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MCA results can be directly and indirectly policy-relevant

Even though the essential contribution of MCA in a policy formulation process lies in decision aiding, rather than making, it is still relevant to understand whether it actually informs policymaking or is employed instead as a symbolic planning tool. The latter can render participatory processes ineffective, once participants sense that the decision has already been taken regardless of their inclusion. In practice, the final decision may or may not comply with the recommendations derived from the MCA. However, the analysis itself, the questions raised and the type of reasoning promoted (Bouyssou et al. 2000) can have a positive impact on the decision process, in that preferences are revealed and can thus be considered by the final decision maker (thereby avoiding the interests of some being favoured automatically over those of other affected stakeholders).

The usefulness and integration of the MCA outcomes in policy formulation are not easily observed through a desk review. This information is rarely tangible and seldom reported in the case study results, partly because it may take time after the process until the actual decision by policymakers is taken. A more in-depth understanding would require research among analysts, stakeholders and policymakers to understand the actual translation of outcomes in the policymaking process. Some indicative information can nevertheless be found. For example, in the Dutch case reported by van Gennip et al. (1997), the results of the MCA were directly discussed in the Dutch parliament to formulate health policy options. Also in the study of Bana e Costa and Oliveira (2002, p. 390) the results are 'informally used for deciding which requests for building works should be given priority in each year'. The case reported by Borges and Villavicencio (2004) presents another example of a MCA study the outcome of which subsequently formed the basis for the policy options presented by the Peruvian government in its National Communication to the UN Framework on Climate Change (Borges and Villavicencio 2004). Finally, Fletcher et al. (2010) present a case where the priorities derived by the application of MCA for the evaluation of ecological assets in the West Coast Bioregion of Australia by the Department of Fisheries process form now the basis for the Department's budget planning process.

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