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Thematic Guide to Integrated Assessment Modeling



Integration and Authority

Questions of the appropriate relationship between assessment and decision-making bodies are distinct for each of the possible functions of assessment. When integrated assessment is used to inform or assess policy decisions, the assessment must integrate broadly enough across disciplinary lines to serve the policy need, while still being deeply enough informed by the relevant range of disciplinary expert knowledge and opinion to be seen as scientifically legitimate. Because assessments are introduced into contentious, pluralistic, partisan policy debates, all will be presumed biased unless they meet high standards of legitimate process. For example, policy makers will regard an assessment less suspiciously if they can consult experts from their constituency (however defined) who participated in it. The managerial dimensions of integration, such as authority, sponsorship, participation, and transparency, can thus be as essential for success and legitimacy as the conceptual or disciplinary dimensions.

Even using integrated assessment to identify research priorities poses managerial problems. Some advocates of expanded integrated assessment see its role as controlling the research endeavor. For example, an assessment board with a large budget could both perform (or oversee) integrated assessments and act on their results by allocating resources to the research activities they identify as policy-relevant needs. This model of integrated assessment has occurred: the Climate Impact Assessment Program (CIAP), for example, did undertake new science when its preliminary assessment found that crucial pieces of currently researchable information were missing.

This approach, while seemingly attractive, holds significant dangers. On the one hand, we have argued that a fundamental contribution of integrated assessment is to identify and prioritize key policy-relevant knowledge gaps and uncertainties. This potential contribution will surely go unrealized if no mechanism exists for the (collective) results of assessments to inform the allocation of research resources.

But the immaturity of the field makes this vision dangerous. If developing capacity to do integrated assessment depends on multiple projects with different visions, these projects are likely to identify different research priorities as crucial. No single integrated assessment project should have the potentially corrupting authority to define the vision of national research priorities. Equally clearly, policy relevance should not be the only criterion driving the global change research budget.

But if it is not a "National Integrated Assessment Board" deciding the allocation of resources for policy-relevant research, then how should they be allocated? How can a disparate collection of integrated assessment projects themselves be integrated to inform decisions that must be made on research priorities? There is no simple answer. Clearly those bodies responsible for allocating research resources will have to watch closely the collective output of integrated assessment projects and reflect it broadly in their decisions. Sometimes, no doubt, a strong consensus will be reached; sometimes not. The process of translating from a disparate collection of integrated assessment studies to research priorities would grow easier as a consensus of shared knowledge and standards for integrated assessment developed.


The next section is the Bibliography.




Parson, E.A. and K. Fisher-Vanden, Searching for Integrated Assessment: A Preliminary Investigation of Methods, Models, and Projects in the Integrated Assessment of Global Climatic Change. Consortium for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN). University Center, Mich. 1995.


Suggested Citation

Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN). 1995. Thematic Guide to Integrated Assessment Modeling of Climate Change [online]. Palisades, NY: CIESIN. Available at [accessed DATE].



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