Understanding stakeholder preferences for flood adaptation alternatives with natural capital implications

Loos, J.R. and Rogers, S.H. | Ecology and Society | 2016 | Peer Reviewed | Original research | https://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol21/iss3/art32/


Inland flood risks are defined by a range of environmental and social factors, including land use and floodplain management. Shifting patterns of storm intensity and precipitation, attributed to climate change, are exacerbating flood risk in regions across North America. Strategies for adapting to growing flood risks and climate change must account for a community’s specific vulnerabilities, and its local economic, environmental, and social conditions. Through a stakeholder-engaged methodology, we designed an interactive decision exercise to enable stakeholders to evaluate alternatives for addressing specific community flood vulnerabilities. We used a multicriteria framework to understand what drives stakeholder preferences for flood mitigation and adaptation alternatives, including ecosystem-based projects. Results indicated strong preferences for some ecosystem-based projects that utilize natural capital, generated a useful discussion on the role of individual values in driving decisions and a critique of local environmental and hazard planning procedure, and uncovered support for a river management alternative that had previously been considered socially infeasible. We conclude that a multicriteria decision framework may help ensure that the multiple benefit qualities of natural capital projects are considered by decision makers. Application of a utility function can demonstrate the role of individual decision-maker values in decision outcomes and help illustrate why one alternative may be a better choice than another. Although designing an efficient and accurate multicriteria exercise is quite challenging and often data intensive, we imagine that this method is applicable elsewhere. It may be especially suitable to group decisions that involve varying levels of expertise and competing values, as is often the case in planning for the ecological and human impacts of climate change.