Combining Quantitative and Qualitative Measures of Uncertainty in Model-Based Environmental Assessment: The NUSAP System


Address correspondence to Jeroen P. van der Sluijs, Copernicus Institute, Utrecht University, Heidelberglaan 2, 3584 CS Utrecht, The Netherlands;


This article discusses recent experiences with the Numeral Unit Spread Assessment Pedigree (NUSAP) system for multidimensional uncertainty assessment, based on four case studies that vary in complexity. We show that the NUSAP method is applicable not only to relatively simple calculation schemes but also to complex models in a meaningful way and that NUSAP is useful to assess not only parameter uncertainty but also (model) assumptions. A diagnostic diagram can be used to synthesize results of quantitative analysis of parameter sensitivity and qualitative review (pedigree analysis) of parameter strength. It provides an analytic tool to prioritize uncertainties according to quantitative and qualitative insights in the limitations of available knowledge. We show that extension of the pedigree scheme to include societal dimensions of uncertainty, such as problem framing and value-laden assumptions, further promotes reflexivity and collective learning. When used in a deliberative setting, NUSAP pedigree assessment has the potential to foster a deeper social debate and a negotiated management of complex environmental problems.