Assessing Uncertainty in Expert Judgments About Natural Resources


Judgments are necessary in natural resources management, but uncertainty about these judgments should be assessed. When all judgments are rejected in the absence of hard data, valuable professional experience and knowledge are not utilized fully. The objective of assessing uncertainty is to get the best representation of knowledge and its bounds. Uncertainty assessments can be used to compare alternative projects and risks, help prevent use of extreme decision strategies, help communicate and justify decisions, guide research, and establish monitoring programs to improve learning. Uncertainty assessment is the art and skill of judging the level of knowledge that backs up estimates. Use of structured processes, use of an objective analyst or facilitator, and development of rewards for honesty and introspection in professional judgment can increase the accuracy of assessments. Techniques and performance aids are available for structuring decisions and uncertain elements, guarding against motivational and cognitive biases, and dealing with rare but consequential events. Experience and increased understanding of decision analysis, artificial intelligence, and behavioral decision theory will also enable decisionmakers to make increasingly accurate assessments of uncertainty in professional judgment.

  • Citation: Cleaves, David A. 1994. Assessing Uncertainty in Expert Judgments About Natural Resources. Gen. Tech. Rep. SO-110. New Orleans, LA: U.S. Dept of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Forest Experiment Station. 17 p.

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