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 made up of five decisionmaking cycles. The process starts with a situation. The decision team's (analysis and deciding officer's) perspectives on the situation are clarified in the PROCESS, PROBLEM, and DESIGN cycles. From these perspectives, the team designs alternative solutions (DESIGN) and evaluates their relative effects in the CONSEQUENCE cycle. The team makes and explains its selection of alternatives and plans its implementation in the ACTION cycle. The cycles are explained in more detail below.

I. PROCESS. Determines what the decision is, who will be making it, how it will be supported, and what may constrain the process. The cycle results in the design of the decision process that the team will 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.


Cycles consist of CORE QUESTIONS to prompt thought, analysis, dialogue, and choice. Each cycle has questions that encourage divergent (broad gathering of ideas and information) and convergent (analytical) thinking. CORE QUESTIONS also evaluate information and uncertainty, and prompt teams to use their experiences in other projects. The information questions evaluate how much and what kinds of information and analysis are required to improve the quality of the decision. Learning questions prompt the decision team to evaluate and apply the organization's experiences and to document the team members' thinking so that others can learn from them.



1. Why are we here? What decisions have to be analyzed and made?

2. What are the appropriate geographic and organizational scales for this analysis?

3. What is the appropriate time scale for this analysis?

4. What criteria will likely be used to design solutions to problems in this situation?

5. Who should be involved?

6. What special features or constraints might determine how you proceed?

7. What provisions for legal compliance should be integrated in the process?

8. What is your plan for proceeding through this decision?



Situation Description

1. What do you know about the area, organization, or situation for which this decision will be made?

2. What management activities are now going on or have gone on in the area or situation?

3. What natural or human-caused disturbances, patterns, trends, or other uncertain events are important in this situation?

4. What goals, objectives, or strategic directions have been set for this area or organizational unit? How might these affect how you solve problems here?

5. What are the most important problems, opportunities, or public issues that characterize this area?

Problem Analysis

6. What problem(s) or opportunity(ies) should be addressed with a new or revised management action?

7. What different perspectives of this problem and/or opportunity are held by different stakeholders?

8. What is the cause(s) of this problem/opportunity?

9. What components or attributes of the situation are of most concern or offer the most opportunity for improvement?

10. What measures are used to characterize these attributes?

11. What values of each measure would constitute solving the problem(s)?

12. Is there a need for action to resolve this problem?

13. What evidence do you have to justify the any action? How strong is that evidence?

Information Assessment

14. What are the important gaps in knowledge that hinder your ability to understand and evaluate the problems?

15. What information is most needed to close these information gaps?

Objectives Setting

16. What are your objectives in solving this problem?



Alternative Assessment

1. What is the current or status quo management action?

2. What is the No-Action alternative?

3. What, if any, actions have already been proposed?

Alternative Design

4. What activities will accomplish the objectives?

5. What stakeholders --- public groups, organizations, consultative agencies, and others have an interest in these activities?

6. What alternative actions (combinations of activities) could accomplish the objectives?


7. What activities do you want to refine?

8. What design refinements could improve the performance of the alternative?

9. What monitoring will be needed to implement and test these activities?

10. How do the refinements compare on the basis of contribution to objectives, cost, side effects, and other criteria?

11. Which of the refinements will you include in the final set of alternative actions?

Alternatives Comparison

12. How do the refined alternative actions, the status quo and the no-action alternatives compare?

13. How might you combine activities or other features of the alternatives into an action that could outperform those in the existing set?



Information and Uncertainty Evaluation

1. What information is available to help characterize and predict consequences?

2. How certain (confident) are you that this information is a good basis for accurately predicting consequences?

3. What are important gaps in knowledge for predicting consequences?

4. What uncertain events could confound your predictions?

5. What information is worth acquiring to improve your predictions? What would it cost?

Consequence Analysis

6. What measures will you use to predict consequences of the alternative actions?

7. What are acceptable consequences on these measures?

8. What are the cause-effect relationships between the proposed activities and the consequence measures?

9. What will the values of the measures be if the proposed alternative is implemented?

10. Which predicted values exceed acceptable levels?

11. Should the alternative be refined or eliminated from further consideration because of unacceptable consequences? How should it be refined?




1. How do the alternatives compare in meeting the objectives and minimizing negative consequences?

2. What are the most critical assumptions in your comparison?

3. How would your ranking of the alternatives change if the assumptions were different?

4. What additional information will you (and/or the deciding officer) need to fully compare the alternatives and choose one?

5. How will stakeholders respond to the alternatives?

6. How might you combine features of the alternatives into an action that would outperform the existing alternatives?

7. What alternative action do you prefer? Why?

8. What keeps you from selecting each of the other alternatives?

9. What do you give up (trade off) with the preferred alternative?

10. What aspects of the preferred action are negotiable?


11. What must be done to ensure that the design will be implemented?

12. What stipulations or conditions will be necessary for partners, users, and others?

13. Who are the key players in making this action accomplish it objectives and be successful?

14. What could go wrong during the implementation of this action?

15. How will you monitor to see that the activities are implemented?

16. How will you monitor to determine whether the activities will have the consequences you predicted?

17. How will you document and record this action so that future teams can learn from its successes and failures?