The importance of social values in the prioritization of research: a
quantitative example and generalizations
1. Identifying critical uncertainties about ecological systems can help
prioritize research efforts intended to inform management decisions.
However, exclusively focusing on the ecological system neglects the
objectives of natural resource managers and the associated social values
tied to risks and rewards of actions. 2. I demonstrate how to prioritize
research efforts for a harvested population by applying expected value
of perfect information (EVPI) analysis to a matrix projection model of
steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and an explicit utility function that
models risk/reward objectives. Research priorities identified by EVPI
diverge from priorities identified by matrix elasticity analyses that
ignore utility. The degree of divergence depends on uncertainty in
population vital rates and the particular form of the utility function
used to represent risk/reward of harvest. 3. Synthesis and applications.
EVPI analysis that includes perceived utility of different outcomes
should be used by managers seeking to optimize monitoring and research
spending. Collaboration between applied ecologists and social scientists
that quantitatively measure peoples’ values is needed in many structured
decision making processes.