‘Value Base Assessment procedure’ and the use of Multi Criteria Analysis (MCA) in relation to transboundary water management

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In the eye of the beholder

Ask a biologist, a farmer and a politician what environmental sustainability is and they will likely give three different answers. Then ask them what biodiversity means and their answers, too, will likely diverge.

These are not philosophical questions. If people have different beliefs about how to preserve the environment, efforts to conserve natural resources may not be optimal. Taking into consideration people's values is critical when designing and implementing water projects.

Thus using a ‘Value-Based Procedure', which does just that, is necessary for designing and implementing transboundary water projects, says Filip Aggestam of UNDP. As an example, he cites a project to restore wetlands in Sweden.

"After the project was completed we conducted interviews with the different stakeholders involved - farmers, politicians, and biologists", said Aggestam. It became clear that the project hadn't taken into consideration the differing notions of what a wetland is in the eyes of the different stakeholders. "They would have structured the project differently had they taken a value-based approach", he said.

The approach has a number of benefits. According to Aggestam, it creates a greater sense of ownership on the part of stakeholders because their views are taken into account. And it leads to an improved understanding of the methods and goals of a given project among those involved.

The methodology is still under development. Aggestam said he is conducting a case study involving the Tisa River to help determine the contexts in which using the value-based approach would be beneficial. If the pilot projects are successful, they will pave the way for a new approach to formulating transboundary water projects.


‘Value Based Assessment procedure’ and the use of Multi Criteria Analysis (MCA) in regards to transboundary water management and stakeholder interests.

Focus Areas

Geographic Scope




Background and Significance

There are today hardly any natural ecosystems that have not been changed by the transformation of land, water diversions, pollution, or other, direct or indirect, human activities. As a consequence, an essential prerequisite to treat the current and global environmental crisis requires an interdisciplinary approach from a broad range of professions. But there are many difficulties surrounding the initiation and maintenance of a collaboration across professions, interest groups and stakeholders, etc.

One vital aspect of the dilemma concerns individuals and groups different valuation systems. For instance, relatively few people try to cause intentional harm in their efforts to exploit natural resources or when restoring nature. But we nevertheless still act according to value laden beliefs, such as, sustainability is ‘good’. Thus, the values and processes involved in our everyday life have a significant impact on the implementation of environmental policies or projects. This highlights the general need for increasing the understanding of how values influence the implementation and management of a project, as well as developing a procedure or strategy that take these differences into account.

Overall, implementing environmental policies/projects, and its subsequent management, constitutes a significant problem to overcome. The principal obstacles/problems in regards to the pursuit of a sustainable future lie in the integration of several distinct fields, e.g.

  • Economical impact
  • Social Values
  • Environmental Values and Concerns

This highlights the fact that the problem cannot be addressed, nor solved sufficiently, by making ad hoc decisions based on differing intuitions concerning moral values. It is of importance that the decision making process is legitimised both ethically as well as democratically.

Taken as a whole, community perceptions, values and opinions about the types of environmental development are also important besides technical and scientific aspects. Understanding the interactions between the wide variety of social factors that effect the development and implementation of a project is a vital component in terms of long term environmental planning. By incorporating the evaluation of value systems among stakeholders it might be possible to predict and limit some of the tradeoffs caused by prevalent value systems.

The following section provides a brief introduction to Multi Criteria Analysis and the manner in which it might help to improve stakeholder management.

The Solution (Description of actions taken)

Numerous publications and international documents have expressed the importance of incorporating stakeholders (and the public) into the development and formulation of environmental projects. For instance, participatory approaches are today often employed within project planning and implementation. This can bring some of the following benefits:

  • Attitude shifts if stakeholders are included into the initial planning and management of the project.
  • Improved understanding of interests and scale enable adaptation.
  • Improved management to meet stakeholder interests and capacity.
  • Resource adjustments.

