Weighting social preferences in participatory multi-criteria evaluations: a case study on sustainable natural resource management
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The use of multi-criteria evaluation tools in combination with participatory approaches provides a promising framework for integrating multiple interests and perspectives in the effort to provide sustainability. However, the inclusion of diverse viewpoints requires the ""compression"" of complex issues, a process that is controversial. Ensuring the quality of the compression process is a major challenge, especially with regards to retaining the essential elements of the various perspectives. In this article, we suggest a process in which the explicit elicitation of weights (i.e., the prioritisation of criteria) within a participatory multi-criteria evaluation serves as a quality assurance mechanism to check the robustness of sustainability integrated assessment processes from a social perspective. We demonstrate this approach using a case study focused on the sustainable management of the Urdaibai Estuary in the Basque Country (Southern Europe). Drawing on the large body of literature on sophisticated mathematical models that help identify and prioritise criteria, this approach allows (1) an explicit ""social sensitivity"" analysis despite the incommensurability of values regarding individual or group priorities, and (2) participants to learn from and reflect upon diverse social preferences without forcing their consensus.