This chapter has shown that MCAs policy relevance is observed beyond its legal prescription in national laws or directives, being frequently encountered - in one approach or another - in situations requiring a transparent, well-structured and inclusive policy formulation process. As we have shown, one has to look deeper into the structure, initiation and the participating partners to assess its potential and impact on policy appraisal decisions. The actual relevance of MCA as a policy formulation tool is twofold. First, a number of successful applications in various policy domains show that MCA can cope with multi-factor, multi-stakeholder decision problems, its outcome being supported by stakeholders and decision makers in a good number of cases. Second, the mutual learning among experts and stakeholders promoted by MCA means that the findings or difficulties encountered can be used for improving the policy formulation process in various ways. This may involve developing new policy options (for example, Bana e Costa et al. 2001), broadening the group of stakeholders participating in the policy formulation process or incorporating the results of the procedure in new regulations (for example, van Gennip et al. 1997). Therefore MCA could be of use not only when embedded as a means of appraisal in new regulations, but also indirectly, in order to support the evaluation of current policies, while orientating future ones (Stirling and Mayer 2001).
However, MCA results can be seen as highly subjective, due to the emphasis on 'the judgement of the decision making team, in establishing objectives and criteria, estimating relative importance weights and, to some extent, in judging the contribution of each option to each performance criterion' (Dodgson et al. 2000, p. 20). For this reason, some authors (for example, Bardos et al. 2002; Lebret et al. 2005) advocate a need for international standardization and harmonization in the use of tools like
MCA in order to increase their applicability. While weighting the different criteria is certainly dependent on the societal context, technical (legal) guidelines could be drafted for specific application domains, in terms of criteria and indicators to be considered, MCA methods to be used or stakeholder processes to be developed. This would facilitate the application of MCA by providing a generic comprehensive framework based on which policymakers and analysts could customize the method to their particular appraisal needs.
1. A subset of criteria 5* is called preferentially independent, if the preference between options differing only on criteria from 5* does not depend on their evaluation on the remaining criteria. For instance, comfort and fuel consumption might not be preferentially independent from price because the importance of comfort may increase with price (Marichal and Roubens 2000).