Generally speaking, stakeholder participation can lead to improvements in performance and outcomes. However, this particular strategy is not applicable to all projects and scenarios. For example, it is today apparent that some stakeholder or interest groups have been satiated by this current trend of constant inclusion. As a result, by expanding the stakeholder analysis with the intention of providing up to date strategy options might benefit project of any size. Especially since recent years has shown that management strategies are completely dependant on the context. By improving the understanding of the context, any project will be better equipped to select the most appropriate strategy, which ultimately improve its outcome.

To conclude, stakeholders often belong to different fields with different requirements, as a result their interests may collide and generate conflicts. This provides the basis for expanding the current manner in which the stakeholder analysis is conducted. By incorporating a value based analysis it might be possible to contribute to the understanding of potential tradeoffs and provide assistance in improving the management and planning of value based problems.

The Experience: Challenges and Solutions

Goal and Objectives

The asymmetry of information between those who are in a management and decision making position and stakeholders who would have to accept any decision, presents a central problem for maximising / optimising the output of any environmental project.

On the basis of stakeholder value systems and the management of stakeholder interests there is consequently a need for being flexible and adaptable to suit uncertain and turbulent conditions. The involvement of all critical stakeholders is a vital part for any project to achieve success. But given the complexity surrounding the monitoring of all stakeholders, and succeeding in making them take part and provide relevant information, it might be beneficial to understand their value base. Especially, the impact this has on interactions internal and external to the project. But what can be done to reduce this asymmetry of opinions?

The development objective of this project is to indirectly enhance the quality of managing stakeholder interests and, within the frame of Multi Criteria Analysis, the incorporation of methods capable of detecting the influence value-systems has on this process. This could be done through the provision of a viable and cost-effective procedure / strategy by which any decision maker(s) can analyse the different ‘interests’ within a project and how to manage them.

This project would seek to provide the following:

1.) Clearer picture of the projects role and stakeholder interactions

2.) Bring upfront any potential value based problems with developing and ongoing project

3.) Suggest improvements / strategies in regards to stakeholder management

4.) Work out a procedure to involve / analyse stakeholders and interest groups and how to process value based differences.

But overall, this initial presentation simply intends to raise a dialogue on the benefits of developing a new procedure to enhance stakeholder management.


The first objective of this study will be the assessment of previous UNDP projects and the manner in which they were managed in accordance to the TDA/SAP and the subsequently developed objectives. The determination of needs, and the analysis of implemented strategies would provide a platform from which to gain an understanding of their influence. In addition, it will provide data for the development of the project and of alternative approaches.

Reasons for assistance from UNDP

The main reasons for restoring to UNDP for assistance for the definition, preparation, implementation and management of the present project is as following:

  • Availability of data and international sources related to the field of interest.
  • Management and implementation skills in handling regional initiatives.
  • Proven record of international partnerships promotion and establishment.
  • Extensive experience within the field of handling stakeholder interests.

The initial review of materials has been focused upon the Danube River, Tisza River, Kura-Aras River Basin. . This might however change as the project develops.

The overall coordination of the project is still to be determined and dependant on the involvement, arrangement and support of the concerned organisations / institutions.


As for now, only a very tentative schedule can be presented. The intial aim will be to have a preliminary output completed by the end of the 2006 or beginning of 2007. The first objective will be the production of 3 case studies with a focus on different project types. However, this objective will be subject to the scale, final aim and any issues / constraints that might arise.

The second and third phase of this project can only be loosely timed as for now. Developing a method / procedure capable of dealing with the key factors identified during the initial analysis would most likely be possible during the first or second half of 2007.

The third and final stage of this project could hopefully be completed by the beginning or middle of 2008.

Questions of interest

To approach the topic of interest a number of barriers have to be addressed, namely:

  • Availability of information / data.
  • Risks and constraints.
  • Regulations and standards.
  • Strategic Issues.

Some questions of interest:

1. How has previous UNDP projects approached stakeholders, the analysis process, and post evaluation?

1.1. Process during problem formulation / identification?
1.2. General evaluation of stakeholder management / concerns?
1.3. Issues concerning stakeholder preferences?
1.3.1. Identification of preferred criteria?
1.3.2. Have methods for analysing stakeholder value systems been applied?

