Application of multiple criteria decision analysis in the New Zealand agricultural industry

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Abstract

Agricultural decisions typically involve multiple criteria, some of which are subjective. Business, environmental, and lifestyle criteria are all important criteria in these decisions. These criteria can be difficult to trade-off using traditional methods. Multiple criteria decision analysis (MCDA) provides a formal, quantitative means of evaluating agricultural decisions taking all these factors into account. MCDA for agricultural decisions was evaluated using three applied case studies (use of new processing technology, selection of beef policies, and selection of farm systems in an environmentally sensitive catchment). The case studies all differed in their problem types and decision-maker requirements. A multi-attribute value theory approach was used for all the cases. This approach was selected using a descriptive framework which took the method limitations, problem attributes, and decision-maker requirements into account. The differences between the case studies, the application and the implementation of MCDA, the overall success of the process, and the potential use of MCDA in agriculture going forward are discussed. While MCDA was used to help identify the best decision, the main benefits that the decision makers identified included: learning about the decision, a better understanding of their own and others' perspectives, a structured way to work through the decision, a means to explain the decision, and stimulation of discussion and sharing of ideas. These benefits were particularly important for the group decisions. Participants were not overly concerned with the ranking accuracy. Problems in implementation included an initial lack of commitment to the process, understanding of the process and decision, and ownership of the decision. The limited time decision makers had available contributed to this. The majority of the decision makers liked the MCDA process for these strategic decisions. The quantitative approach and the graphic presentation appealed to them. Hence, simple MCDA approaches may be as effective as more complex ones, and can deliver many of the benefits particularly where the time is limited. There has been interest in the use of MCDA going forward. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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