Structured Decision Making (SDM)

What is Structured Decision Making (SDM)?

“A formalization of common sense for decision problems which are too complex for informal use of common sense” (Ralph Keeney 1982).

SDM is a method for analyzing a decision by breaking it into components. It helps identify where the impediments are, focusing efforts on the right pieces and providing an array of analytical tools for dealing with the impediments.

Two key elements:

  • Problem decomposition: breaks the problem into components, separating science and policy
  • Values-focused: objectives are discussed first, in contrast to intuitive decision-making which usually skips to alternatives

Benefits of SDM are decision processes that are:

  • Deliberative, thorough, robust to uncertainty (more likely to achieve the objectives)
  • Transparent, explicit, able to be documented, replicable (more likely to be accepted by others)
PrOACT Figure Credit: Jean Cochrane

Structured Decision Making in the USFWS

Structured decision making has been applied in all branches of the Service to various degrees over the past twenty years. Endangered species applications have included structured assessment of extinction risks for listing decisions, as well as identification of optimal recovery actions. The National Wildlife Refuges have been working with USGS through the Refuge Cooperative Research Program to develop application of structured decision making and adaptive management on refuges. In addition, the Comprehensive Conservation Planning (CCP) and Habitat Management Planning (HMP) processes are designed as structured decision processes. In the Migratory Bird Program, structured decision making is deeply embedded in many of the regulatory decisions, especially for waterfowl harvest.

About the Structured Decision Making Curriculum

NCTC and the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center have led development of a curriculum to build capacity in structured decision making within DOI. This includes both instructor-led courses and hands-on experiential workshops that address real decision problems. Offerings range from a 2-day overview class to advanced training in developing expertise as a decision analyst.  We also have a mentoring program designed to build core competencies in the delivery of SDM and provide experiential opportunities for in-depth training in applying decision analytic methods. program.

What is Adaptive Resource Management (ARM)?

Adaptive resource management is a special case of SDM, for decisions that recur and for which uncertainty is an impediment. ARM recognizes that in some cases, it is rational to pursue knowledge in the short-term to better manage the resource in the long term.

The questions below provide the criteria for using an ARM approach:

  • Is the decision recurrent?
  • Do we need to learn? Is there structural uncertainty that matters in terms of management decisions?
  • Can we learn? Can a monitoring be implemented that provides information to discriminate among alternative hypotheses or models?
  • Can we adapt? Is there an ability to change the management strategy in response to what is learned?