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Environmental decision support systems (EDSS) development e Challenges and best practices

Article by IWC's Dr Brian McIntosh et al in Environmental Modelling & Software


Despite the perceived value of DSS in informing environmental and natural resource management, DSS tools often fail to be adopted by intended end users. By drawing together the experience of a global group of EDSS developers, we have identified and assessed key challenges in EDSS development and offer recommendations to resolve them.

Challenges related to engaging end users in EDSS development emphasise the need for a participatory process that embraces end users and stakeholders throughout the design and development process. Adoption challenges concerned with individual and organisational capacities to use EDSS and the match between EDSS and organisational goals can be overcome through the use of an internal champion to promote the EDSS at different levels of a target organisation; coordinate and build capacity within the organisation, and; ensure that developers maintain focus on developing EDSS which are relatively easy and inexpensive to use and update (and which are perceived as such by the target users).

Significant challenges exist in relation to ensuring EDSS longevity and financial sustainability. Such business challenges may be met through planning and design that considers the long-term costs of training, support, and maintenance; revenue generation and licensing by instituting processes which support communication and interactions; and by employing software technology which enables easy model expansion and re use to gain an economy of scale and reduce development costs.

A final group of perhaps more problematic challenges relate to how the success of EDSS ought to be evaluated. Whilst success can be framed relatively easily in terms of interactions with end users, difficulties of definition and measurability emerge in relation to the extent to which EDSS achieve intended outcomes.

To tackle the challenges described, the authors provide a set of best practice recommendations concerned with promoting design for ease of use, design for usefulness, establishing trust and credibility, promoting EDSS acceptance, and starting simple and small in functionality terms. Following these recommendations should enhance the achievement of successful EDSS adoption, but more importantly, help facilitate the achievement of desirable social and environmental outcomes.

(c) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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