2. Have ethical assumptions effected the outcome of the project(s) relation to the stated objectives?

3. Would it be possible to influence and overcome individual and social barriers for a stated objective formulated by a project?

3.1 What pragmatic tools can be employed to counter and improve relationship within an ongoing project?
3.2 Can a “value based assessment procedure” or a stage of “progressive articulation of preferences” be incorporated into the problem structuring phase of Multi Criteria Analysis?


From the perspective of this project, the first phase will involve the gathering of information relating to the management of value-based issues and stakeholders within 3 projects (to be decided) of ongoing or completed projects. This would provide an up-to-date assessment of applied strategies, possible approaches and its actual impact on the stated objectives and outcome. The second phase of the project would involve the analysis of data, and based on this the development of a procedure / strategy capable of handling any identified problems. The final stage would involve the implementation and testing of the developed procedure / strategy.

A Value Based Assessment Procedure or Progressive Articulation of Preferences

Would it be possible to circumvent or influence a value system prevalent in one particular group of stakeholders to optimise the impact and results generated by a project or when trying to implement policies? In terms of a restoration project, objectives are often influenced by common practices, beliefs and values. Would it be possible to analyse the setting prior to the launching of a project aimed at restoration? Would this enable alternative approaches and improved results? However, it is safe to presume that new forms and forums are essential to ensure the participation of the broadest possible array of stakeholders for the design of alternative strategies.

As an example of how it is possible to change ethical theory into a practical tool without much difficulty, there are some approaches that could have a positive impact on future decision making procedures. For instance, in a report by Oughton et al (2004) the benefit of applying an ethical matrix is discussed. It is argued that a principle based approach may be used. This means that some general moral norms are central in moral reasoning, and that they may be constructed as principles or rules. An ethical matrix uses these principles to present all the relevant values. Consequently, the people responsible for decision making can be given a broader representation of the available facts and values. An additional benefit of the matrix is that it can be used to address and avoid value conflicts. However, to understand the implications of incorporating e.g. a “value based assessment procedure” or “progressive articulation of preferences” into a project, it is important to have an idea of the impact / influence it may have. Accordingly the inital stage of this project will be to explore the effect stakeholders value systems have on any project.

Figure 1. Alternative approach to a value based assessement procedure

Following this stage, it is of interest to explore the potential influence of a e.g. “value based assessment procedure” or the "articulation of preferences" prior to the implementation of new environemnatal project. To be somewhat more specific, it would be of interest to ultimately create a suitable procedure aimed at detecting value differences between stakeholders. The purpose of this method would be to suggest strategies on how to approach problems that different objectives or beliefs in a project might generate. In general, the benefits of being able to tackle such issues prior to them becoming an obstacle are potentially great. Taken as a whole, a project of this nature would aim at facilitating aspects of psychologically managing a project and how it can be incorporated with ethical theory and the manner in which we proceed to incorporate ethics into social policy.

Results and Impact

A decision-making aid without regarding the value bases of the decisions and that of its stakeholders, would fall short of its possibilities. Therefore, this project aims to try and create an aid for decision makers that help not only in the evaluation of the importance of developing new criteria, but also in the development of a coherent, inter subjectively reasonable ethical structure within the stakeholder analysis process.

However, given that this project is in the process of development, the purpose of this presentation is primarily to generate a dialogue on:

1.) The importance and impact of stakeholder value systems.

2.) Establishment of criteria within the stakeholder analysis process.

3.) Ethical values in relation to project objectives.

Overall, the utilisation, development and continued evaluation of currently employed stakeholder analysis methodologies is an essential part to improving the management of any transboundary waterbody.

Expected end-of-project situation

At project completion the following achievements will then have been accomplished:

A comprehensive assessment of the methods applied in previous projects, with an overview reporting the effects these have had on the final outcome.

The identification of potential generic indicators or criteria that can be used in the creation / development of a value-based assessment procedure or alternatively a progressive articulation of preferences.

The final objective of this project is to develop a procedure that can be applicable to any management or project implementation scenario within the context of Multi Criteria Analysis.

