Environmental Economics

Methods Development in Using Constructive Survey Approaches to Value Nonmarket Environmental Resources

  • Abstract
    Survey instruments, ranging from those designed to elicit contingent valuations to those that collect attitudes and opinions about policy options, are used as information sources to determine environmental policy and program actions. However, the current survey methods do not accurately represent the multidimensional and nonmonetary nature of the resource values that must be considered in the policy process. Therefore, this project develops a research program on two promising new environmental survey approaches, which appear to offer distinct advantages in providing comprehensive and focused databases on public responses to the issues and concerns policy makers are expected to address. The decision pathways approach asks respondents a series of interrelated questions, each of which has several answers. The choice of answers creates a decision path for each respondent, which in turn reveals the preferred resource management options and the reasoning strategies. The value integration approach begins by identifying the components of value relevant to the issue and assists respondents in using this knowledge to make informed tradeoff across alternative environmental policies. Both proposed survey approaches reflect the insights of behavioral decision theory and recognize the constructive nature of complex environmental values.
  • Metadata
    Principal Investigators:
    Gregory, Robin
    Slovic, Paul
    Flynn, James
    Technical Liaison:
    Research Organization:
    Decision Research
    Funding Agency/Program:
    Grant Year:
    Project Period:
    Cost to Funding Agency:
  • Project Reports
  • Project Status Reports

    The primary project objective is to investigate the relevance of the concept of constructed preferences, which suggests that values for complex environmental assets are not known in advance, but rather are constructed in the course of the elicitation process. This perspective argues for the adoption of environmental survey approaches that incorporate techniques for helping participants understand the attributes and implications of their own values to a much greater extent than is done at present (for example, via contingent valuation surveys). Only with this additional values tutorial, the constructed approach argues, will elicited values be accurate in the context of tradeoffs across the relevant economic, ecological, and social objectives of a proposed environmental policy.

    Our project is designed to provide a theoretical structure and initial empirical results for two experimental constructive survey approaches that are intended to clarify the value of nonmarket environmental assets: decision pathway surveys and value integration surveys. The decision pathway approach asks respondents to choose among several options, thereby improving policy makers’ understanding of participants’ reasoning and implied tradeoffs. The value integration approach provides assistance to respondents in structuring their values, and uses this information to first create, and subsequently evaluate, a range of policy alternatives.

    We have undertaken three principal tasks as part of this research effort; preliminary findings are now available for each. The first task is an examination of the rationale for using a constructed preferences approach to elicit defensible environmental values. This review is presented in a paper titled “A Constructive Approach to Environmental Valuation,” written by R. Gregory and P. Slovic, that has been accepted for publication in the journal Ecological Economics. Application of the constructed preferences approach to valuing environmental risks is discussed by R. Gregory, T. Brown, and J. Knetsch in the paper “Valuing Risks to the Environment,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 545: 54-63. Additional findings will become available from current experiments in preference construction that compare alternative methods for eliciting environmental policy tradeoffs.

    Our second task is to develop further the decision pathways approach. A critical aspect of this experimental method is the ability to define a small number of linked (sequential) questions that effectively represent the thinking processes of participants, and we are working with small group comparisons to determine the number of pathways that typically is required. We also continue to develop case study examples of the approach. The results of a completed survey in the context of vegetation management policy alternatives are presented in “Decision Pathway Surveys: A Tool for Resource Managers,” written by R. Gregory, J. Flynn, S. Johnson, S. Satterfield, and R. Wagner and accepted for publication in Land Economics.

    Our third task is to refine the experimental value integration survey approach. An important aspect of this work is the development of techniques for combining the individual weighted value attributes that participants have stated are relevant to the environmental option in such a way that several policy alternatives can be proposed and compared. We are currently working with small groups, using techniques drawn from multi-attribute utility theory (MAUT) and decision analysis, to determine the effects of different levels of value structuring and information provision on choices. A comparison of the contingent valuation method (CVM) and value integration approaches has been completed using a forest policy case example. A second case study examines the role of value integration methods in developing alternatives for a water use plan that compares environmental, energy, flood control, management, and recreational objectives. This case study is being written for journal submission.

    We believe that the preliminary findings of this research effort are of significance to the EPA and NSF in two respects. First, the findings provide insights into the nature of environmental values and the choice of appropriate elicitation techniques – ones that will be capable of capturing the multi-dimensional nature of the relevant environmental policy implications as well as the nonmonetary cognitive representation of many key value components. Second, the results are important for the efforts of federal and state resource management agencies to develop satisfactory benefit measures for nonmarket environmental policy initiatives. Central to this contribution is the hoped-for ability of decision pathway and value integration survey methods to provide specific and high-quality information regarding the tradeoffs that identified public and expert stakeholders wish to make across the conflicting objectives of a proposed environmental policy.

    The next steps of our work include further case study and empirical results from the small-group elicitation comparisons now underway. Project results were discussed at the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences national meeting in Atlanta (October 1996) and the Society for Risk Analysis national meeting in New Orleans (December 1996). In addition, project results will be discussed at several conferences during 1997, linking the research effort to related ongoing projects investigating forest policy tradeoffs (directed by Clifford Russell), fishing stocks on the Columbia River (directed by Randall Peterman), and citizen participation in waste management decisions

    (directed by Ortwin Renn). Meetings with members of the Advisory Committee, which includes experts in value-elicitation and survey-design methods as well as environmental policy assessments, are tentatively scheduled for late summer and early fall 1997, to review progress on the project to date and to evaluate the status of the two experimental survey approaches.

    Table 1 depicts the order of key steps in a value integration survey that is designed to assist participants to construct a defensible and policy-relevant understanding of their own values. The order of the steps, and the level of detail asked of participants, is critical because the survey method introduces a way of thinking about a proposed environmental policy action. In a typical values integration survey, participants are encouraged to develop and evaluate two or three alternative programs as a step toward achieving greater reality in public input to policy decisions of this type. This assistance is in line with the notion of a values tutorial and the explicit recognition that, because value construction necessarily occurs as part of elicitation, it only makes sense to employ an explicit and careful approach.

    1. Task introduction
    2. Open-ended elicitation of views on proposed policy
    3. Values background
    4. Factual background
    5. Structured values presentation: dimensions of the problem
    6. Tutorial on elicitation process
    7. Defining key values
    8. Measuring key values (in terms of measurable attributes)
    9. Rating the relative importance of specified values
    10. Evaluation: valuing one dimension in terms of another
    11. Connecting implied values to dimensions
    12. Introduction of proposed policy alternatives A, B, C
    13. Connecting expressed values to choices
    14. Iterating for consistency
    15. Summary evaluation of policy option ($ willing to pay, points)
    16. Selecting a preferred alternative
    17. Debriefing on task and evaluation process

    Table 1. Example Sequence of Value-Integration Survey Tasks.