Judit Lienert: Bridging Theory and Practice When Involving Stakeholders in Public Environmental Decisions


Environmental and other public policy decision problems are complex. They can be addressed with Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis (MCDA), ideally in participatory stakeholder processes. Reviews about applications of MCDA to specific environmental fields such as water management or nature conservation are often published in non-Operational Research (OR) journals. Many of these reviews summarizing MCDA applications by non-MCDA specialists indicate that there is insufficient integration of stakeholders in problem structuring and preference elicitation steps of MCDA, potentially increasing the risk of biases. Moreover, these reviews criticize inadequate treatment of uncertainty, using too simplistic models, and neglecting temporal or spatial aspects. In contrast, OR literature focuses on sophisticated decision models that include e.g., uncertainty, but (again) this research lacks integration of stakeholders. My talk will present some insights from literature to help address this gap between theoretical requirements and real-world decision-making. Additionally, I will share learnings from own practical environmental cases involving stakeholders with various types of methods. These include face-to-face interviews, classical decision-making workshops in smaller or larger groups, and modern online methods to involve experts or lay people. I look forward to discussing with you this work in progress about publishing high quality OR research that is useful for real-world decision-making!

PD Dr. Judit Lienert leads the cluster Decision Analysis in the Environmental Social Science Department of Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology. Judit Lienert has more than twenty years of research experience in inter- and transdisciplinary projects and has published 57 peer-reviewed papers. Her focus is on Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis (MCDA), integrating natural, engineering, and social science data in decision models to better address environmental decision problems. This work has gained increasing attention, including three recent best paper awards by EJOR, OMEGA, and the INFORMS Decision Analysis Society.

Judit Lienert studied biology and environmental sciences at the University of Zürich, Switzerland, after a first career in nursing. She finished her PhD on habitat fragmentation of wetlands in 2001. At Eawag, until 2007 she was co-project leader of the large cross-cutting project Novaquatis on urine source separation, which won a prestigious Swiss transdisciplinary research award (td-net 2008), recognizing both interdisciplinary research integration and cooperation with non-academic partners.

Building on this research at the interface of various scientific disciplines and society, Judit Lienert focused on participatory MCDA from 2007 onwards. Application fields include sustainable urban water management, blue-green infrastructure, flood forecast and alert systems in West Africa, river rehabilitation, and sustainable agriculture. To address complex environmental decision problems, all steps of MCDA are crucial, from problem structuring over making scientific predictions to preference elicitation, and modelling. A specific interest is the behavioral analysis of decision processes and a scientifically rigorous, but practicable integration of stakeholder preferences. She recently wrote her habilitation thesis at ETH Zürich “Facts and values: Decision analysis for complex public environmental decision problems”. Judit Lienert is lecturer for MCDA at ETH Zürich, and is on the management board of the EURO working group on Behavioral OR.