EPA Website

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Analytical Hierarchy Decision Process

Amidst this myriad of indicators and databases the question is how to interpret and synthesize these numbers into an overall sustainability rating.  This rating must be supported by a thoughtful, clearly defined path.  The user must be able to justify the interpretation of the data and the weighting of factors that arrive at a sustainability rating that will govern future growth and development. 

To understand the decision process it is important to understand what is given (the beginning step) and what is to be obtained (the final step).  The Virtual North Carolina webpage compiles data and descriptions for sustainability indicators; this data is used to determine how sustainable a community currently is, the direction it needs to head to produce a more sustainable region, a guide to embarking on more efficient and effective methods and practices, and a way to compare regions. 

As sustainability is a vastly broad topic, it has been sectored into four main areas—human health, environmental quality, economic vitality, and social justice.  These main attributes of sustainability are broken down into sub-attributes, then into sub-sub-attributes, continuing until a bottom level of obtainable, measurable indicators is reached.  This website contains the data, descriptions, and trees connecting the indicators in order for users to visualize and comprehend the connections.  The compilation of this data is the beginning step in the process (what is given).  Furthermore, the end goal is an accurate, reliable sustainability rating of a region (what is to be obtained).  

The Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) is the method to connect the beginning and final steps.  AHP is a type of multi-attribute decision making.  This logical, analytical process guides users through the steps of how to synthesize the criteria, using a simplistic or complicated mathematical method, to reach an overall rating.  

            AHP consists of 9 main steps (see Figure 1): specify the problem, specify the options, specify the attributes, specify the metrics, specify the weightings, specify the algorithm, assess the options, rank the options, and select the option. 

Policy Selection

The AHP serves to arrive at a rational and logical policy derived from the decisions at each step.  If the final option is disputed, then the policy maker can guide an individual through the process.  An individual cannot refute a policy based upon one’s neglect to discuss an option, indicator, or weight during the process.  Ultimately, the policies and decisions might not be popular, but they will be derived from a fair and just process.