Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 1173–1184 | Cite as

Increasing the effectiveness of environmental decision support systems: lessons from climate change adaptation projects in Canada and Australia

  • Dana Reiter
  • Wayne Meyer
  • Lael Parrott
  • Douglas Baker
  • Peter Grace
Original Article


There is a need to increase regional and community level action towards adaptation to climate change. Natural resource managers and planners have to make challenging decisions within the complex and uncertain arena of climate change. Environmental decision support systems (EDSS) have been developed to assist stakeholders in effective decision making for the management of complex natural resource problems. EDSS which combine community engagement in developing future scenarios with computer-based land use planning and modeling tools are used internationally and reported to be effective. Yet, they are often not used after the research and development phase. To gain an understanding of the effectiveness of these tools, we interviewed the end users of an EDSS used in a climate change adaptation project in Canada and another in Australia. The end users of the tool are key informants, yet their perspective is lacking in the sustainability science literature. The findings show that neither EDSS was used after the projects ended. However, the majority of the end users in both projects valued the EDSS, confirming that the tools resulted in direct adaptation activities and influenced the thinking and work habits of the end users of the EDSS. We report on lessons learned from the two case studies and make recommendations regarding the processes and structures required to increase the effectiveness of the EDSS, its long-term use, and the legacy of learning that is embodied within it.


Champion Climate change adaptation Community engagement End user Environmental decision support system 



The authors would like to thank all those who participated in the interviews for sharing their experiences with us so generously.

Compliance with ethical standards

Human Research Ethics approval was granted prior to the interview process by the Queensland University of Technology University Human Research Ethics Committee (approval number 1500001155).

Supplementary material

10113_2017_1255_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (241 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 240 kb)
10113_2017_1255_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (300 kb)
ESM 2 (PDF 300 kb)
10113_2017_1255_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (297 kb)
ESM 3 (PDF 297 kb)


