Multi Criteria Analysis

Submitted by Michael Rastall | published 18th Nov 2013 | last updated 16th Dec 2013


Key Messages

  • There is increasing interest in the appraisal of options, as adaptation moves from theory to practice. In response, a number of existing and new decision support tools are being considered, including methods that address uncertainty.

  • The FP7 MEDIATION project has undertaken a detailed review of these tools, and has tested them in a series of case studies. It has assessed their applicability for adaptation and analysed how they consider uncertainty. The findings have been used to provide information and guidance for the MEDIATION Adaptation Platform and are summarised in a set of policy briefing notes.

  • One of the tools widely recommended for adaptation is Multi-Criteria Analysis (MCA). MCA is an approach that allows consideration of both quantitative and qualitative data in the ranking of alternative options.

  • The approach provides a systematic method for assessing and scoring options against a range of decision criteria, some of which are expressed in physical or monetary units, and some which are qualitative. The various criteria can then be weighted to provide an overall ranking of options. These steps are undertaken using stakeholder consultation and/or expert input.

  • MCA has been widely applied in the environmental domain. It is also used as a complementary tool to support cost-benefit analysis, to consider the performance of options against criteria that may be difficult to value or involve qualitative aspects.

  • The approach has high relevance for adaptation. Criteria can be included to consider uncertainty or various elements of good adaptation, and the approach brings the flexibility to work with qualitative information, which is particularly useful given there are often data gaps.

  • The review has considered the strengths and weakness of the approach for adaptation. The main strength is that it allows consideration of both quantitative and qualitative data together, and can compare monetary and non-monetary criteria directly. This allows the consideration of a much broader set of criteria than other approaches.

  • The potential weaknesses involve the fact that the scoring and weighting can be quite subjective, influenced by the stakeholders involved in the process. The consideration of uncertainty is also usually more qualitative.

  • Previous applications of MCA for adaptation have been reviewed, and adaptation case studies are summarised. MCA has been used as the main decision support tool in early national adaptation policy analysis, but has also been used alongside CBA in adaptation project appraisal to consider broader criteria and aspects.

  • The review and case studies provide useful information on the types of adaptation problem types where MCA might be appropriate, as well as data needs, resource requirements and good practice lessons. MCA is particularly applicable in areas where quantification is difficult, or for sectors where broader objectives are important. The approach is considered particularly useful to identify promising options, which can then be subject to more detailed appraisal. 

Suggested Citation

Van Ierland , E.C. , de Bruin, K. and Watkiss, P. (2013). Multi-Criteria Analysis: Decision Support Methods for Adaptation, MEDIATION Project, Briefing Note 6. 

The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement no. 244012.