Decisions about energy in developing communities are challenging from a technical standpoint, and because of the unique characteristics that typify them, e.g. limited infrastructure and government budgets, complex social and political arrangements, and economic vulnerability. Against the backdrop of these challenges, the government of Canada’s Northwest Territories (NWT) is attempting to reform the region’s energy system. This paper provides insights from the decision sciences, stemming from our work on the NWT’s energy planning process, about how to structure decisions about energy development and delivery so as to effectively meet a range of stakeholders’ objectives in a transparent and inclusive manner.
This article presents research aimed at developing and testing an online, multistakeholder decision-aiding framework for informing multiattribute risk management choices associated with energy development and climate change. The framework was designed to provide necessary background information and facilitate internally consistent choices, or choices that are in line with users’ prioritized objectives. In order to test different components of the decision-aiding framework, a six-part, 2 × 2 × 2 factorial experiment was conducted, yielding eight treatment scenarios. The three factors included: (1) whether or not users could construct their own alternatives; (2) the level of detail regarding the composition of alternatives users would evaluate; and (3) the way in which a final choice between users’ own constructed (or highest-ranked) portfolio and an internally consistent portfolio was presented. Participants’ self-reports revealed the framework was easy to use and providing an opportunity to develop one’s own risk-management alternatives (Factor 1) led to the highest knowledge gains. Empirical measures showed the internal consistency of users’ decisions across all treatments to be lower than expected and confirmed that providing information about alternatives’ composition (Factor 2) resulted in the least internally consistent choices. At the same time, those users who did not develop their own alternatives and were not shown detailed information about the composition of alternatives believed their choices to be the most internally consistent. These results raise concerns about how the amount of information provided and the ability to construct alternatives may inversely affect users’ real and perceived internal consistency.