Servicio de Información Comunitario sobre Investigación y Desarrollo - CORDIS

Development of a slopes decision support system

The decision support system incorporates expert knowledge on slope stability and eco-engineering and represents a user-friendly solution for help in decision-making process on mitigation of slope instability. Based on the results of field studies, experience of the project partners, theory and case studies available in the literature, the Slope Decision Support System (SDSS) is a moders decision support system that promotes use of eco-engineering solutions for mitigation of slope stability problems connected with the uppermost soil horizons. The basic considerations, design aims and objectives, together with the advantages and the disadvantages of the approach are discussed in the light of ever evolving decision making system theory.

The SDSS incorporates the components of a classic DSS having methods and instruments for dealing with unstructured or semi-structured problems, as well as with incomplete datasets. Being an interactive computer based system, which is more descriptive, and user friendly than traditional decision models it represents a user-oriented system where the modelling and analysis is made to the benefit of the end-user who interacts with the system via the dataset entered as project specific information.

Using the advantages of the underlying software, allows that the quality of the data that are entered by the user largely defines the outcome. When the user enters no information at all, only general remarks of neutral suitability and unspecified confidence level are returned. This feature is used in the SDSS to help the user to select relevant information from the field, manual, or literature interactively and come back to the SDSS with more information, knowing that the confidence level increases with the inclusion of more types of information. Similarly, the user may follow up the advice presented to a help file through a hyperlink.

SDSS highlights the positive points of the approach used in its design. Representing an ‘expert system’ it has a potential to remind experienced end-users of the availability of different options to consider and to help a new user reach a complex decision without using optimisation tools and without mastering advanced modelling. One of the largest benefits to the end-users is that their knowledge and experience can be systematically used in interactive problem solving processes.

However, the output should be treated with caution. In an ‘ideal world’ for DSS developers, the end user will be allowed to specify in advance which decision he/she wants to make and then give all the factors which the DSS will use to ‘construct a plausible series of logical-sounding steps to connect the premises with the conclusion’. Of course, what the user wants is not always corresponding to hers/his needs, and what the user wants is not always what she/he will get. Even the best DSS will not eliminate ‘bad’ decisions, since there will always be end-users asking the wrong questions or describing the problem in a wrong way, as well as the ones who will draw wrong conclusions from the information and advice they will receive from the DSS.

In spite of all its advantages, the SDSS is expected to face ‘people problems’ arising from cognitive constraints in adopting computer-based systems, incomprehension of the advice and guidance obtained as an output, which can lead to discarding it in favour of past experience. Reactions such as getting advice and support through oral communication with peers and colleagues when it comes to sensitiveness to the specific preferences and desires of one or several decision makers are also not difficult to imagine.

However, it is evident that in the future larger groups of eco-engineering practitioners, officers or students who are comfortable with interactive tools and who have hands-on experience with computer software are expected to emerge and to make the tools like the SDSS indispensable in day-to-day decision making processes.

The SDSS has been presented at international scientific conferences and to policy makers at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (webcast presentation available on COP10 website). The SDSS is freely available (via the coordinator or on the project website) and will be produced as a CD in 2005. Several publications have been written about the SDSS. A manual/text-book which can be used hand-in-hand with the SDSS will also be published in 2005.

The SDSS is the first management tool of its kind to be developed. This tool encompasses both eco- and ground bio-engineering techniques in an easy-to-use software. Although only currently suitable for use in Europe, the SDSS can be adapted for other situations and countries. The expected benefits of the SDSS will be an improvement of advice available to end-users. Those end-users may be government bodies or SMEs (typically environmental consultancy companies).

Further information on the project can be found at: http://www.ecoslopes.com

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