Designing and building real environmental decision support systems

The complexity of environmental problems makes necessary the development and application of new tools capable of processing not only numerical aspects, but also experience from experts and wide public participation, which are all needed in decision-making processes. Environmental decision support systems (EDSSs) are among the most promising approaches to confront this complexity. The fact that different tools (artificial intelligence techniques, statistical/numerical methods, geographical information systems, and environmental ontologies) can be integrated under different architectures confers EDSSs the ability to confront complex problems, and the capability to support learning and decision-making processes. In this paper, we present our experience, obtained over the last 10 years, in designing and building two real EDSSs, one for wastewater plant supervision, and one for the selection of wastewater treatment systems for communities with less than 2000 inhabitants. The flow diagram followed to build the EDSS is presented for each of the systems, together with a discussion of the tasks involved in each step (problem analysis, data collection and knowledge acquisition, model selection, model implementation, and EDSS validation). In addition, the architecture used is presented, showing how the five levels on which it is based (data gathering, diagnosis, decision support, plans, and actions) have been implemented. Finally, we present our opinion on the research issues that need to be addressed in order to improve the ability of EDSSs to cope with complexity in environmental problems (integration of data and knowledge, improvement of knowledge acquisition methods, new protocols to share and reuse knowledge, development of benchmarks, involvement of end-users), thus increasing our understanding of the environment and contributing to the sustainable development of society.

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