, Volume 2, Issue 4, pp 267-279

Informing global environmental policy‐making: A plea for new methods of assessment and synthesis

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Abstract

Practice and research in assessment of global environmental change are dominated by two conventional assessment methods, formal models and expert panels. Models construct a representation of biophysical and socio‐economic components of a policy issue, to project future trends or consequences of interventions. Panels articulate consensus views of policy‐relevant knowledge through deliberations among selected experts. These methods make valuable contributions, but are weak in addressing certain kinds of knowledge needs that are typical of global‐change issues. To address these needs, a set of novel assessment methods is proposed that combine elements of representation and deliberation. These methods, of which policy exercises, simulation‐gaming, and scenario exercises are examples, involve human participants in structured relevant decision and task settings. Relative to models and panels, these methods can more readily incorporate diverse perspectives, can integrate across broader collections of knowledge domains, and can both encourage creative insights and innovations, and provide tests of their relevance and practicality. Risks of bias, and of over‐confident generalization from unique experiences, are effectively mitigated by critical debriefings, and appear no more severe than corresponding risks in conventional assessment methods, or in policy‐makers’ generalizations from historical experience. While serious development and implementation challenges remain, early experience suggests that these methods can offer useful ideas and insights for policy‐making that are not available through other means.