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6 Tayla Way


NH 03290 USA




More About Dr. Jonathan Cummings and Structured Decison Making

I want to tell you about a way of thinking and the problems this thinking helps to address.

Everyday I think about my frustration with certain aspects of our civilization, how bad the news can be, and how I want to make things better.   Maintaining the integrity of natural systems and achieving a sustainable human community is my mission.  I aim to accomplish this by disseminating my knowledge and skills to help people become environmentally responsible and accountable.

Everyday each of us makes about 3000 decisions.  Most of these decisions are virtually inconsequential, some are of moderate importance, but from time to time they can impact the entire course of our own or others’ lives.  Imagine if there was a practical, common sense process for making important decisions with transparent, well-reasoned results.  Now imagine if the world used this process and applied it to their personal decisions and to addressing our ecological challenges.

The process for making better decisions is called Structured Decision Making (SDM).  If you are at all familiar with this approach, you may think of it as a complex process, but the beauty of SDM is that it is an adaptable, common sense method that can be tailored to a problem of any size or complexity.

While I’ve seen SDM used for challenging environmental problems, at its core, it consists of five components:  1) identify the problem, 2) clarify the objectives, 3) name the alternatives, 4) predict the consequences, and 5) evaluate the trade-offs and decide.

It can be quite simple, for example: 1) Should I prepare for rain tomorrow? 2) I want to stay dry but unencumbered, 3) I could take an umbrella, or not, and 4) the weather forecast says 20% chance of rain. 5) I will stay dry with the umbrella, but my umbrella is heavy and awkward so given there is little chance of rain I leave it at home.

That quick process allowed me to identify the important trade-off of being dry vs. being unencumbered and select the option (no umbrella) that best meets those objectives given the low chance of rain.

Some of the more consequential environmental decisions my efforts have contributed to include projecting population status for lesser prairie chicken and Canada lynx for endangered species act decisions.  I have also worked on sea-level rise adaptation strategies in San Francisco Bay salt marshes, national cormorant management plans, adaptive management of New England cottontails, management of Atlantic Salmon hatcheries, and improved quota allocation for Fraser River sockeye salmon.  While each step for these decisions required more detail, the process remained the same.

Because there are too many problems for myself and other SDM practitioners to address ourselves, I’ve collaborated closely with several leaders in the field to assist with instruction of courses at the National Conservation Training Center (NCTC).  I've also developed and taught introductory SDM courses at the University of Vermont and Champlain College, and will be teaching a course for fisheries professionals in the late spring of 2019.  

“After coming into this class with little to no knowledge of how to make an informed decision in a structured way, besides using a pros and cons list, I now feel as though I have some really useful resources at my disposal.” University of Vermont SDM student.

My research supports decisions for natural resource management.  My current work includes developing a management strategy evaluation to develop fisheries management plans that are robust to climate change, reviewing the documentation of past management strategy evaluations to identify areas of improvement, and the development of Shiny applications to better communicate the results of scientific analyses and decision making processes.

If you are interested in more about my work or anything SDM related, don’t hesitate to contact me.  I look forward to hearing from you and helping us decide together.

Suggestions to learn more about Structured Decision Making


Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions - This is an excellent introductory text for a broad audience that covers the main steps of the structured decision making approach and the rational for its use. (Link)


Structured Decision Making: A Practical Guide to Environmental Management Choices - This is the go to text on the subject for understanding the qualitative aspects of structured decision making. (Link)


Decision Making in Natural Resource Management: A Structured, Adaptive Approach - This is one of two go to texts on the subject for understanding the quantitative aspects of structured decision making. (Link)


Making Hard Decisions with DecisionTools - This is one of two go to texts on the subject for understanding the quantitative aspects of structured decision making. (Link)


Values Focused Thinking - In this book, Ralph Keeney shows how recognizing and articulating fundamental values can lead to the identification of decision opportunities and the creation of better alternatives. (Link)


Give Yourself a Nudge: Helping Smart People Make Smarter Personal and Business Decisions - This text is also for a broad audience a presents the lessons we all can take from Keeney's career in decision analysis. (Link)



SDM fact sheet - USFWS (

SDM summary - USGS, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. (Link)

SDM description - Compass Resource Management (