GDRC and Environmental Decision-Making

Hari Srinivas
Continuing Research Series E-006. March 2015

The 15 programme pages of GDRC provide an interesting backdrop to the kind of environmental decision making that is necessary to manage the complex problems faced by society today. Considering some of the issues and topics mentioned in those theme pages, what kind of decision making processes need to be put in place to achieve such results?

The programme pages have a whole range of documents covering case studies, policy documents, strategies, etc. presented in different formats such as full documents, one pagers, checklists and others. For many of the issues covered in such documents, it is clear that a process of environmental decision making needs to be put in place.

What are these decisions that need to be taken? A number of questions come to mind when we think of this question. At what level should this decision be taken? Should it be taken at the local or household level, or should it be taken at the sub-national, national or regional levels? It is interesting to note that decisions taken at the local or household level have implications at the local level only and are taken daily covering every day life, whereas decisions taken at the national or regional level are more infrequent-taken half yearly or annually and impacting a much larger constituency. This correlation between the level of decision making and the frequency of decision making needs to be kept in mind. Critical to decision making is of course the entity taking the decision. Who is the one taking the decision? Is it a single individual? Or is it a group?

Inherent to any decision is the intended outputs of the decision itself. These outputs can be limited in the space and time dimensions. They can cover short term and local issues, or long term and international issues. It is indeed an analysis of the intended outputs that will start the process of informed decision making.

Parallel to the process of understanding the intended outputs is to understand what the necessary preconditions are for a decision to be taken. A number of preconditions need to be met even before the process of decision making can commence. It is important to determine what these preconditions are, with respect to the stake holders involved in the decision making process, and ensure that these preconditions are met. Preconditions may relate to an organizations' aims and objectives, rules and regulations, or working methodologies for the decision making process itself.

A key resource underlying it any effective decision making processes is information. Making sure that the right information is made available at the right level to the right decision maker at the right time is one of the most critical aspects of decision making. Many questions need to be asked-what kind of information is necessary to be collected? Who has that information? What is the quality and quantity of information available? Is additional information necessary? Another key aspect of information management is the format in which information is delivered to the decision maker to make decisions.

For example, in GDRC ' s programme pages on Urban Environmental Management, thematic pages on urban energy (see URL: ), the introduction document calls for a move where a reduction in use of fossil fuels has to go hand-in-hand with (a) exploring alternative energy sources, (b) linking energy with global environmental issues (for example climate change or global warming), (c) co-relating environmental management efficiency with energy efficiency and (d) changes in lifestyles and increase in community involvement. For each of the four points mentioned above, what decisions are necessary? What information will be needed to take those decisions? Who will take those decisions? What preconditions need to be put in place for these decisions to be taken? As we can imagine, the answers to these questions change as local conditions change. But it is absolutely essential to make sure that the package of answers are put together in order for the desired decision to be taken. In fact, determining this "Desire decision" is in itself a critical part of the decision making process.

This can become an interesting game in understanding the processes involved in decision making. Take any page in GDRC in random and apply the above questions to the issues mentioned in that page. It can be interesting to see how the decisions to be taken change depending on who is taking them and at what level it is taken. For example, decisions on global warming, which is essentially a global issue, may seem irrelevant at the local level. This means that the ordinary man on the street, or household, cannot take decisions directly related to global warming. But they can take decisions relate it to resource consumption, recycling, and waste generation, which cumulatively can lead to a reduction in global warming. It is this contextualization that adds relevance to the decision taken and ensures that the intended output will be generated.


On the left is a list of the 15 programme pages of GDRC. Click on any programme link, and explore the pages within, keeping the above environmental decision-making questions in mind. Or:

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