent on context. The answers depend on how the questions are framed and how much the respondents know about the issue.

Another option for obtaining social input is to work directly with stakeholders. Stakeholders present distinct perspectives and are generally motivated and knowledgeable about the issues. In addition, they often have a central role in implementation and can provide insight into the pros and cons of management alternatives and their consequences.

Integrating stakeholders into the planning process allows for structured dialog among competing interests. This can be an effective way of finding broadly acceptable solutions to social trade-offs. However, it can be challenging to ensure that the full spectrum of societal values and priorities are represented, especially values related to biodiversity. Stakeholder groups provide depth at the expense of breadth. Incorporating stakeholders also makes the planning process more complex, time-consuming, and costly (Gray et al. 2012).

It is, of course, possible to do both: solicit broad public input and work with stakeholder committees. As a rule, the amount of input needed is a function of the scope of planning (Fig. 10.3). In practice, cost and capacity constraints limit what can be accomplished.

Two forms of stakeholder engagement are most common. In the first, a stakeholder advisory committee provides ongoing advice to the planning team but is not involved in the actual crafting of the plan. In the other approach, stake-holders are integrated into the planning team, and the plan that is developed is forwarded as a set of recommendations to a higher level of authority for final decision making.

Indigenous people merit special mention because they cannot be treated as typical stakeholders. When planning involves traditional lands, consultation with affected Indigenous communities is legally required, and certain standards must be met (SCC 2017a). In northern areas, land claim agreements provide additional rights (Wyatt et al. 2013). Some areas now feature co-management programs.

Good facilitation and clear expectations are critical to productive stakeholder engagement. The dialog must be kept on track and focused while still ensuring that all concerns are addressed. The aim is to build a common understanding of value sets and priorities through group learning, and then to channel this into effective problem solving. Case Study 5 provides a useful example.

In most cases, the government will retain control over the final decision because it is ultimately accountable for decisions concerning public lands. Moreover, there is a need to balance the interests of stakeholders, which tend to be locally focused, with broad societal values and priorities. In government-led planning, the line of accountability runs from the responsible minister down through line departments and on to individual planning teams. The specific level where the final decision will be made should be identified as part of the decision-framing process.


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