Risks and options assessment for decision-making

In an interview, Professor Quentin Grafton discussed the risks and option for decision-making (ROAD) process, as a successful approach for helping communities to deal with complex challenges. This article provides a primer of the ROAD process and explains how it can be used.

The ROAD process is one that can be used to engage with multiple decision-makers and stakeholders dealing with, and navigating complex problems. ROAD can be used to support better water management, and it can also be used to address the multitude of other challenges associated with water management, including food security, sanitation and hygiene, and energy security.

ROAD works in different ways, depending on who the stakeholders and decision-makers are, and what they are trying to accomplish.

What is ROAD?

In ‘Responding to global challenges in food, energy, environment and water: risks and options assessment for decision-making‘, authored by Quentin Grafton, Professor of Economics at the Australian National University and others, the writers explain the process:

“The ROAD is an adaptive process that assesses risks and possible responses in food, soil, energy and water systems. It is designed to enable decision-makers to make risk-based responses to food, soil, energy and water threats. It is intended to be a practical means to address threats to food security and offers the prospect of incorporating the insights of sustainable intensification, the nexus, resilience thinking and other ways of thinking, to generate better risk-based decisions and outcomes. It is, above all, an action research process that can be applied at different scales to improve decision-making in the presence of systemic risks.” Crawford School of Public Policy

The paper explains that ROAD supports individuals, households, businesses, and governments to assess risks and integrate them into decision making, therefore providing the structure to incorporate different classes of scientific information.

ROAD users have to determine the decision space, objectives, and stakeholders, or scope; identify triggers, or the events that are the immediate cause of a risk to be assessed; assess casual risks; analyse decision options involving controls and mitigants including a summary and justification for decisions; and implement the decisions, as well as review outcomes. Each step builds on the prior one, but users can go back to previous steps to adapt.

ROAD can be used to plan ahead to manage potential risks, or to deal with risks once triggered.

Adaptability and scale

Because the ROAD process is adaptable it can be made relevant and effective in different locales, different sized groups, and different time constraints.

Grafton has used ROAD, working on varied projects. “How we’ve done the ROAD process in Vietnam is different from how we’ve done the ROAD process in South Asia,” explains Grafton. “It’s just a different context. You have to do things differently and you have to do the process differently… You learn as much as you can from the partners you’re working with, get their advice.”

ROAD may not necessarily solve a complex problem, explains Grafton, but it can provide valuable information to consider.

“You help to resolve it, get understanding, and actually think about some options and prioritisation of actions,” says Grafton. “That’s what we’re trying to do in that context, and that very much has a food dimension and a livelihood dimension to it.”

Quentin Grafton speaks about ROAD, its relevance, and its history in a FE2W video. Grafton asserts that ROAD can be seen as a process that can help countries and communities to navigate the ‘perfect storm’ to do with water and food that awaits us on the global stage.

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