Decision Making Tools

The technology envelope for decision making clearly identifies the interactions between the different tools and technologies (Figure 1). The technologies combine database and information directories, spatial analysis systems, mathematical and statistical methods, decision systems and visualisation techniques to communicate the information and decisions. Integration frameworks provide the "glue" to form complex modelling systems using this range of diverse technologies (Fordham and Malafant, 1997).

Figure 1. The Technology Envelope (After Bradbury, 1996)

Tools that are used to provide support, information and analysis for decision making, can be classified into four broad categories (Malafant and Davey, 1996):

  1. Support Tools include Geographic Information Systems (GIS), databases, image processing systems, visualisation and mathematical and/or statistical analysis tools.
  2. Models, methods or concepts present either a concept, method or algorithm for the production of one, or a small set, of analyses. They form the basic building blocks or modules of more complicated analyses and modelling frameworks.
  3. Management and/or Decision Support Systems (DSS) integrate a mix of models and concepts, generally to solve a specific set of requirements or tasks. These may consist of a mix of the support tools and modelling category and may form part of a framework system, or may be developed in isolation. In the simplest case a DSS consists of three components: a database; some models and; a user interface.
  4. Integration framework systems have few inherent models, but facilitate the integration of various support tools, models or decision support systems into a single coherent framework. They provide the "glue" to form complex modelling systems from many diverse sources. Scenario modelling frameworks are but one example of an integration framework system.

Integrated modelling frameworks can be used to integrate the best and most appropriate of existing models, knowledge and data for a project (Fordham and Malafant, 1997). The development of an integration model (or system) for resource management should include the provision of real time and reliable tools, scenario modelling, and can include optimisation techniques. Credibility, transparency and consistency are valued elements of the system.

Integration Framework Systems: Some Example Toolkits

The concepts of integration in modelling frameworks, systems dynamics diagrams and software suites that implement them, are not particularly new. Systems such as STELLA, DYNAMO (Pugh, 1961) and AEAM (Grayson, Blake and Doolan, 1993) have been used to implement complex modelling systems. The systems dynamic diagrams developed by Forrester (1961) have provided the inspiration for the conceptual, framework or hierarchy diagrams used by many toolkits to develop the framework "infrastructure" and linkages. The example toolkits outlined below are modern incarnations of these ideas, considerably expanded, and more flexible than those of the past. The toolkits chosen represent the biases of the authors in that are they are the subset of those tools available that have been used by the authors in developing and implementing integrated modelling frameworks.


Whatif? is an object-oriented scenario modelling package providing a structured set of tools for groups of experts to interact, express their ideas and apply concepts to achieve resolutions to debate(s) of economically and ecologically sustainable resource issues ( ). The system uses the "design" approach to modelling (Gault, Hamilton, Hoffman and McInnis, 1987). In this approach the system is modelled by firstly identifying what components, as objects, exist in the system. Then linkages between the objects, in a functional sense, are established to form the framework. The model framework incorporates input and output objects, as well as other objects, which may modify these inputs and outputs.

This approach tightly integrates the user with the models and integrated framework. The user provides novelty and change to the system by the specification of control variables over the simulation timeframe. The approach aims to explore, rather than predict the future, and is not oriented towards global optimisation or equilibrium conditions. This lack of global optimisation or equilibrium constraints can lead to results which are inconsistent or socially unacceptable - tensions. The user can then resolve these tensions by either exploring alternative scenarios or the user may exercise choice and accept scenarios where tensions still exist (Malafant and Fordham, 1998).


The Facet Spatial Spreadsheet system is described by its manufacturers as a "complete spatial decision tool, not a GIS". It is a modelling and management decision making tool which includes a range of interactive analysis, data fusion and visualisation tools. Models can combine economic, geographic, environmental and natural resource concerns.

Facet has been used quite extensively in a number of disciplines overseas. The product was originally developed as an object oriented environment for research in digital mapping, image processing and machine vision. However, the system has been expanded to provide a multi-disciplinary environment for problem solving, being used in strategic planning, exploration, habitat modelling, coastal zone management, stock market analysis and atmospheric research (Melzer, Hawkins and Akenhead, 1993; Ayers, Murray, Prisco, Akenhead and Melzer, 1993).


