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.


Use the INITIAL ASSESSMENT QUESTIONS to chart a path through each cycle. These questions direct you to appropriate CORE QUESTIONS in the cycle or in previous or uncompleted cycles. This saves time by avoiding plodding through every CORE QUESTION. At the end of each cycle are process AUDIT QUESTIONS that test the cycle's output for clarity, comprehensiveness, logical consistency, responsiveness to stakeholder values, and legal defensibility. Use the audit questions to note any areas that need improvement. In all but the first (PROCESS) cycle, the INITIAL ASSESSMENT and the AUDIT QUESTIONS are the same.

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.

Record the results of the discussion for each CORE QUESTION in the appropriate SUMMARY TABLE that follows the question or cluster of questions. These tables will document the thinking and the team's agreements and will be useful in keeping track, avoiding duplication, and explaining the status of the decision. The information in these tables can be fashioned into a report explaining the analysis and the decisions made.

The summary tables disclose the unfolding decision process and are inputs themselves for questions in the DESIGN and ACTION cycles. Sometimes a single question will provide the content for one table. Other times, a series of related questions will be used to build a single summary table.

Most teams will use an electronic version of Decision Protocol 2.0 that automatically expands rows in tables as information is added. If the hard copy version in this publication is used as the recording instrument, teams may want to make copies of some tables where additional rows are needed.

TEAM LEADER TIPS AND TOOLS is a collection of short profiles on decision aides and facilitative tools for helping the team through difficult or tricky thinking tasks. These are keyed to particular CORE QUESTIONS. In some cases, tools are offered as step-by-step processes for ways of attacking the particular core question. The GLOSSARY contains definitions adapted from usage in decision science, environmental management, policy science, and many other fields. The FOR FURTHER READING sections present a collection of readings that explain the decision science background and techniques for many core questions and direct the user to research results and applications in the decision science literature. This is not meant to be an exhaustive review, rather a selected list of important and influential works that could be mined for process ideas and understanding.


You can apply the DP in several ways.

1. Take the team straight through the CORE QUESTIONS in order. This assures completeness, full documentation, and keeping things in order, but it can get tedious and may spend too much time on some issues and aspects.

2. Answer the INITIAL ASSESSMENT QUESTIONS first, and use them to decide what CORE QUESTIONS to concentrate on. The INITIAL ASSESSMENT QUESTIONS are meant to be opportunities to evaluate or grade the current status of the decision process in order to help your team judge which aspects of the decision need the most work. There are many other ways to judging the adequacy of the decision components and your team is encouraged to develop its own.

3. Review the CORE QUESTION and intuitively select those that seem to best capture where you think the decision process needs help. From your observation of the decision process, you may decide that certain cycles are being shorted or gridlocked. Pull the appropriate cycle for these problems and worry later about filling in.

4. Cycle quickly through the CORE QUESTIONS for each cycle, pushing the team to come up with preliminary answers, then go back through the INITIAL ASSESSMENT and information-related CORE QUESTIONS to see what reconnaissance and information collection needs to take place.

5. Allow members of the team to work through some of the CORE QUESTIONS on their own, recording their answers and doing their homework. The team would then assemble to review and synthesize or reconcile differences in these answers. This can also be done with selected members of stakeholder groups.

6. Go straight through the DESIGN and CONSEQUENCE cycles for one alternative, cycling back to refine the action until it meets all the desired and acceptable limits. Concentrate the comparative choice activity on the selection of options that comprise the design rather than at the selection of complex alternatives.


This Protocol is designed to bring the decision team together to work through the plans for the decision process. The facilitator and team leader need to create and maintain a work environment where people can talk freely about past experiences and candidly express their desires and concerns about the decision they may be embarking on.

Make sure the group understands that anything developed in this phase can be revisited and revised. The emphasis is on process, roles, and expectations, not content. Be tuned to relationships among the participants. Ask a few questions to see if there are any serious unresolved differences, strong ulterior motives, or autocratic leadership styles that might detract from the openness you are trying to achieve. It may be better to get some of these issues out in the open before you start into the decision appraisal questions.

Emphasize that every team member's opinion and judgment are valued. Encourage members to question each other across disciplines. Their thinking contributes as much as a source of professional and scientific thinking as a representative of a discipline.

Display the protocol cycles as a poster throughout all the meetings. At the beginning and ending of each meeting and cycle remind team members where they are and how their progress relates to cycles and questions that will follow.

Observers on the team deliberations are OK, but do not let the observers formally and openly evaluate the protocol, the team's performance, or the substance of the discussions unless the team asks them. The team should work toward feeling comfortable and confident working together and with the Protocol and should stay focused on the problem. This is difficult if they are looking over their shoulders for gratuitous advice or criticism.

Throughout the Protocol are references to summary tables. Use flip charts or a computer projection system to record the ID team answers and responses in these tables. Display this record so the team can check the pattern of their responses. However, do not let the discussions turn into a game of racing to fill in tables without completely thinking through and agreeing on the responses.

The team should bring all the materials (manuals, maps, plans, texts, literature, etc.) about the situation, area, or proposed action to the first meeting. The team should view the area together either before the first session or during the first session, using the Protocol questions in the first two cycles to guide the field trip.