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Guidance for Multi-Objective Planning

This guidance for multi-objective planning applies to both ecosystem-based management (EBM) and marine spatial planning (MSP).

Facilitate local, bottom-up involvement of diverse stakeholders.

Engagement of local stakeholders is essential. Their viewpoints, support, and place-based knowledge are necessary for a plan that reflects people’s values, increases social wellbeing, and is tractable. Stakeholder engagement should include:

  • developing agreement about the planning process
  • clear communication of objectives
  • identification of common ground
  • a process for conflict resolution among stakeholders

Develop alternative future management scenarios.

Many decision-makers and stakeholders find it useful to consider alternative future scenarios. Scenarios can show a range of future conditions based on possible management actions, including no action. Scenarios may be conveyed with written descriptions and visual depictions (static, animated, or interactive). The best format for sharing alternative future scenarios depends on the intended audience. Generally, information has the biggest impact when it is communicated using multiple formats and channels. Carefully consider the target audience and the most effective ways to communicate with them.

Explicitly analyze tradeoffs among objectives and highlight common ground.

Dual or Multiple Objectives?

When attempting to make management decisions that integrate across sectors, it may be tempting and initially easier to develop a plan that addresses only a pair of management objectives, such as energy production and biodiversity conservation, or fishery production and sand extraction.

Data collection and the analysis of tradeoffs, for example, may be greatly simplified if only one or two objectives are included. However, the long-term outcomes of dual objective planning are likely to differ from those of multiple objective planning. The complexity of the planning process increases considerably by taking a multi-objective approach, but the resulting plan has the potential to provide greater net benefits at a lower overall cost.

Resource management decisions inherently involve numerous tradeoffs. Usually these tradeoffs are not clearly identified and evaluated. In multiple objective planning, potential tradeoffs of proposed management actions should be explicitly identified and quantified, including market and non-market values. The analysis should emphasize opportunities to achieve common goals among stakeholders, rather than focusing solely on conflicts. Explicitly considering tradeoffs can lead to management outcomes with a greater net benefit for society.

Conduct formal, rigorous cost-benefit analyses.

The field of natural resource economics offers a well-developed set of analytical methods that are appropriate for multi-objective planning. In particular, cost-benefit analysis (CBA) accommodates the full range of values, including non-market values not usually measured in dollars, such as the aesthetic value of coastal scenery or the existence value of whales. Cost-benefit analysis offers a framework for understanding the potential outcome (benefits minus costs) of management alternatives.

Ensure that the burden of proof is distributed appropriately among groups with differing objectives.

In many management contexts, it is common for one stakeholder group or government body to bear responsibility for showing that a proposed human activity would have significant negative impacts. If the evidence is uncertain, the proposed activity is approved. Often this burden of proof falls on people without the necessary funding or capacity. In some cases, it would be more equitable to shift the burden of proof, so that the people proposing the activity must show that it would have acceptable impacts. In other cases, it may be appropriate to share the burden of proof—with its attendant costs in time, money, and effort—among multiple stakeholder groups or government agencies.

Adapted from: Beck, M.W, Z. Ferdaña, J. Kachmar, K.K. Morrison, P. Taylor and others. 2009. Best Practices for Marine Spatial Planning. The Nature Conservancy, Arlington, VA. (pdf, 2MB)[/box]

Keeping a Focus on Key Issues

A multitude of human activities may occur in the planning region. Planners and stakeholders can easily become overwhelmed by the many and varied human uses, associated datasets, and numerous tradeoffs among human uses. However, the focus of the process should be on helping decision-makers to meet their overarching management objectives, which are usually few in number and are defined fairly well in legislation and policy.

Typically, management objectives address fishery production, energy production, environmental conservation, and coastal access, among others. Maintaining a focus on the overarching management objectives can keep the planning process from becoming overwhelmingly complex.