Integration of Social Vulnerability into Robust Decision Making

START’s Cities at Risk program focuses on understanding vulnerability, promoting adaptive management to manage risk from natural disasters and enhancing resilience of the population in large coastal cities of Asia and Africa. Coastal cities of Asia and Africa are projected to grow significantly in the next several decades. Global environmental changes, and especially changes in climate variability and extremes will cause significant challenges for sustainability of the urban infrastructure as well as livelihood and security of urban populations.

Coastal urban areas face significant future flood risk and hence water resource management challenges driven by hard-to predict future climate and socio-economic trends. Of particular interest is the vulnerability of large cohorts of urban poor whose needs are often ignored in relation to water resource-related infrastructural development. To address this challenge, these urban areas need to pursue an integrated flood risk management strategy that combines investments in infrastructure with adaptation enabling incentives and tradeoffs that benefit the most vulnerable cohorts. Such an integrated strategy offers many benefits in the face of uncertain future risk, including the flexibility to evolve over time in response to new information and the ability to provide multiple layers of protection against the impacts from flood. But these virtues also make it difficult to employ traditional planning methods, which are designed to manage well characterized uncertainty and to evaluate static strategies that do not change over time. In addition, traditional planning methods are not designed to facilitate the extensive stakeholder engagement that an effective integrated flood risk management strategy requires.

In such context, a robust decision making (RDM) methodology, pioneered by the Frederick S. Pardee Center for Longer Range Global Policy and the Future Human Condition based at the RAND Corporation, is being promoted in Asian cities in collaboration with START. Early experience with this methodology in the case of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam has shown that it is possible to improve the ability of urban communities and administrations to design and implement integrated management strategies.

Rather than rely on best-estimate probability distributions or a small number of scenarios, RDM methodology runs simulation models over many thousands of different combinations of assumptions in order to compare the performance of alternative strategies over many plausible future conditions. Statistical analyses of the resulting database of model runs reveal the future conditions where proposed strategies will and will not meet their goals. This information can be used to help design and then evaluate the tradeoffs among new or augmented strategies that prove robust over a wide range of plausible futures.

RDM is designed to facilitate stakeholder interactions using a “deliberation with analysis” process. The approach aims to combine the best features of traditional probabilistic risk and traditional scenario analysis. Recent innovation includes incorporation of social vulnerability aspects in the RDM tool.

Training Events in Robust Decision Making

Improving the Integration of Social Vulnerability into Robust Decision Making
In June 2013, START and the RAND Corporation organized a training on robust decision making in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Vietnam. The aim of the training was to integrate social vulnerability considerations into the city’s decision-making and policy processes. The training brought together practitioners, technical specialists, decision makers, and academics from the region to review and discuss an RDM analysis recently completed for the city. Participants generated a list of measures of social vulnerability, potential policy interventions, and relevant uncertainties to consider for HCMC. Discussions focused on how social vulnerability indices could be quantified as an input to the risk model and add richness to model outputs. This initial workshop will inform future analysis that considers tradeoffs and tipping points and helps identify creative new policies that meet the needs of a broader range of groups.

Improving the Integration of Social Vulnerability into Robust Decision Making II
START and RAND held a workshop in Shanghai during September 2014 to train a select group of planners and decision makers in this new way of thinking, help them frame and ask the right analytical questions, and introduce them to the technical tools that can help answer these questions. This workshop laid the foundation for an anticipated follow-on quantitative planning effort with select participants. In this follow-on effort, some participants will work closely with RAND researchers, spending 4 weeks at RAND offices in Santa Monica, California to apply RDM to their planning challenges.

Last Updated on October 14th, 2015