Target beneficiaries

In terms of the research community, it would improve the understanding of the influence and effect ethical values and beliefs has on a project, as well as providing a springboard for further development within a field greatly in need of expansion.

The ultimate beneficiaries of this initiative would however be any decision maker, this in terms of application and usage of any procedure developed through this project.

Lessons for Replication

Good practical ethical decision-making is built upon three conditions: high quality and relevant information (facts); ethical arguments informed by relevant ethical theories (values); and moral judgment” (Oughton, et al. 2004. p. 178)

On the whole, there is a general lack of philosophy within natural sciences and consequently most environmental projects. Yet biologists are, for example, still trained to believe in, and argue for, normative postulates such as ’Biodiversity is good’. This ultimately generates a situation in which biologists are incapable of properly presenting persuasive arguments. “It is not sufficient for conservation biologists to simply “behave” as if nonhuman species have intrinsic value and hope that everyone else will simply imitate their behaviour without asking why.” (Van Dyke. p. 65). In contrast to ecology, medical sciences have developed a system in which it is relatively easy to analyse the ethical acceptability of a method. If so, should this not be a priority for any project engaged in environmental management?

There are many difficulties related to the lack of knowledge, different attitudes and value systems. As a result, it is relevant to be aware of the underlying attitudes and values, for they determine how we behave in certain situations. Even more, they have an impact on practical decision making. Therefore it is all the more important for people that work within the environmental field to understand ‘why’ they are doing so. How could they otherwise have a rational basis for their views and actions? To conclude, this project aim to attempt to apply ethics as a practical tool that can help decision makers. Overall, there is a lot to gain if we can ethically justify and simplify the decision making process.

Testimonies and Stakeholder Perceptions

Timeframe & Status

Ongoing Phd Project. Timeframe until the completion of the project is approximately 2 years. However, results will be presented continously as they are obtained.


Azgueta, D. & Delacamara, G. (2006) Ethics, economics and environmental management. Ecological Economics, 56, 524-533

Bouyssou, D. Buiding Criteria: A prerequisite for MCDA. http://www.lamsade.dauphine.fr/~bouyssou/CRITERIA.PDF

Böhm, G. (2003) Emotional reactions to environmental risks: Consequentialist versus ethical evaluation. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 23, 199-212

Ehrlich, P. R. (2003) Bioethics: Are our priorities right? Bioscience, 53, 1207-1216

Gardiner, J. L. (1997) River landscapes and sustainable development: a framework for project appraisal and catchment management. Landscape research, 22, 95-115

Gower, B. S. (1992) What do we owe future generations? In: Cooper, D. E. & Palmer, J. A. (1992) The environment in question – ethics and global issues. London: Routledge. pp. 1-12

Gupta, A. K. (1995) Ethical dilemmas in conservation of biodiversity: towards developing globally acceptable ethical guidelines. Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics, 5, 40-46

O'Hara, S. (1996) Discursive ethics in ecosystems valuation and environmental policy. Ecological Economics, 16, 95-107

Oughton, D., Forsberg, E., Bay,I., Kaiser,M. & Howard, B. (2004) An ethical dimension to sustainable restoration and long-term management of contaminated areas. Journal of environmental radioactivity, 74, 171-183

Rauchmayer, F. (2001) Reflections on Ethics and MCA in Environmental Decisions. J. Multi-Crit. Decis. Anal., 10, 65-74

Sekuli , B. & Verta nik, A. (1997) Comparison of anthropological and "natural" input of substances through waters into Adriatic, Baltic and Black Sea. Water Research, 31, 3178-3182

Van Dyke, F. (2003) Conservation biology – foundations, concepts, applications (Int. Ed.). London: McGraw-Hill Higher Education

Interviewees and Key Contacts

Filip Aggestam

See also

Water Knowledge Fair 2006

Stakeholder Analysis - Comparing different methodologies

Summary of the Live Forum in the Water Knowledge Fair 2006: Stakeholder Management in Water Projects

Valuation of Ecosystem Services

External Resources



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