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1.5 Uncertainty in Socio-Political Context

The uncertainty typology illustrated in appendix A provides most detail on scientific uncertainty and less detail on sociopolitical and institutional uncertainties. This section provides more detail on the latter uncertainties to address their implications for the environmental assessment process. De Marchi et al. (1994) have outlined seven distinct types of uncertainty, which are defined in the glossary (appendix B). In the left hand column of the table below, rank the uncertainties in terms of their relative salience to the problem, from '1' (most salient uncertainty type) to '3' (third most salient uncertainty type). Independent of the relative salience of each uncertainty, you should also provide a judgment on the severity of each type of uncertainty by selecting one of the boxes to the right. Some examples may illustrate the point. It is possible that scientific uncertainty could by severe (high), but the scientific uncertainties may not be important to the policy process -- in which case the salience of scientific uncertainty would be ranked low relative to the other uncertainties. Conversely, scientific uncertainties could be relatively mild, but still dominate a problem that was relatively technical and devoid of salience in the other uncertainty dimensions.

1. Rank the salience and severity of the different types of uncertainty for this problem:

salience rank severity
low medium high

Implications for methods and uncertainty types

if scientific uncertainty salient and severe, highlight inexactness (e.g. expressed as a range of possible values, in terms of statistical uncertainty and scenario uncertainty), unreliability (i.e. the backing/underpinning is weak) and (recognized) ignorance as appropriate manifestations of uncertainty

if legal uncertainty salient and severe, the assessment process should involve legal analysts

if moral uncertainty salient and severe, highlight value loadingladenness issues of uncertainties and involve stakeholders with different views of problem frame

if societal uncertainty salient and severe, involve stakeholders representative of different social views of the problem and decision process

if institutional uncertainty salient and severe, highlight communication between PBL and other institutions that may reduce this

if proprietary uncertainty salient and severe, identify inequity in access to knowledge and highlight communication steps or empowerment issues to address this

if situational uncertainty salient and severe, describe the decision process and highlight communication steps within PBL or with outside people that may reduce this

Outputs from section 1

  • A description of the problem.
  • A gauge of how well assessment tools address the problem.
  • A list of which uncertainties are salient on the basis of problem structure.
  • An indication of the relevance of uncertainty for the policy problem at hand.
  • An indication of whether to involve stakeholders or not.
  • A scoring of the maturity of the problem in the policy process.
  • A relative ranking of scientific and socio-political uncertainties.