Category Archives: Blogs

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Decision-Making Under Uncertain Climate Change: A Response, and an Invitation, to Bret Stephens

By Robert Lempert and Marjolijn Haasnoot

In columnist Bret Stephens’ first blog post for the New York Times, published at the end of April, he highlights the uncertainty surrounding climate change, warns against overconfidence, and issues an invitation to dialogue. We agree that significant uncertainty exists regarding the future impacts of climate change and the costs of avoiding those impacts, that it is dangerous to ignore or downplay that uncertainty, and that acknowledging these uncertainties can provide a strong foundation for dialogue.

A vast literature exists on uncertainty and climate change. Most of it suggests that uncertainty is a reason for action. That said, it remains a significant challenge to determine what actions most effectively balance society’s many goals, in the presence of deep uncertainty about the likelihood of various futures and how our actions are related to consequences.

In exchanges with Stephens, both Andy Revkin and Costa Samaras highlighted the Society for Decision Making Under Deep Uncertainty as a community that brings together researchers and practitioners from all over the world. We develop, apply and exchange experiences on methods, approaches and case studies on decision making under deep uncertainty. Climate change is one of the policy domains (though not the only one) of great interest to many of the Society’s members. Continue reading

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A practical approach to resilience

by Karin de Bruijn and Marjolein Mens
Societies face increasing complexity and uncertainty in decision making to cope with extreme weather events. Therefore oversimplified risk approaches should evolve to much richer resilience strategies. Yet, resilience is often more a policy buzzword or topic for theoretical debate than an actual operational paradigm. It is often not clear for policy makers and practitioners how they can translate the main notions of resilience thinking into practical implementation.

A team of researchers have translated the scientific debate on resilience into practical principles. These five principles can be used by policy makers and practitioners to develop strategies that enhance resilience to extreme weather events, such as droughts, floods and typhoons.

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Preparing transport for an uncertain climate future: I don’t have a crystal ball, but I have a computer

by Julie Rozenberg, Economist at the World Bank in the Chief Economist Office for Sustainable Development.

This blog is a reposted from the World Bank.

In 2015, severe floods washed away a series of bridges in Mozambique’s Nampula province, leaving several small villages completely isolated. Breslau, a local engineer and one of our counterparts, knew that rebuilding those bridges would take months. Breslau took his motorbike and drove the length of the river to look for other roads, trails, or paths to help the villagers avoid months of isolation. He eventually found an old earth path that was quickly cleaned up and restored… After a few days, the villagers had an alternative to the destroyed bridge, reconnecting them to the rest of the network and the country.

What happened in the Nampula province perfectly illustrates how a single weather event can quickly paralyze transport connections, bringing communities and economies to a screeching halt. There are many more examples of this phenomenon, which affects both developing and developed countries. On March 30th, a section of the I-85 interstate collapsed in Atlanta, causing schools to close and forcing many people to work from home. In Peru, food prices increase in Lima when the carretera central is disrupted by landslides because agricultural products can’t be brought to market.

How can we help countries improve the resilience of their transport networks in a context of scarce resources and rising climate uncertainty?

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First Annual Training Day on DMDU methods

by: Steven Popper

The Society for Decision Making under Deep Uncertainty held its first annual training day event on 15 November 2016 at World Bank Headquarters in Washington, DC. This was the day prior to the start of the DMDU Society’s annual two-day workshop. The Society’s leadership team has decided that a training day will precede future DMDU workshops under the direction of the chair for education and training in coordination with that year’s workshop organizing committee. This decision is a direct response to an interest expressed through the questionnaire on education and training distributed to the Society’s membership earlier in 2016. The survey disclosed not only an interest in such a session but a willingness to participate on the part of students, DMDU analysts and methodologists, and policy practitioners.

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Deep Uncertainty and the Long-Term: Time, the policy challenge and enablers for policy persistence

by Judy Lawrence and Robert Lempert

At the conclusion of the DMDU workshop at Deltares, The Netherlands in 2015, we identified political scientists as an additional group that could inform the discussions at the next annual workshop. Accordingly, we designed a problem session at the annual workshop at the World Bank in 2016, entitled: Deep Uncertainty and the Long-Term: Time, the policy challenge and enablers for policy persistence. Whether or not decision makers consider the implications of their decisions for future generations under changing conditions depends on a range of institutional, political, behavioural and ethical factors. One of these is the extent to which policy decisions are influenced by short-termism or presentist bias. This in turn, depends on the political context within which decisions are made.