Analytica uses hierarchies of models to develop and manage complex interactions and relationships. As with many of these toolkits, Analytica uses a systems dynamic or conceptual diagram to establish the model components and their linkages. The concept of the white-board enables quick system prototyping and development. This approach allows the problem to be described qualitatively without the details, and then once there is understanding of the problem and issues, the quantitative details can be defined.


The Calyx family of products from ESSA Software in Canada are PC-based software tools that allow the examination of environmental impacts and their consequences. Two products are of interest:

  1. Calyx GIS, which is a decision support framework using an expert systems and knowledge-base approach, to provide analysis of project and environmental information. The system applies a consistent methodology based on the knowledge or rulebase, to determine the impacts and produce decision and remediation plans.
  2. Calyx EA enables users to identify and quantify an entire spectrum of potential environmental impacts and produce reports on them. This product addresses both physical and biological effects and looks beyond primary impacts by determining secondary impacts to commercial, visual and social environments.

Examples of the use of these toolkits include: long-term socio-economic analysis of policy decisions in Canada and the USA; forestry and multiple land-use debates in the USA, Australia and Canada; and the analysis of environmental impacts, their consequences and remediation strategies for defence training areas in Australia, the USA and Canada. The toolkits have also been used to perform policy analysis of the effects of global climate change; to investigate the cost-benefit of different environmental mitigation strategies; and the development of prototype systems and specifications.

For a more complete review of these toolkits and other systems see Malafant and Davey (1996) or Malafant and Fordham (1997). Alternatively, brief functional descriptions of the toolkits mentioned above and other systems can be found online at:


Ayers, A., Murray, C., Prisco, M., Akenhead, S.A. and Melzer, N.C. (1993). Live Impact Analysis in Land Use Planning Workshops. Facet Decision Systems Inc.

Bradbury, R.H. (1996). Visualising the Oceans: The Australian Experience. Journal Adv. Marine Science and Technology Society, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 119-132.

Fordham, D.P. and Malafant, K.W.J. (1997). The Murray-Darling Basin Irrigation Futures Framework (IFF?). In: International Congress on Modelling and Simulation Conference (MODSIM 97). McDonald, A.D. and McAleer, M. (Eds). Modelling and Simulation Society of Australia, 2, 643-648.

Forrester, J.W. (1961). Industrial Dynamics. MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.

Gault, F.D., Hamilton, K.E., Hoffman, R.B. and McInnis, B.C. (1987). The design approach to socioeconomic modelling. Futures, February, pp. 3-25.

Grayson, R.B., Blake, T. and Doolan, J.M. (1993). Application of AEAM to water quality in the Latrobe River Catchment. In: Proceedings of Hydrology and Water Resources Symposium, Newcastle, Australia.

Malafant, K.W.J. and Fordham, D.P. (1998). Integrated Policy Frameworks for Policy Analysis. Greenhouse Beyond Kyoto Conference, 31March-2 April, Canberra.

Malafant, K.W.J. and Fordham, D.P. (1997). Integration frameworks in agricultural and resource planning and management. In: Climate Prediction for Agricultural and Resource Management. Munro, R.K. and Leslie, L.M. (Eds). Australian Academy of Science Conference, Canberra, 6-8 May. Bureau of Resource Sciences, Canberra, Australia.

Malafant, K.W.J. and Davey, S.M. (1996).Review of Information Technologies for Consideration in Comprehensive Resource Assessments of Forests, Report to Commonwealth Integration Technical Working Group on Comprehensive Regional Assessments.

Melzer, N.C., Hawkins, D. and Akenhead, S.A. (1993). Building Concensus: New Approaches for Land Use Conflict Mitigation. Facet Decision Systems Inc.

Pugh, A.L. III. (1961). DYNAMO User’s Manual. MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.

Wilkie, G. (1993). Object-oriented Software Engineering. The Professional Developer’s Guide. The Institute of Software Engineering. Addison-Wesley, Workingham, England.


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