Are objectives hierarchy related biases observed in practice? A meta-analysis of environmental and energy applications of Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis

Martunnen, Mika and Belton, Valerie and Leinert, Judit (2018) Are objectives hierarchy related biases observed in practice? A meta-analysis of environmental and energy applications of Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis. European Journal of Operational Research, 265 (1). pp. 178-194. ISSN 0377-2217

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    Abstract

    Procedural and behavioural biases have received little attention in recent Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis (MCDA) research. Our literature review shows that most research on biases was done 15–30 years ago. This study focuses on biases that are introduced at an early stage of MCDA when building objectives hierarchies and their effect on the weights. The main objective is to investigate whether prior findings regarding such biases, which were mostly based on laboratory experiments, can be found in real-world applications. We conducted a meta-analysis of the objectives hierarchies and weight elicitation procedures in 61 environmental and energy MCDA cases. Relationships between the structural characteristics of the objectives hierarchy and assigned objectives’ weights were analysed with statistical tests. Our main research questions were: (i) How does hierarchy size and structure affect the objectives’ weights? (ii) How are weights distributed across economic, social and environmental objectives? (iii) Is there support for the equalising bias? Our findings are mostly aligned with earlier research and suggest that the hierarchy structure and content can substantially influence weight distributions. For example, hierarchical weighting seems to be sensitive to the asymmetry bias, which can occur when a hierarchy has branches that differ in the number of sub-objectives. We found no evidence for the equalising bias. We highlight issues deserving more attention when developing objectives hierarchies and eliciting weights. The research demonstrates the potential to use meta-analysis, which has not previously been used in this way in the MCDA field, to learn from a collection of applications.