On February 2, 2005, the U. S. Geological Survey
(USGS), welcomed a number of participants from the USGS, U. S. Bureau
of Land Management (BLM), U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and
West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) to a
workshop investigating the potential for employing Decision Analysis
(DA) principles and processes to the scientific research and data
delivery by the USGS. Decision Analysis is an integrated set of processes
and tools that can be used to support decision-making under conditions
incorporating uncertainty and risk. The workshop was conducted by
Geomatrix Consultants, who taught the participants the fundamentals
of Decision Analysis, while also guiding them to develop a DA framework
for an actual real-life problem.
The goal of this workshop, sponsored by the Office of the Director,
Eastern Region USGS, was to evaluate the feasibility of utilizing
a Decision Analysis approach to
- involve more fully USGS scientists and customers, particularly
those from other DOI Bureaus, in co-designing multidisciplinary
science that addresses complex issues, and to
- permit USGS to appraise and learn how to enhance the value of
its science and information in reducing uncertainty and evaluating
Decision Analysis is one of a series of approaches the USGS and
others are evaluating which have proven useful for addressing decision
making for complex problems in different contexts. These include
adaptive management, joint fact-finding, decision support, and stakeholder
analysis. Decision Analysis is somewhat broader in scope than the
other four, and can be usefully combined with some of the more process-focused
approaches. In short, DA is
- more quantitative than Joint Fact Finding,
- more analytically-focused than Adaptive Management,
- more process-focused than Decision Support Systems, and
- more decision-focused than Stakeholder Analysis.
The USGS has a set of unique advantages, which enable it to embrace
Decision Analysis. It is currently composed of 4 scientific disciplines
(geology, geography, hydrology, biology), which address process-focused
issues of variable physical and temporal scales from the microscopic
to the planetary and from microseconds to millions of years.
Workshop goals were addressed by developing a framework for a pilot
DA study that focused on the presence of selenium in West Virginia
watersheds. The pilot study examined the factors associated with
the benefits of energy resource use versus potential health risks.
This pilot study was intended both as a training exercise for the
participants and a feasibility study for the USGS to assess the potential
value of DA in conveying USGS products and services to a variety
Effective, multidisciplinary science requires an overarching vision
and understanding of the challenges at hand, efficiently linked to
an organization of individuals and their expertise, each bringing
and sharing a unique perspective, methodology, and conceptual model.
DA links the vision and the organization, encouraging the participants
to investigate alternative solution pathways that are intended to
make the solution more relevant and durable. The participants in
this workshop came together to practice integrative science, to learn
how fully integrative science could be designed and implemented,
and how that science could be packaged and delivered to decision
makers and other end users of USGS science.
Selenium (Se) was chosen as a theme for the workshop to enable the
participants to bring together their individual knowledge about a
highly relevant geoenvironmental issue with which they were personally
and regularly involved. The objective of the workshop was not to
solve the problem, but rather to learn how to solve a problem, using
Decision Analysis, and to introduce the technique to scientists and
managers. We could have picked practically any geoenvironmental problem
to address as an example problem. Selenium is a trace metal that
has been recognized in the coal-bearing stratigraphy in the Appalachian
Basin of the eastern United States. It (as well as other Appalachian
Basin trace metal elements, such as mercury and arsenic) is known
to cause adverse health effects, when its concentrations exceed critical
thresholds. Selenium has been reported from some Appalachian watersheds
and their associated biologic communities. The area of focus of the
workshop was the potential mobilization of Se as a result of mountain
top mining and valley filling operations in the Central Appalachian
coalfields. Selenium in eastern watershed drainages was a specific
theme on which to anchor the workshop, because concerns have been
voiced regarding its apparent increased environmental presence as
a result of significant ground disturbances in the Central Appalachian
Summary and Conclusions from Workshop: Any satisfactory learning
experience creates more questions than answers. This was certainly
true of this experience. By getting a glimpse of what "the
other guy" sees and needs to know, it quickly became apparent
how limited our present approaches are to defining and solving scientific
problems AND THEN communicating the results in effective terms to
decision makers and other stakeholders. A list of some of these questions
is presented in Appendix II.
At the end of the three-day exercise, at a time when individuals
should be eager to quickly wrap things up and go home, there was
an unusually high level of energy and enthusiasm among the participants.
This was noted, both by the participants, as well as by outside observers
who were present from the beginning to the conclusion of the workshop.
Those in the regulatory role were very excited about how science
could play a stronger and more useful part in the decisions they
routinely make. In addition, it was invigorating to see highly respected
scientists come together to discuss what they knew AND did not know
about their component of the issue and potential new areas of research
that could be undertaken to fill in some of the gaps. The participants
dispersed at the end of the workshop thinking that if they had the
money and the time, they could immediately address several newly
identified issues around selenium in Appalachian watersheds and work
towards an integrated method for helping decision makers make more
informed decisions. With Decision Analysis, we recognized that we
could bring two ends of an issue together and be better informed
about their interdependencies. In using this comparison framework,
our science, then, becomes realistic, transparent, and useful – not
just some theoretical or abstract intellectual exercise.
It is important to note that no conclusions or interpretations from
the workshop (or any of the examples discussed in this summary) should
be considered scientific in terms of content or accuracy. This workshop
was merely an experiment to see if Decision Analysis tools and processes
could be used for the USGS to address an integrated thematic issue.
As intended, this work does provide a broad foundation for further
work on selenium geoenvironmental issues.
Selected responses from Workshop Participants (full collection on
pages 41 and 42).
- In the DA process, the stakeholders identify the most important
- The resultant DA model helps bring people together; they can
go away and still stay on track with model as a guide
- The treatment of uncertainty and sensitivity is valuable for
understanding options and decisions.
- DA leaves a strong record of how you reached a decision, because
the record of decisions is left behind within the process decision
documents. This helps the user clearly document a decision process
to better address future questions.
- DA can help identify keystone research needs.
- The Guiding Group was amazed at energy of Core Group at the end
of 3 days. They wanted to know how did USGS disciplines come together