The Decision Protocol is intended to be a tool to help US Forest Service decision teams work through complex business and environmental decisions. It is an administrative aide that introduces the professional to the principles of decision science, outlines useful steps, and provides sources of information and techniques for improving decision quality. The Protocol is not and should not be viewed as formal Forest Service guidance or policy. Forest Service teams are not required to use the Protocol; its recommendations are not legally binding. Members of the public or other agencies are welcome to participate in Protocol-based projects or use the Protocol or any of its concepts or parts, but their use is strictly voluntary. The Forest Service is not responsible for the consequences of applications or misuse of the Protocol outside the agency.


The Decision Protocol is a question-based process that helps decision groups and teams manage and document their reasoning. It is not a substitute for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) applied by Federal agencies, although it can provide better documentation, decision rationale, collection/use of information, and interaction of deciding officers and team members in a NEPA analysis. And it's more than just good NEPA--the Protocol has applications for any complex decisionmaking process. It has been used by Interdisciplinary (ID) Teams doing environmental analyses for many resource projects--as well as for organization restructuring, budgeting, and strategic planning.


The Protocol was conceived in 1994 when an ad-hoc group of Washington Office staff in ecosystem management, natural resources, NEPA, fiscal, and appeals/litigation began to explore ways to improve decisions. They drafted a series of questions, drawn from a structured approach to group problem solving called Decision Science - the art and science of making choices for desired change.

The questions were refined during several pilot tests on Interdisciplinary Team decisionmaking processes on National Forests across the country. Range, insect, fire recovery, travel management, forest health, and organization restructuring were some of the decision projects. Each pilot experience was used to improve the questions and the facilitation tools. The Protocol has been used in Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, California, Utah, Tennessee, Indiana, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and Alaska, and is now being disseminated nationwide.


In using the Protocol, the thinking and communication processes - not the document or report that records them -- are the focal points. It aims to improve the decision process, and higher quality documents result from higher quality decision processes, just as good grades in school come most readily from interest in the subject, not doing the work just for the grade.

The Protocol approaches decisionmaking as a full cycle problem-solving task including a process design, situation description, problem identification, solution design, and implementation of alternatives. It is composed of sets of challenging questions that strive for clarity, consistency, completeness, and efficiency of effort. Documentation requirements demand candor and adherence to the process.

The Protocol is based on the belief that a high quality decision:

(1) Accurately describes the problem and the criteria for solving it.

(2) Uses available information effectively.

(3) Collects new information wisely.

(4) Generates and chooses from a wide range of alternatives.

(5) Distinguishes facts, myths, values, and unknowns.

(6) Describes consequences associated with alternative problem solutions.

(7) Leads to choices that are consistent with personal, organizational, stakeholder, or other important values.

The Protocol differentiates between decision process, content, and outcomes. Decision Process means procedures and steps in decision making. Content--or products of the decision process--include the problem itself and its proposed solution. The Outcome is the new situation that results from implementing the solution. Even high quality decisions can have bad outcomes because of uncertainties beyond the control of the decisionmaker. To understand the differences among these three elements of decisionmaking allows teams to:

(1) Identify successful decisions and what parts of their process and content should be used again.

(2) Minimize mistakes (bad decision processes with bad outcomes) by distinguishing between bad luck and flaws in decision process.

(3) Recognize good luck and avoid pretending it was because of good management choice.

(4) Recognize bad luck and avoid blaming the process or decisionmaker(s) for factors beyond their control.


There are many types of systematic frameworks that guide decision processes. These can range from very linear and structured analysis methods to very intuitive approaches guided by perception and subjective judgment. The Protocol is designed to encourage a decision team to customize their own decision process for the needs of the situation, the team, and the stakeholders. It will result in a more structured approach for strategic, long-term decisions, but allows a quicker, more intuitive approach for decisions that are more routine and clearly structured.

Some parts of the Decision Protocol may actually take more time than traditional approaches. Some questions will be difficult and time-consuming. However, the process as a whole should take less time and use time more effectively. It will require less reanalysis and provide fewer inconsistencies and ambiguities where stakeholders get disenchanted and challenge the decision.