  1. Beach DM, Clark DA (2015) Scenario planning during rapid ecological change: lessons and perspectives from workshops with southwest Yukon wildlife managers. Ecol Soc 20(1):61. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Betsill M, Bulkeley H (2007) Looking back and thinking ahead: a decade of cities and climate change research. Local Environ 12(5):447–456. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bizikova L (2009) Challenges and lessons learned from integrated landscape management (ILM) projects: International Institute for Sustainable DevelopmentGoogle Scholar
  4. Bizikova L, Hatcher BG (2010) Scenario-based planning for a changing climate in the Bras d’Or ecosystem January 28 & 29, 2010 Cape Breton University. International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)Google Scholar
  5. Bohnet IC, Roebeling PC, Williams KJ, Holzworth D, van Grieken ME, Pert PL, …, Brodie J (2011) Landscapes toolkit: an integrated modelling framework to assist stakeholders in exploring options for sustainable landscape development. Landsc Ecol 26(8):1179–1198. doi:
  6. Bowron B, Davidson G (2012) Climate change planning: case studies from Canadian communities. The Davidson Group, VancouverGoogle Scholar
  7. Burck J, Marten F, Bals C (2015) The climate change performance index: results 2015: GermanwatchGoogle Scholar
  8. Burck J, Marten F, Bals C (2016) The Climate Change Performance Index: results 2016. Retrieved from
  9. Cairns G, Ahmed I, Mullett J, Wright G (2013) Scenario method and stakeholder engagement: critical reflections on a climate change scenarios case study. Technol Forecast Soc Chang 80(1):1–10. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Campbell CA, Lefroy EC, Caddy-Retalic, S, Bax, N., Doherty PJ, Douglas MM, …, West J (2015) Designing environmental research for impact. Sci Total Environ 534:1–10. doi:,
  11. Cohen S, Neilsen D, Smith S, Neale T, Taylor B, Barton M, …, Langsdale S (2006) Learning with local help: expanding the dialogue on climate change and water management in the Okanagan Region, British Columbia, Canada. Clim Chang, 75(3):331–358. doi:
  12. Dahl AL (2012) Achievements and gaps in indicators for sustainability. Ecol Indic 17:14–19. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dilling L, Lemos MC (2011) Creating usable science: opportunities and constraints for climate knowledge use and their implications for science policy. Glob Environ Chang 21(2):680–689. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Ernst KM, van Riemsdijk M (2013) Climate change scenario planning in Alaska’s national parks: stakeholder involvement in the decision-making process. Appl Geogr 45:22–28. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Koontz TM (2005) We finished the plan, so now what? Impacts of collaborative stakeholder participation on land use policy. Policy Stud J 33(3):459–481. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lemos MC, Kirchhoff CJ, Ramprasad V (2012) Narrowing the climate information usability gap. Nat Clim Chang 2(11):789–794. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Levin K, Cashore B, Bernstein S, Auld G (2012) Overcoming the tragedy of super wicked problems: constraining our future selves to ameliorate global climate change. Policy Sci 45(2):123–152. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Liepa I (2009) Adapting to climate change in Kimberley, BC: report and recommendations, June 2009. Columbia Basin Trust. Retrieved from
  19. Matthies M, Giupponi C, Ostendorf B (2007) Environmental decision support systems: current issues, methods and tools. Environ Model Softw 22(2):123–127. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. McIntosh BS, Ascough JC, Twery M, Chew J, Elmahdi A, Haase D, …, Voinov A (2011) Environmental decision support systems (EDSS) development—challenges and best practices. Environ Model Softw, 26(12):1389–1402. doi:
  21. Measham TG, Preston BL, Smith TF, Brooke C, Gorddard R, Withycombe G, Morrison C (2011) Adapting to climate change through local municipal planning: barriers and challenges. Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Chang 16(8):889–909. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Meinke H, Howden SM, Struik PC, Nelson R, Rodriguez D, Chapman SC (2009) Adaptation science for agriculture and natural resource management—urgency and theoretical basis. Curr Opin Environ Sustain 1(1):69–76. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Meyer W, Bryan B, Lyle G, McLean J, Moon T, Siebentritt M, …, Wells S (2013) Adapted future landscapes—from aspiration to implementation. National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, Gold CoastGoogle Scholar
  24. Meyer WS, Bryan BA, Summers DM, Lyle G, Wells S, McLean J, Siebentritt M (2015) Regional engagement and spatial modelling for natural resource management planning. Sustain Sci 11(5):733–747. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Miller TR (2012) Constructing sustainability science: emerging perspectives and research trajectories. Sustain Sci 8(2):279–293. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Miller TR, Wiek A, Sarewitz D, Robinson J, Olsson L, Kriebel D, Loorbach D (2014) The future of sustainability science: a solutions-oriented research agenda. Sustain Sci 9(2):239–246. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Moretti C, Siebentritt M, Spoehr J (2009) Learning from the implementation of South Australia’s climate change adaptation planning framework: Department of Environment, Water and Natural ResourcesGoogle Scholar
  28. Mukheibir P, Kuruppu N, Gero A, Herriman J (2013) Overcoming cross-scale challenges to climate change adaptation for local government: a focus on Australia. Clim Chang 121(2):271–283. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Palacios-Agundez I, Casado-Arzuaga I, Madariaga I, Onaindia M (2013) The relevance of local participatory scenario planning for ecosystem management policies in the Basque Country, Northern Spain. Ecol Soc 18(3):7. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Pert PL, Hill R, Williams KJ, Harding K, O'Malley T, Grace RA, …, Butler JRLA (2010) Scenarios for community-based approaches to biodiversity conservation: a case study from the Wet Tropics, Queensland, Australia. Aust Geogr 41(3):285–306. doi:
  31. Pettit CJ, Raymond CM, Bryan BA, Lewis H (2011) Identifying strengths and weaknesses of landscape visualisation for effective communication of future alternatives. Landsc Urban Plan 100(3):231–241. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pond E, Schroth O, Sheppard SRJ (2009) CALP visioning and visualizations: Kimberley climate adaptation project. Collaborative for Advanced Landscape Planning, University of British Columbia, VancouverGoogle Scholar
  33. Reed MS (2008) Stakeholder participation for environmental management: a literature review. Biol Conserv 141(10):2417–2431. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Reed MS, Kenter J, Bonn A, Broad K, Burt TP, Fazey IR, …, Ravera F (2013) Participatory scenario development for environmental management: a methodological framework illustrated with experience from the UK uplands. J Environ Manag 128:345–362. doi:
  35. Rizzoli AE, Young WJ (1997) Delivering environmental decision support systems: software tools and techniques. Environ Model Softw 12(2–3):237–249. Retrieved from. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Robinson J, Burch S, Talwar S, O’Shea M, Walsh M (2011) Envisioning sustainability: recent progress in the use of participatory backcasting approaches for sustainability research. Technol Forecast Soc Chang 78(5):756–768. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Roux DJ, Stirzaker RJ, Breen CM, Lefroy EC, Cresswell HP (2010) Framework for participative reflection on the accomplishment of transdisciplinary research programs. Environ Sci Pol 13(8):733–741. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Salter JD, Campbell C, Journeay M, Sheppard SR (2009) The digital workshop: exploring the use of interactive and immersive visualisation tools in participatory planning. J Environ Manag 90(6):2090–2101. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Schroth O, Pond E, Muir-Owen S, Campbell C, Sheppard SRJ (2009) Tools for the understanding of spatio-temporal climate scenarios in local planning: Kimberley (BC) case study. Swiss National Sciences Foundation, ZurichGoogle Scholar
  40. Schroth O, Pond E, Sheppard SRJ (2015) Evaluating presentation formats of local climate change in community planning with regard to process and outcomes. Landsc Urban Plan 142:147–158. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Sheppard SRJ, Shaw A, Flanders D, Burch S, Wiek A, Carmichael J, …, Cohen S (2011) Future visioning of local climate change: a framework for community engagement and planning with scenarios and visualisation. Futures 43(4):400–412. doi:
  42. Talwar S, Wiek A, Robinson J (2011) User engagement in sustainability research. Sci Public Policy 38(5):379–390. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Tompkins EL, Few R, Brown K (2008) Scenario-based stakeholder engagement: incorporating stakeholders preferences into coastal planning for climate change. J Environ Manag 88(4):1580–1592. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Voinov A, Bousquet F (2010) Modelling with stakeholders. Environ Model Softw 25(11):1268–1281. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Voinov A, Gaddis EJB (2008) Lessons for successful participatory watershed modeling: a perspective from modeling practitioners. Ecol Model 216(2):197–207. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Wells S, McLean J (2013) One way forward to beat the Newtonian habit with a complexity perspective on organisational change. Systems 1(4):66–84. CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dana Reiter
    • 1
  • Wayne Meyer
    • 2
  • Lael Parrott
    • 3
  • Douglas Baker
    • 4
  • Peter Grace
    • 5
  1. 1.School of Civil Engineering and Built EnvironmentQueensland University of Technology (QUT)BrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.Landscape Systems, School of Biological SciencesUniversity of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  3. 3.Departments of Earth, Environmental and Geographic Sciences and BiologyUniversity of British ColumbiaKelownaCanada
  4. 4.School of Civil Engineering and the Built EnvironmentQueensland University of TechnologyBrisbaneAustralia
  5. 5.Earth, Environmental and Biological Sciences, Environmental SystemsQueensland University of TechnologyBrisbaneAustralia

Personalised recommendations