Researchers, technical experts and practitioners argue that both coupling energy and the environment in the decision making process and incorporating the public’s preferences are critical if we are to develop effective strategies for mitigating climate change. However, these types of decisions are especially complex, foreign and value-laden, and when asked to participate people struggle making choices that are consistent with and account for their most important concerns and objectives.
This dissertation investigates how the application of structured decision-making (SDM) may increase the internal consistency of people’s choices (the degree to which those choices align with people’s values, concerns and objectives) and helps them to create real, resource-constrained, regional-scale, climate-energy strategies. The first study examines three preference elicitation methods, two that are specific to SDM, and assesses whether these methods result in internally consistent results.
Based on this work, and decades of behavioral decision research that shows individuals often make intuitive, affective evaluations, neglect values and construct preferences in especially complex or foreign decision-making contexts, an SDM framework was developed along with an interactive energy system model that allowed participants to construct their own alternative energy portfolios. This framework was successfully deployed at Michigan State University in 2012 and resulted in significantly more knowledgeable participants regarding coupled climate-energy systems—particularly when participants built their own portfolios, as well as high self-reported satisfaction and low difficulty engaging with the framework.
Despite these positive results, this manner of energy strategy development is considered by some to be too cognitively demanding and expensive in terms of cost, time and technical expertise to deploy quickly and incorporate large numbers of stakeholders. Thus an additional framework was developed to examine these arguments. It was deployed online, across a much larger sample and for the first time in SDM entirely lacking active facilitation. The framework returned similarly high knowledge gains and high self-reported levels of satisfaction.
Internal consistency, based on an empirical measure, was found to be lower than expected and desired across both frameworks; however, these levels of consistency were similar to those found in the initial study of elicitation methods, as well as previous research, and are shown to respond positively to the decision-aiding techniques described here.