Stakeholders can participate in any and all cycles of this protocol. Their roles may change in different cycles. The protocol does not replace any tools or processes of collaborative decisionmaking, dispute resolution, or public involvement.


The Decision Protocol includes five decisionmaking cycles. The process starts with a situation. The team's perspectives on the situation are clarified in the PROCESS, PROBLEM, and DESIGN cycles. From these perspectives, the team designs alternative solutions and evaluates their relative effects in the CONSEQUENCE cycle. The final selection of alternatives is explained and the implementation of that alternative is planned in the ACTION cycle.

Determines what the decision is, who will be making the decision.

I. PROCESS. Describes the decision to me made and the process that will be followed, including how it will be supported, and what may constrain the process. The cycle results in the design of the decision process or road map for the team to follow.

Product: agreement among decision team members (including the line officer) to follow a mutually acceptable decision process.

II. PROBLEM. Sets the context; organizes available information; describes the situation in biological, social, economic, and other terms; identifies critical structural and functional components and possible influences from large and smaller scales; and identifies historical and current management. States the reason(s) for proposed actions and the perspectives of different stakeholders about the change(s) being proposed. Evaluates the strength of information and expert judgment available to help define the problem, and describes important knowledge gaps, and the costs of closing these gaps.

Products: narrative description and map of the area; set of goals and objectives of solving the problem; and a description of the information base, major elements of uncertainty, and information to be collected.

III. DESIGN. Proposes activities that will accomplish the objectives. Describes cause-and-effect relationships between activities and predicted changes in attributes. Combines these activities into a design for action and identifies alternative actions, including no-action and status quo. Develops monitoring needs to evaluate performance and guide adaptive response. . Describes the stakeholders to be consulted.

Product: description of the refined proposals

IV. CONSEQUENCES. Identifies measures for predicting changes (effects) in the important attributes of the situation. Sets acceptable (minimum allowable and desirable limits) on these attributes. Evaluates sources of information to assist in this prediction. Quantifies the expected consequences (effects) of the proposed actions and their alternatives. Estimates the consequences of interactions between the activities of the proposals and those of other projects. Describes key uncertainties and how they might affect the consequences. Selects key consequences and guides the team to propose refinements to address them.

Product: a display of the refined alternatives and their expected consequences.

V. ACTION. Compares alternative proposals for meeting objectives, avoiding adverse effects, cost, feasibility, and other criteria. Describes a logical and defensible rationale for selecting the best proposal. Describes how different assumptions might influence the choice. Chooses or hybridizes a "preferred" design and explains why it was selected. Develops a schedule of responsibilities for implementing the decision. Sets plans to monitor outcomes and evaluate changes in the situation that will guide future adaptation and problem solving.

Products: comparison of the alternatives, description of the rationale, and an implementation plan.


This document represents the first official published version of the Protocol. It was refined from version 1.0, a pieced-together set of questions and instructions developed and used in early pilot tests. Version 2.0 is designed to be used by decisionmaking teams with the assistance of an experienced facilitator. Because this version has been considerably streamlined and reorganized, we include a brief description of differences between versions 2.0 and 1.0 below.

DP 2.0 Cycle

DP 1.0 Phase



I. Decision Appraisal


II. Situation Description

III. Problem Framing


IV. Proposal Description

VIII. Proposal Refinement

Alternative Creation


V. Effects and Limits

VI. Cumulative Effects


IX. Decision Rationale

XI. Implementation Schedule


VII. Information and

Uncertainty Assessment

XI. Process and Documentation Audit

Process Diagnostics


Decision science and decision quality

Dawes: (1988). p 1-19 automatic and controlled decision processes.

Bazerman ( 1986): p 1-11 Decision quality concepts; p 12-47 Biases that reduce decision quality.

deBono (1994) : p 1-9, Thinking as a skill; p 143-160 Tools for assisting thinking.

