Keywords: decision support, focus groups, integrated assessment, model routes, participation, sustainable development
Integrated assessment of sustainable development: multiple perspectives in interaction
Integrated assessment (IA) is a maturing research approach aiming at providing decision support on complex environment-related problems. Although interdisciplinary research is a pre-condition for IA, in order to reach the goals that IA has set it is necessary to go beyond interdisciplinary research efforts alone. There are two major reasons for this: the nature of democratic decision-making, and the nature of complex issues. The views held by stakeholders and the public at large are an integral part of democratic decision-making processes. Integrated assessments, which aim to support decision-making in an appropriate and relevant way, should therefore synthesise interdisciplinary scientific insights with a wide variety of societal views. Furthermore, this paper argues that the sustainability issues with which IA is concerned are complex problems, in the sense that they cannot be fully described or solved in any unique way. One of the reasons for this is the essentially contested character of the concept "sustainable development". Against this background, the search for techniques of articulation and interaction of multiple perspectives is a major challenge for the IA community. Where the nature of democratic processes asks for taking into account views of a diversity of actors, the nature of the issues considered demands that multiple perspectives are included in integrated assessments. Decision support building on a single scientific description is therefore not at all sufficient for addressing complex problems in a democratic decision-making context. To this end, this paper argues that it seems promising to develop techniques that combine scientific assessment tools with public participation methods. In order to contribute to the search for such new IA techniques, this paper discusses some new avenues in IA modelling, and the application of a well-established social scientific tool, namely focus groups, in integrated assessment.