TutORial: Behavioral Challenges in Policy Analysis with Conflicting Objectives

By Gilberto Montibeller.

Public policy problems are rife with conflicting objectives: efficiency versus fairness, technical criteria versus political goals, costs versus multiple benefits. Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis provides robust methodologies to support policy makers in making tough choices and in designing better policy alternatives when considering these conflicting objectives. However, there are important behavioral challenges in developing these models. Policy analysis works with groups of policy makers, modeling their decision, facilitating their discussions, and representing preferences and priorities. The overarching goal is to improve decision processes and provide support to evidence-based decision making, taking into account public priorities and the inherent uncertainties that long term horizons and complex systems present. Key challenges in those interventions are the use of expert judgments, whenever evidence is not available, the elicitation of preference and priorities from policy makers and communities, and the effective management of group decision processes. Human behavior has a major influence on each of these challenges: experts might be biased in their estimates, individuals may be unable to express clearly their preferences, and groups may present dysfunctional dynamics. Extensive developments in behavioral decision research, social psychology, facilitated decision modeling, and incomplete preference models shed light on how decision analysts should address these issues to provide better decision support and develop high quality decision models. This tutorial discusses the main findings of these extensive, but rather fragmented, literatures. These guidelines are illustrated using policy analysis interventions conducted over the last decade for several organizations, such as the evaluation of capabilities of health systems against rabies for the World Health Organization (WHO), the prioritization of low moisture foods for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the assessment of bio-security threats for the UK Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the evaluation of malaria treatment kits for the Malaria Consortium/USAID, and the prioritization of value-for-money studies for the UK National Audit Office.