Tools developed for decision making under conditions of uncertainty and change, need to be ‘fit’ for the changing environment and for the political context, to enable policies to persist over time and adapt to changing conditions. Or the political context could be changed using commitment devices. Thus, for successful implementation of policies that can persist over the long term or be adjusted as the world changes, we need to understand the drivers that motivate the actors.

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What are the topics of this year’s annual meeting? A word cloud

by  Marjolijn Haasnoot, Laura Bonzanigo

Tomorrow we will start our 4th annual meeting of the Society for Decision Making under Deep Uncertainty. Like last year we made word cloud of the titles of the presentation, abstract and posters.  As expected ‘uncertainty’ is one of the most frequent words this year. However, this has not always been the case. If you look back at the word clouds from previous meetings (see picture below), you see this pops up in the second meeting, and in the third meeting this becomes DEEP uncertainty. Is uncertainty increasing?
Regarding the policy domains and topics that are addressed ‘infrastructure’ and ‘climate’ stand out in this year’s meeting. The topic of ‘water’ follows after that. In previous years water was more present, while in the first meeting that was less of a clear policy topic that stood out. ‘Climate’ as topic for deep uncertainty has always been there, although less apparent in the titles of last years meeting. You might also notice a change from ‘robust decision making/analysis’ in the first meeting towards ‘adaptation/adaptive decision making’. The most outstanding difference the infrastructure in this year’s meeting. We are very much looking forward to hear more …

wordle-all-years

Word clouds are made with: http://www.wordle.net/create

 

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Programme for the 2016 annual workshop is now available!

The World Bank will host the 2016 DMDU workshop in Washington DC, on November 16 and 17, 2016, with a training on DMDU methodologies scheduled for November 15th, 2016. There is still place for the training, but it is running out fast. Please confirm here by October 15 if you have not done that already, to make sure we save you a spot! The annual meeting is fully booked. Please let us know if you will not come so there will be place for others to attend. Download the programme. Continue reading

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Embracing Uncertainty for Better Decision-Making

by Laura Tuck and Julie Rozenberg, Sustainable Development Practice Group, World Bank Group

We all face uncertainties.

What if the train’s late? What if it rains? What if traffic is bad? What if there’s a shift in government before the project starts?

Every day we’re hit by all the “what ifs” especially in our line of work at the World Bank Group, whether in the field or within our organization. But how do we best cope with this? Embracing uncertainties may be the answer.

The World Bank Group has been at the forefront of mainstreaming new methods to deal with uncertainties. In fact, you may not know this, but the World Bank is one of the founding members of the Society for Decision Making Under Deep Uncertainty.

Today’s decision makers face conditions of fast-paced, transformative, and often surprising change. Traditional decision analysis relies on point and probabilistic predictions. But under conditions of deep uncertainty, predictions are often wrong, and relying on them can prove costly and dangerous. Fortunately, new methods and processes now exist to help decision makers identify and evaluate robust and adaptive strategies, thereby making sound decisions in the face of these challenges. Continue reading

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Report from Session B5 on “Managing Uncertainty” at the 8th International Congress on Environmental Modelling and Software

by Joseph Guillaume

At the iEMSs2016 conference in Toulouse, the session on Decision Making under Deep Uncertainty (see blog report) was accompanied by a more generic one on “Managing Uncertainty”, organised by Joseph Guillaume (Aalto University), Tony Jakeman (Australian National University), Holger Maier (The University of Adelaide), Jiri Nossent (Flanders Hydraulics Research and Vrije Universiteit Brussel) and Evelina Trutnevyte (ETH Zurich).

The session emphasised the diversity of approaches for managing uncertainty. Contributions notably covered sensitivity analysis, scenario analysis, parameter estimation and uncertainty quantification. While not directly tied to Decision Making under Deep Uncertainty, it is important to remember that these techniques form the foundations of our analyses – the means of addressing any uncertainty that is not treated as deep. As argued in a recent publication in Environmental Modelling and Software (Maier at al. 2016), multiple paradigms for modelling the future tend to co-exist, with different parts of an analysis focussed on capturing best available knowledge, quantifying uncertainty, and exploring multiple plausible futures. Continue reading

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Deep Uncertainty at the International Congress on Environmental Modeling and Software

by Rob Lempert and Jan Kwakkel,

The 8th International Congress on Environmental Modeling and Software in Toulouse, France, on July 10-14, 2016, featured a track titled Advancing in Environmental Decision Making Under Deep Uncertainty: Emerging Tools and Challenges. The track was co-organized by Jan Kwakkel (Delft University of Technology), Patrick Reed (Cornell), Robert Lempert (RAND Corporation), and Marjolijn Haasnoot (Deltares). The track consisted of four sessions with four papers in each session.

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