Servizio Comunitario di Informazione in materia di Ricerca e Sviluppo - CORDIS

Decision support tool

To maximise practical utility, soil information systems (SIS) can be embodied into a decision support framework. Providing decision support for optimum planning and sustainable management of the urban soil resource at local, national and European levels necessitate an acceptance of differing value sets among stakeholders. Environmental justification is a key need. This demands transparency, flexibility and inclusion as a foundation to an appropriate spatial decision support system (SDSS) geared to appraise the urban soil resource and its valuable functions within a wide range of urban environments.

The URBSOIL DST facilitates the ongoing and continuous capture of heuristic urban soil knowledge within an online computer mediated decision support (OCMDS) framework. Its methodologies have generated extremely significant participation levels, recorded each stage of the decision making process and have generated iterative statistical group response. Such methodologies have been shown to aid consensus building among a broad peer group of expertise, separated throughout the geographical extremes of Europe, with little opportunity for face-to-face discussion. The framework has allowed the development of urban soil quality methodologies that are transparent in construction. Each stage of the decision making process is transferable to an appropriate knowledge base. Integration of OCMDS with an online geographic information system (GIS) and appropriately flexible SIS, with options to include models, provides a Web-based spatial decision support system. It allows end users the ability and flexibility to reason a problem "as a soil scientist". In addition, the combined SDSS framework allows added opportunity for stakeholders to participate in the decision making process and to do so in an asynchronous manner. Together with the added transparency of knowledge, the framework thus increases the probability of consensus building and environmental justification for sustainable urban soil management.

Data access and knowledge or possession of information is key barrier to delivering harmonised approaches to environmental management and planning decisions. Therefore the URBSOIL DST is flexible to maximise utility. It tries to bridge the gap between a highly specific tool, which has limited flexibility to adapt to changes in requirements and consequently limited application and a highly general tool that is of very little scenario specific use without considerable development. The tool needs to take into account the significance of transient data, released by data owners.

To manage this process, we have created a software framework within which soil data can be entered by members of the project teams working at different locations and that data viewed by all members online as html tables, on GIS maps as well as through downloads as excel spreadsheets. The data is stored in a general format and the data management strategies may then be discusses and progressed using a component of the toolkit which allows an iterative set of questionnaires to be constructed and analysed, each questionnaire based on the previous.

Data harmonization (e.g. both soil and climate etc.) is achieved through storage in a standardized yet flexible format that is converted to Excel (for upload/download) and Access (for GIS presentation) and is suitable for conversion to other formats for future development/applications. Automatic calculations of statistical properties and summaries of data are immediately available online whenever soil data is uploaded or edited online using the tool. Data can be compared online, using box plots for instance, between cities and sites within cities and within arbitrary subcategories, representing current land uses or some other characteristic, which can easily be defined and modified, and in which data can be assigned and reassigned to multiple categories.

The soil properties, localities or cities and even sites within these cities are not fixed at any stage and the tool contains the functionality to add new these to the database at any stage in the process even to add new properties as the need for them arises (i.e. are not constrained). The software currently allows for new properties to be added, analysed and can be viewed at any stage even after data collection and site investigations have begun. We employ a 3-stage approach involving remote data input, data viewing and analysis, and collaborative decision making/knowledge management. External validation with a range of stakeholder groups has provided feedback confirming the information and communication issues in decision-making relating to urban soils. Use of the URBSOIL DST has significantly increased participation levels in debate and consultation and provided information/knowledge capture detailing the process. Future development provides opportunities for application in any resource/decision-making context for sustainable urban management.

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Reported by

UNIVERSITY OF PAISLEY Dept of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering
High Street
United Kingdom
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