Multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) is the most widespread multidimensional approach to ex-ante Impact Assessment. Its basic methodological foundation is incommensurability, i.e. the notion that in comparing options a plurality of technical dimensions and social perspectives is needed. MCDA builds on formal modelling techniques for decision and policy making; the basic idea is that in assessment problems, one has first to establish objectives, i.e. the direction of the desired changes (e.g. maximize profits, minimize environmental impact, minimize social exclusion, etc.) and then find useful practical criteria, which indicate the consistency between a policy option and a given objective.
In this context, social multi-criteria evaluation (SMCE), has been explicitly designed for public policy and is a very useful methodological and operational framework for ex ante impact assessment.
In this framework, mathematical models aim at guaranteeing consistency between assumptions used and results obtained. The importance of mathematical approaches in SMCE is their ability to allow a consistent aggregation of the diverse information. Otherwise, the standard objection might be that the aggregation of apples and oranges is impossible. Multi-criteria mathematics does answer to this objection in a definitive way.
From an operational point of view, the support of a software tool makes all required computations very quick. Currently, JRC is developing a software tool, called SOCRATES (SOcial multi-CRiteria AssessmenT of European policieS), explicitly designed for Impact Assessment problems. Three main components constitute the core of SOCRATES: multi-criteria, equity and sensitivity analyses. SOCRATES helps in structuring impact assessment problems in the hierarchy dimensions, objectives, criteria and makes transparent the weighting relations, by also allowing for sensitivity and robustness analysis; the mathematical rule is non-compensatory and it also allows to analyse all the distributional consequences of each option.
SMCE has demonstrated its usefulness for policy assessment and conflict management in many real-world problems in various geographical and cultural contexts. SMCE can provide a methodology which is:
- inter/multi-disciplinary, since the various criterion scores can assess a wide range of impacts, for example by using results of economic, environmental, energy, and other simulation models;
- participatory, as fairness in the policy process is seen as an ethical obligation to take a plurality of social values, perspectives and interests into account;
- transparent, since all criteria are presented in their original form without any transformations in money, energy or whatever common measurement rod.
The activities of the European Commission’s Competence Centre for Modelling (CC-MOD) include:
- writing scientific publications, technical reports and guidelines;
- the development of a software tool;
- training courses on the use of social multi-criteria evaluation for ex ante impact assessment.
CC-MOD collaborates with the main scientific international networks and academic institutions in the field, in particular the European Working Group on Multi Criteria Decision Aid.