Jump to main content.

Eliciting Environmental Values: A Constructivist Approach

Quick Links

Research Funding

Metadata


The goal of this project is to advance the state of science and craft for eliciting values regarding environmental changes. It is anticipated that the research will contribute both to the scientific literature on values and to the solution of pending policy problems. The research has focused on four areas: (1) theoretical analysis of how environmental evaluation tasks must be specified in order to be unambiguously defined (so that respondents know what the question is and investigators know how to interpret their responses); (2) experimental test of issues related to magnitude insensitive valuation (sometimes known as embedding or scope insensitivity); (3) methodological development of an alternative to conventional contingent valuation methodology, suitable for situations in which people cannot be expected to produce meaningful responses within the constraints of a survey interview; and (4) development of an experimental testbed for applying (and evaluating) the methodology.

The researchers are looking for a real-world project for testing their approach. The current options are: (1) a project looking at citizens' willingness to pay for reduced health risks; (2) a project looking at citizens' willingness to pay for preserving (or improving) surface water quality; (3) a project on health risks; and (4) a project on incorporating environmental concerns in standard industrial accounting.

Metadata

EPA/NSF ID:
R824706-010
Principal Investigators:
Fischoff, Baruch
Loewenstein, George
Dowlatabadi, Hadi
Technical Liaison:
Research Organization:
Carnegie-Mellon University
Funding Agency/Program:
EPA/ORD/Valuation
Grant Year:
1995
Project Period:
October 1, 1995 - September 30, 1997
Cost to Funding Agency:
$99,987
Project Status Reports:
For the year 1997
Objective: There is increasing demand for thoughtful, systematic public input to environmental decision making. This demand can be found in the citizen participation components of EPA’s efforts toward environmental justice and risk prioritization. It can be found in the attempts by EPA’s Science Advisory Board and staff to survey public opinion for the report Unfinished Business and subsequent internal priority setting. And, it can be found in the need to assign dollar values to nonmarket environmental changes when setting regulatory standards. Unfortunately, the complexity and novelty of these public policy programs far outstrip the conventional uses of survey research, the research paradigm most frequently called upon to provide solutions. This project is part of an ongoing attempt to develop an alternative methodology.

The research project has three foci: how to compose complex questions, how to help respondents to produce the best answers possible, and how to characterize the definitiveness of the resulting responses (so that they can be used responsibly in public policy making). Each focus has both a methodological and a substantive thrust. To that end, we use both theoretical and empirical approaches. The former include secondary analyses of existing studies, integrative essays, and conceptual analyses of key concepts. The latter include focus group discussions, structured open-ended interviews, and experiments.

Progress Summary: We have implemented our alternative methodology in the context of a major public policy initiative (the BTU tax proposed early in the first Clinton Administration) and a specific environmental change (a river cleanup). We have found it possible to provide a full specification of these tasks using a framework for transactions that we proposed some years ago. We also found a willingness among citizens to participate actively in this process, as well as to probe sensibly the supplementary analyses that we made available to them. Our analyses show a mixed pattern regarding the kinds of sensitivity and insensitivity that one would want from a valid measurement technique.

One focus of our experimental and theoretical work has been identification of the sources of magnitude insensitive valuation (the tendency to provide similar valuations to different quantities of a good). We believe that our results are inconsistent with several commonly offered explanations of these measurement anomalies. A second focus is on people’s conceptualization of the effects of budgetary constraints on contributions to environmental goods. Our results suggest that people have an understanding of the general issue, which they then have difficulty applying in specific cases.

We believe that we are making progress toward producing a broadly applicable methodology that grapples with the problems of the reactive measurement needed for complex, novel problems. This work brings into relief various (interesting) theoretical questions concerning how evaluation tasks (for environmental goods and others) can be formulated, understood, and completed.

