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Competence Centre on Modelling

We promote a responsible, coherent and transparent use of modelling to support the evidence base for EU policies.

Topic / Tool | Last updated: 27 Sep 2022

Social Multi-Criteria Evaluation (SMCE) of Policy Options

The Competence Centre offers training on SMCE and ad-hoc support to Policy DGs for Impact Assessments

Social Multi-Criteria Evaluation (SMCE) Team's members (Egle Basyte Ferrari, Giuseppe Munda, Nicole Ostlaender, Ivano Azzini)

Egle Basyte Ferrari (LinkedIn) Giuseppe Munda (Research Gate) Nicole Ostlaender (Research Gate) Ivano Azzini (Research Gate)

Multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) is the most widespread multidimensional modelling approach to decision problems. The basic idea is that 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 an option and a given objective. 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 of policy options. Its basic methodological foundation is incommensurability, i.e. the notion that in comparing options, a plurality of technical dimensions and social perspectives is needed.

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.

In the framework of SMCE, mathematical aggregation and ranking rules guarantee 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, the JRC SMCE team 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 and criteria, and makes transparent the weighting relations, by also allowing for sensitivity and robustness analysis; the mathematical aggregation rule is non-compensatory and it also allows to analyze all the distributional impacts of each option.

Learn more on SOCRATES Web application

The activities of the Social Multi-Criteria Evaluation team include:

  • methodological research resulting in scientific publications, technical reports and guidelines
  • applied research for the development of software tools, such as SOCRATES
  • support to the policy departments of the European Commission, known as Directorates-General responsible for different policy areas and international organizations, regarding impact assessments. Completed applications of SMCE and SOCRATES in European Commission impact assessments are documented in the Commission’s Modelling Inventory MIDAS
  • training courses on the use of social multi-criteria evaluation for public policy analyses.

The SMCE team collaborates with the main international scientific networks and academic institutions in the field, such as the European Working Group on Multi Criteria Decision Aid.