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Social Multi-Criteria Evaluation (SMCE)

Like other evaluation processes, multi-criteria assessment (MCA) needs to deal with different value systems when facing a real problem of social choice. One possible way of dealing with the subjectivity involved is to design participatory MCA processes where criteria selection, weighting and aggregation steps are performed with the input of a broader group of actors, in order to account for different interests and values (Munda, 2008) or combining MCA with participatory techniques (Antunes et al., 2006; Kallis et al., 2006). Each manner of conducting MCA is closely connected to participation, as a way to validate the overall structure and framing of the analysis. It should however be noted that participation is a necessary condition but may not be sufficient for reaching transparency and accountability.

A way of approaching the issue of participation in MCA is through the adoption of a Social Multi-criteria Evaluation (SMCE) framework, which defines the concept of evaluation as a mixture of representation, assessment and quality check connected with a given policy problem, based on a specified objective (Munda, 2008). SMCE aims to foster transparency, reflection and learning in MCA decision processes, simultaneously integrating political, socio-economic, as well as ecological, cultural and technological dimensions of the problem.

For the purpose of obtaining evaluation criteria, SMCE examines stakeholders’ objectives and expectations, trying to avoid as much as possible a technocratic approach. As various dimensions are taken into account, the main goal is to find a balance between them, aiming at ‘compromise solutions’ (Munda, 1995). Weights in SMCEs are understood as important coefficients and not as trade-offs. Aggregation conventions used are non-compensatory mathematical algorithms, meaning that criteria with smaller weights can be also influential, which excludes the complete compensability concept. Additional features are profound social actor analysis and conflict analysis (equity matrix for consensus seeking).

NAIADE, the Novel Approach to Imprecise Assessment and Decision Environments, for example, is a discrete SMCE method developed by Munda (1995) that combines the use of mixed information types and conflict analysis. NAIADE produces a ranking of alternatives according to the set of evaluation criteria, and indications of the distance of the positions of the various interest groups and a ranking of the alternatives according to actors‘ impacts or preferences (Munda, 2008).

SMCE aims to foster transparency, reflection and learning in decision-making processes, simultaneously integrating political, socio-economic, as well as ecological, cultural and technological dimensions of a problem. Constituting both a framework for structuring decision problems, and as a set of methods for generating preferences among alternatives, SMCE has the potential to take into account conflicting, multi-dimensional, incommensurable and uncertain effects of decisions explicitly enabling it to focus more on the ‘decision process’ itself, and not on a final result (Munda, 2008). Because of its wide recognition, and because it builds in principles of participation and open to different types of data, SMCE has been suggested as an approach of relevance for environmental justice organisations when analysing cases for their campaigns (Gerber et al, 2012).


Antunes, P., Santos, R., Videira, N., (2006) Participatory decision making for sustainable development – the use of mediated modeling techniques, Land Use Policy, 23, 44-52.

Gerber, J.-F., Rodríguez-Labajos, B., Yánez, I., Branco, V., Roman, P., Rosales, L., Johnson, P. (2012) Guide to Multicriteria Evaluation for Environmental Justice Organisations. EJOLT Report No. 8, 45 p.

Kallis, G., Videira, N., Antunes, P., Guimarães Pereira, A., Spash, C. Coccossis, H. Corral Quintana, S., del Moral, L., Hatzilacou, D., Lobo, G., Mexa, A., Paneque, P., Pedregal, B., Santos, R. (2006) Participatory Methods for Water Resources Planning and Governance. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 24, 215-234.

Munda, G. (1995) Multicriteria evaluation in a fuzzy environment. Theory and applications in ecological economics, Physica-Verlag, Heidelberg.

Munda, G. (2008) Social Multi-Criteria Evaluation for a Sustainable Economy, Berlin Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag.

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This glossary entry is based on a contribution by Paula Antunes

EJOLT glossary editors: Hali Healy, Sylvia Lorek and Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos

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