Risk Analysis

Use of Risk Assessment and Life Cycle Assessment in Decision Making: A Common Policy Research Agenda

Journal Article

Quantitative risk assessment (RA) and life cycle assessment (LCA) are both analytical tools used to support decision making in environmental management. They have been developed and used by largely separate groups of specialists, and it is worth considering whether there is a common research agenda that may increase the relevance of these tools in decision‐making processes. The validity of drawing comparisons between use of the tools is established through examining key aspects of the two approaches for their similarities and differences, including the nature of each approach and contextual and methodological aspects. Six case studies involving use of each approach in public decision making are described and used to draw out concerns about using RA and LCA in this context. The following categories of concern can be distinguished: philosophical approach of the tools; quantitative versus qualitative assessment; stakeholder participation; the nature of the results; and the usefulness of the results in relation to time and financial resource requirements. These can be distilled into a common policy research agenda focusing on: the legitimacy of using tools built on a particular perspective in decision making; recognition and role of value judgments in RA and LCA; treatment of uncertainty and variability; the influence of analytical tools in focusing attention on particular aspects of a decision‐making situation; and understandability of the results for nonspecialists. It is concluded that it is time to bring together the experiences of RA and LCA specialists and benefit from cross‐fertilization of ideas.

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