Multi-attribute value theory as a framework for conflict resolution in river rehabilitation



Decision making in environmental projects is usually complex because of heterogeneous stakeholder interests, multiple objectives, long planning and implementation processes, and uncertain outcomes. Conflicting stakeholder interests in particular are often an important impediment to the realization and success of projects. Multiple criteria decision analysis (MCDA) methods are potentially useful for facilitating conflict resolution among stakeholder groups. However, some studies that have applied MCDA methods indicate that users are often skeptical about the value of MCDA methods and prefer the freedom of unaided decision making. We examine whether and how multi-attribute value theory (MAVT), a particular kind of MCDA, facilitates conflict resolution in environmental projects. Therefore, the MAVT method is applied to a specific river rehabilitation project in Switzerland (Thur River). The main questions are: (1) Can the MAVT method predict the final preferences of stakeholders and therefore anticipate conflicts at an early stage? (2) Do stakeholders reconsider and change their preferences after using the MAVT method? (3) If they do, does this result in more consensus-oriented decisions? We find that the principal advantage of the method in our case was not the prediction of stakeholders' final preferences, but rather the methods' ability to facilitate more consensus-oriented decisions. The paper discusses possible reasons for this finding and concludes with recommendations for future applications of the MAVT method in environmental decision making. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.