Decison Making Framework

One of the reasons it can be difficult to select which of the many available climate-related tools are most helpful to a particular problem is that different tools are designed to be relevant to different stages of decision-making processes. Many tools, for example, are designed to analyze the technical strengths and weaknesses of alternative proposals for action, while others may designed to help with risk assessment or monitoring. For this reason, it is helpful to have some kind of “roadmap” of the decision process in mind when identifying which stage of the process to which a particular tool will be most relevant.

For this compendium, the roadmap we've chosen is the Iterative Risk Management Framework originally developed by the United Kingdom Climate Impacts Program and endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences as a robust approach to informing decision-making under climate uncertainty. This roadmap divides the decision-making process into 8 discrete steps, which are described below.


This framework was identified by the National Academy of Sciences as a robust approach to informing decision-making under climate uncertainty, and is based on the climate adaptation framework developed by the United Kingdom Climate Impacts Program.

: Identify problems and objectives 

In this stage, the main goal is to formulate the issue. A clear understanding of the problem is essential for productive completion of this 8-stage process. The success of your adaptation effort will be strongly influenced by how well Stages 1 and 2 are considered. In particular, it is important that there is a clear understanding of:

  • The reasons for making the decision
  • The broad objectives of this decision 
  • The wider context for the decision

This information will inform your approach to risk analysis, options appraisal and decision making, as well as informing who should be involved in the assessment process.

STAGE 2: Establish decision-making criteria 

This stage sets out to operationalize the broad objectives established in Stage 1 by identifying specific criteria for decision-making. These criteria will be deployed, and likely refined, in assessing risk and appraising adaptation options during later stages of this process. It is also important to anticipate constraints, or barriers, to decision making, including those originating from:

  • The legislative, institutional and regulatory environment
  • Competing objectives of other stakeholders and decision-makers
  • Resources available for the decision-making process

STAGE 3: Assess risk

The primary goals of the risk assessment are fourfold:

  • Characterize the nature of risk
  • Provide qualitative or quantitative estimates of risk
  • Assess consequences of uncertainty for decision options
  • Compare sources of risk, not limited to climate

This is the first of three stages (Stages 3, 4, & 5) organized by tiers. The tiered approach accommodates the different levels of specificity needed for different types of decisions. Once the appropriate tier is identified, the user will generally loop through the next two stages (Stages 4 & 5). Then, if appropriate, advance to the next tier back at Stage 3 and start the loop again. In this stage, the first tier is a risk screening; the second tier is a mixed (qualitative and quantitative) generic risk assessment; the third tier is a specific quantitative risk assessment. 

STAGE 4: Identify options

There will generally be multiple options for any particular problem. It is important to consider a wide range at the outset to ensure that no viable option is overlooked. Options must take into account the level of decision, the climate and non-climate factors identified in Stage 3, the decision-maker’s attitude to risk, and the degree of risk and uncertainty surrounding the decision. Given the iterative nature of adaptive management approaches, where decisions are revisited and evaluated in terms of past performance and in light of new information, it is also important to identify options that do not constrain future adaptive capacities.

STAGE 5: Appraise options

The purpose of this stage is twofold:

  • To provide a robust basis upon which to make a recommendation of the ‘best’ option
  • To refine and improve options

As in Stage 3, Stage 5 is executed in a tiered fashion. The first tier is a qualitative analysis of the options aimed at generating a ranked list. The second is a semi-quantitative analysis that assigns lower and upper bounds on the risks, costs and benefits of each option. And the third tier is a fully quantified analysis with a strong leaning toward economic valuation. 

STAGE 6: Make decision

In this stage, top-ranked options from Stage 5 are explicitly considered in the context of initial efforts to structure the problem. It is therefore necessary to revisit Stages 1 & 2 and answer these two questions:

  • Was the problem well defined?
  • Do the criteria from stage 2 adequately operationalize the decision problem and decision-makers objectives?

In the case of negative responses, reformulate where necessary. At this point, decision makers must also know how sensitive any ranking of options is to data and model uncertainties.

STAGE 7: Implement decision

You now have all the information you need to develop a detailed implementation plan. The specific actions you take in actually implementing the decision will depend on factors both internal and external to your organization.

STAGE 8: Monitor, evaluate and review

Monitoring, evaluating and review are critical for the decision-making process and are the crux of the iterative feature of this framework. Suffice to say, it is extremely important that targets and robust indicators of performance be established during the decision-making process, drawing on the objectives stated in Stage 1 of the process, and on the decision-making criteria of Stage 2.