Evans (1991) : p 9-28 Problem solving processes and difficulties; p 28-60 Creativity in problem solving; p 89-121 Problem solving methodologies.

Janis (1972). Groupthink bias.

Jones(1995) : p 3-47 Thinking as a process.

Kahneman, Slovic, and Tversky (1982): Review of research on judgment and choice biases.

Russo and Schoemaker (1989): p 1-11 overview of decision traps; metadecisions (process mapping).

Kleindorfer et al (1993) : p 387-401 Concept of decision quality and process assessment; p177-210 tools and prescriptive approaches; p 214-288 group decision-making; p 289-343 organization decision making.

Morgan and Henrion (1990) : 16-46 Qualities of good policy analysis

Russo and Schoemaker (1989) : 211-223 Personal decision audits..

Facilitation of structured decision processes

Bentley ( 1994): p 1-20 working with groups; 25-60 facilitation skills; 61-115 managing interactions.

Bradford (1976) : p 15-50 group tasks, characteristics, and dysfunctions; 100-121 diagnostic and evaluative aids for group processes.

Doyle and Strauss (1982): 83-147 facilitator and recorder roles; 289-294 meeting planning guides.

Fisher, Ury, and Patton (1991): p 95-187 dealing with problem situations in negotiations.

Leeds (1987): p. 1-75 use of questioning strategies in management; 215-244 questions in problem-solving and negotiation.

Schein (1987) : 1-59, 181-205. Roles of process consultation for managers and facilitators; 63-113 diagnostic models of group behavior; 115-179 intervention strategy and tactics.

Senge (1990): p 205-286 Facilitating teams to develop shared vision and to use dialogue to maximize learning.


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Bentley, Trevor. Facilitation: Providing Opportunities for Learning. McGraw Hill Training Series. McGraw-Hill Publishing Companies. London. 132 pp.

Bradford, Leland P. 1976. Making Meetings Work: A Guide for Leaders and Group Members. University Associates. San Diego, CA. 121 pp.

Dawes, Robyn M. 1988. Rational Choice in an Uncertain World. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Orlando, Florida. 346 pp.

deBono, Edward. 1994. deBono's Thinking Course, Revised Edition. Facts-on-File, Inc. New York. 196 p.

Doyle, Michael, and David Straus. 1982. How to Make Meetings Work: The New Interaction Method. Jove Edition. Berkley Publishing Group. New York. 301 pp.

Evans, James R. 1991. Creative Thinking in the Decision and Management Sciences. South-Western Publishing Company. Cincinnati, OH. 167 p.

Fisher, Roger, William Ury, and Bruce Patton. 1991. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. 2nd Edition. Penguin Books. New York. 200 p.

Kahneman, Daniel, Paul Slovic and Amos Tversky, editors. Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases 1982. Cambridge Univ. Press. 555pp.

Jones, Morgan D. 1995. The Thinker's Toolkit: Fourteen Skills for Making Smarter Decisions in Business and in Life. Random House. 348 p.

Kleindorfer, P.R., H.C. Kunreuther, P.J.H. Schoemaker. 1993. Decision Sciences: An Integrative Perspective. Cambridge University Press, New York.

Leeds, D. 1987. Smart Questions: A New Strategy for Successful Managers. Berkely Books, New York.

Lientz, Bennet P., and Kathryn P. Rea 1995. Project Management for the 21st Century. Academic Press, Inc. San Diego, CA. 308 pp.

Morgan, M.G. and M. Henrion. 1990. Uncertainty: A Guide to Dealing with Uncertainty in Quantitative Risk & Policy Analysis. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge MA52.

Russo, J. Edward and Paul J.H. Schoemaker. 1989. Decision Traps: The Ten Barriers to Brilliant Decision-Making and How to Overcome Them. Simon and Schuster, New York. 280 pp.

Senge, Peter M. 1990. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. Doubleday/Currency, New York. 424 p.

Schein, Edgar H. (1987). Process Consultation Volume II: Lessons for Managers and Consultants. Addison Wesley Publishing Co. Reading, MA. 208 pp.