Seeking Otago Minds for 1000minds Project

CRITIC, Issue 12, May 19 2008, p. 6


By Amy Joseph

University of Otago Master’s student Ngaio Fletcher is inviting residents of the Weston and Oamaru area to participate in new research being undertaken on the proposed Holcim cement plant in Weston, near Oamaru.

She will be using 1000minds, multi-criteria decision-making (MCDM) software developed here at the University in the mid-1990s. The software breaks complex issues down into more simple decisions, by only considering two factors at a time. By making a series of trade-off decisions, the software builds a picture of which criteria people consider the most important.

1000minds was developed for use in deciding how to allocate organs to people in need of transplants. Fletcher says it has since “been used in a huge variety of things, from choosing flatting situations, right down to awarding scholarships.” However, she says that it has not so far been applied to whole communities, having only been used at upper levels of management. “In one case study I saw, they claimed they’d got the public involved and they’d only interviewed five people from the general public [and those people] were university lecturers.”

“My project is to evaluate this type of software and its use in resource management. We want to trial the technology and see if it can actually be used in this type of work, and that’s why we need to use a case study. Holcim is a perfect example, because it’s really stirred up a lot of controversy, and there’s a lot of people who feel frustrated in the way that the public was involved in the process.”

Fletcher is currently recruiting participants from Oamaru and Weston. She is requesting involvement through the media, and will be sending letters directly to residents in order to try to gather a representative sample. She says that people who do not reside in the area but have a connection to it and know it well are also invited to participate.

“It’s an interactive software, so it will be online and all they need to do is [complete] a series of basic yes / no questions where they’ll have to choose a trade-off between different possible outcomes of the Holcim project – for example, an increase in air pollution versus an increase in traffic. What we’re trying to find out is, of all of these possible effects, which ones are the ones that the community are most concerned about? From there the person who’s applying for that consent can then consider [if] there’s a way they can remedy those, or possibly is this going to have such a detrimental effect on the community that the proposal really shouldn’t go ahead?”

If the case study shows that 1000minds can be applied to the resource consent process, Fletcher would like to “use it in a case study that’s live at present – waiting for a big consent that’s about to be notified, and get in there and get it used.”

“This would need to be used very early in the process, just to try and see if the values of a community are going to be affected so badly that a project should really not be considered for that area, or [if] there are factors that can be worked around with the community and have the proposal go ahead.”

People interested in participating in Fletcher’s research can contact her care of the Geography Department at the University of Otago, P.O. Box 56, Dunedin.