We aim to explore the capacity of MCDA methods to successfully capture social impacts and integrate stakeholders’ participation into environmental decision applications. We follow a theoretical framework that deconstructs the concept of social impact into two components: human impacts and social change processes.
We systematically reviewed the literature on MCDA in the Web of Science (ISI) database, finding 119 papers that meet our search criteria. For each paper, we identified the social change processes or human impacts objectives, along with the attributes that measured them. We also recorded the degree of stakeholder participation in each phase of the MCDA stages.
We found that MCDA practitioners have increasingly integrated social concerns in the analysis of environmental problems, estimating the potential impacts, and developing participative procedures for stakeholders. We identified 252 objectives that represent human impacts or social change processes. Constructed attributes were the most commonly employed (56%), although natural (20%) and proxy (24%) attributes were also relevant. Estimating human impacts or social change processes can involve public participation, but is not a requirement for MCDA: 42% of papers (n = 50) include stakeholder engagement in one or more stages of the decision-making process. We found that stakeholders engage differently across case studies, demonstrating that this process is neither simple nor homogenous.
Our review suggests that MCDA methods are appropriate techniques to integrate a wide range of social objectives and stakeholder engagement, supporting well informed and democratic decisions.