The future of Forest Management Decision Support Systems

Community of Practice for Forest Management Decision Support Systems
Community of Practice for Forest Management Decision Support Systems

Decision making in Forest Management can be supported in many ways. Decision Support Systems (DSS) are computer-based systems which provide support in solving ill-structured decision problems. Decision makers are able to interact with research models and database management systems. The expert knowledge of scientists, managers, and decision makers is combined to support specific decision making activities. The potential for the development of DSS in forest management is set by decision theory, available technology and methods. Demands for decision support are emerging from challenges and problems of forest management which act as stimuli for the DSS research community. As objectives and approaches in forest management as well as technologies have been changing throughout history, the demand for DSS to support planning and decision making will change in future as well. A review on the most important drivers has been recently published (Vacik & Lexer, 2014).

Given the huge uncertainties regarding to future environmental conditions as well as societal demands DSS are seen as a very promising for implementing strategic ecosystem management. Research tries to cover these demands by improving models, introducing new methods and holistic planning approaches in DSS. However, the different expectations on future DSS cause several dilemmas:

  • Demands from policy and expectations of various user groups require complex models. Decision analysts and scientists try to cover the complexity of the real world with sophisticated models and methods. That might overwhelm decision makers and DSS users.
  • Users expect easy to use and smart tools similar to their day to day experience with software applications in their own working environment or special Apps running on their Smartphone. The design of the graphical user interfaces and the underlying models becomes challenging.
  • The way in which reality is represented in a DSS is depending on the context of the decision support application, the perspective of the actor and the needs of the underlying decision problem. The higher the demand for meaningful cases is, the more emphasis will have to be put on the way in which and how information is presented.
  • To lower the barrier for the general use of DSS, more importance has to be given on the consideration of the “joy and play” factor in the design. Highly motivated and interested decision makers are more likely to conduct a repeated analysis with a decision support tool, which will lead to a deeper understanding of the problem.

Whether a DSS is intended to be used at the scale of an individual private property or at regional to continental scales for policy makers, the ease of use is a strong factor for its acceptance. Ease of use is a combination of the DSS clarity of purpose, interface, and support – factors which will be crucial for the adoption and success in the future (Marques et al. 2013).

The emerging possibilities of new IT technologies could allow the development of very smart applications also in the forest domain. However, there is a widening gap between smart applications and the growing complexity of models which forest science is developing. These discrepancies will become larger, as long as the demands rise and the DSS community attempt to meet these demands. This might lead to a decoupling of the research community working in the field of forest DSS from the emerging field of advanced analytics and smart technologies.

The Community of Practice on Forest Management Decision Support Systems (www.ForestDSS.org ) organizes knowledge about the construction and use of forest Decision Support Systems (DSS) for promoting sustainable forest management. Several DSS are described which allow to draw conclusions on lessons learned and possible future developments. The purpose is to provide a platform to share tips and best practices and ask questions to colleagues. Practitioners and experts from research, public bodies, business and NGOs with an interest in DSSs are welcomed to comment on these expectations on the future developments. Join also the business meeting (6.10.2014) in collaboration with IUFRO group 4.03.03 (Information management and information technologies) at the IUFRO congress.

Written by: Harald Vacik
Affiliation: University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences
Country: Austria


This post is entry #9 in the #IUFRO2014 Blog Competition. The most popular entry will receive a certificate and 500 USD. The second and third most popular entries will receive a certificate and copy of the new book, “Forests and Globalization: Challenges and Opportunities for Sustainable Development”.

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