The Reasons for Choosing MCA
The results reported in the literature show that a general motivation for choosing MCA over other tools is to gain a better insight into the complexity of decisions on public policies and their consequences when these are felt not only on one, but on multiple dimensions, including economic, social, environmental or institutional. The tool is applied for systematic comparison and ranking of policy options, sometimes in combination with other tools such as CEA (Wu et al. 2012) or Life Cycle Analysis (Tjandraatmadja et al. 2013). MCA is also applied to lay out the basis for future policies, for instance by evaluating and prioritizing emerging threats and vulnerabilities (Del Rio Vilas et al. 2013).
MCA is chosen when trading between different objectives (for example, sustainability objectives and economic objectives) is difficult (Dichmont et al. 2013, p. 130), where its appeal comes from its 'attention on impacts related to specific objectives, thus reducing potential bias'. Similarly, for Hobbs and Horn (1997, p. 357), MCA was chosen in an energy planning application because it makes 'choices more explicit, rational and efficient', which is accomplished, among other ways, by displaying trade-offs among criteria so that 'planners, regulators and the public can understand the advantages and disadvantages of alternatives'.
However, the potential of MCA is most evident in situations involving a complex policy context, with multiple, potentially competing objectives and value systems, which cannot be easily quantified (for example, environmental issues) let alone translated into monetary terms, due to their intangible nature (for example, social, cultural or psychological issues). This applies particularly to resolving conflicts around public policy decisions that spread over jurisdictional borders, where no established decision making procedures are in place, and conflict potential may arise, as demonstrated for example by the case of managing water users' interests on the river Spree in Germany (Messner et al. 2006).
But MCA's capabilities go further than that: it can structure and facilitate stakeholders' involvement in decision processes. This is a key aspect, since through participation it contributes to the democratization of the policy formulation process and to its enhanced fairness and overall efficiency (Stirling 2008), potentially increasing the quality of decisions (Beierle 2002) and resulting in more widely accepted policy options (for an example see Linkov et al. 2006). The European Commission's Evaluation of Socio-Economic Development Guide (EC 2013, p. 135) suggests that MCA provides a framework facilitating the participation of all actors in decision making and in problem solving, which may help in 'reaching a compromise or defining a coalition of views, without dictating the individual or collective judgement of the partners'. Some case studies in the literature mention the participatory framework provided by MCA as among the main reason for choosing the tool. For instance, Haque et al. (2012) have used MCA following the recommendations of the UNFCCC (2002), to develop a 'participatory integrated assessment' of adaptation options for flood protection in Bangladesh.