Management alternatives represent different ways of achieving the set of objectives, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Having a wide range of options to choose from increases the chances of finding an approach that is broadly suitable.
The first step in developing alternatives is to identify or devise actions well suited to achieving individual objectives, without regard to trade-offs with other objectives. Doing this fosters creativity and breaks us free from preconceived solutions. To keep the process manageable, the boundaries established by the decision frame should be respected. It is also appropriate to screen out activities that are clearly unworkable because of legal constraints, technical infeasibility, or prohibitive cost.
Screening should be done cautiously. It is not always obvious what might work and what might not. Sometimes, finding an effective approach entails pushing back or working around existing rules and other constraints. On the other hand, wasting time exploring dead ends is inefficient. Moreover, there are practical limits to how many management alternatives can be explored within a given planning initiative. Ultimately, a balance must be achieved.
To enable comparisons, the alternatives must have the same spatial and temporal scope, and they must incorporate all objectives. For example, if we want to explore wolf control as a caribou management technique, we still need to specify how forestry will be conducted. Failing to do so would leave an empty cell in the consequence table, disrupting our ability to make comparisons.
Some planning initiatives, especially those related to resource development, may involve activities that unfold over time. In these cases, management alternatives take the form of scenarios that describe the trajectory of development (Francis and Hamm 2011).
The selected management alternatives should be logical, practical, and structured to expose fundamental trade-offs. A useful approach is to develop alternatives around themes, some of which emphasize certain objectives over others, and others that represent creative, balanced approaches. It is also useful to have an alternative that is based on current practices, to provide a common point of reference.
For objectives related to conservation, an effort should be made to identify preventative measures that support resiliency and address root causes, rather than focusing solely on reactive measures and immediate threats (Seidl 2014).
Once preliminary alternatives have been developed, they normally undergo iterative refinement based on insights from the assessment stage. This refinement process presents an opportunity for creative thought. It may be possible, for example, to find workable fixes for weaknesses that are identified in otherwise promising alternatives. Or, the best aspects from different alternatives might be combined into a hybrid approach. At the same time, alternatives that are demonstrably inferior to other options can be weeded out. The aim is to end up with three to five promising alternatives that can be advanced to the final decision-making stage.