Future Activities: We plan to continue work on each of these topics, with a particular focus on the problems of specifying the set of possible competing demands for environmental contributions and the strategies people use for conceptualizing the environment as a good.
Project Reports:
Final
Objective: There is increasing demand for thoughtful, systematic public input to environmental decisionmaking. It can be found in the citizen participation components of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) efforts toward environmental justice and risk prioritization. It can be found in the attempts by EPA's Science Advisory Board (SAB) and staff to survey public opinion for "unfinished business" and subsequent internal priority setting. It can be found in the need to assign dollar values to nonmarket environmental changes, a niche that contingent valuation often attempts to fill. Unfortunately, the challenges posed by these public policy problems far outstrips the conventional uses of survey research, the research paradigm most frequently called upon to provide solutions. The questions are much more complicated than those that investigators are accustomed to pose or that ordinary citizens are ordinarily required to answer, especially under the tightly constrained circumstances of the survey interview.

This project is part of an ongoing attempt to develop an alternative methodology. The research has three foci: (1) how to compose complex questions, (2) how to help respondents to produce the best answers possible, and (3) how to characterize the definitiveness of the resulting responses (so that they can be used responsibly as a basis for public policy). Each focus has both a methodological and a substantive thrust. The next section briefly describes the articles that were supported by this grant, in whole or in part.

Summary/Accomplishments: The long-term methodological goal of the project of which this research is part is producing a broadly applicable methodology, which could be used by EPA and others concerned with securing informed public input regarding environmental decisions. The present grant has supported the following methodologically oriented papers: (1) Fischhoff (1997) presents an overview of the approach, and its relationship to those arising from other disciplines; (2) Fischhoff, Welch & Frederick (in press) present a framework for analyzing the construal processes that arise when respondents confront preference elicitation tasks, illustrated with empirical examples (including an evaluation of the BTU tax proposed early in the Clinton Administration, and a river cleanup); (3) Fischhoff (1998) considers these implications for the philosophy of the social sciences (in a paper presented originally at a workshop of philosophers of sciences, on values in science); and (4) Fischhoff (1999) develops conditions for public policy uses of the responses provided in preference elicitation studies, in public policy?by considering what would constitute informed consent of respondents for such uses.

The long-term substantive goal of the project is to identify and address critical basic research issues that arise in the context of developing and applying the methodology. This involves bringing to bear on these environmental problems additional perspectives, drawn from psychology and other disciplines that have received less attention in areas typically dominated by investigators trained in economics and survey research. The present grant looked at these specific topics: (1) Frederick & Fischhoff (1998) present data and theory regarding the breadth and psychological underpinnings of magnitude insensitive valuation (sometimes known as "embedding," in the context of contingent valuation studies); (2) Fischhoff (1996) analyzes the ways in which public values can intrude on risk research, more or less deliberately; (3) Welch & Fischhoff (1998) studied the effects of informing respondents about the contingent valuation method, on responses to a CV-like task; and (4) Long & Fischhoff (1999) offer a formal model for determining the optimal strategy for allocating attention to evaluating a set of hazards, whose riskiness is incompletely understood.

We also have edited a special issue of the Journal of Risk and Uncertainty devoted to preference elicitation (together with Charles Manski, Economics, Northwestern), drawing on papers from the 1997 Workshop of the University of California-Berkeley Econometrics Lab, honoring Dan McFadden's 60th birthday. It brings together eight conference papers along the frontier of collaboration between psychology and economics. Each was jointly reviewed by scholars from both disciplines and includes multidisciplinary commentary, intended to capture some of the flavor of the workshop discussion (Fischhoff & Manski, in press).

We have begun work on a chapter on cognitive issues in preference elicitation, for a forthcoming Handbook of Environmental Economics (Fischhoff & Frederick, 1999).

Publications and Presentations: Total Count: 5

Fischhoff B. What do psychologists want? Contingent valuation as a special case of asking questions. In: Kopp RJ, Pommerehne WW, Schwarz N, eds. Determining the value of nonmarketed goods (pp. 189-217). New York: Plenum, 1997.

Fischhoff B, Welch N, Frederick S. Construal processes in preference elicitation. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty.

Fischhoff B, Manski C. Preference elicitation. Special issue of Journal of Risk and Uncertainty to be reprinted as a book by Kluwer, Boston (in press).

Fischhoff B. Public values in risk research. Annals of the American Academy of Political & Social Science 1996;545:75-84.

Frederick S, Fischhoff B. Scope insensitivity in elicited values. Risk Decision and Policy 1998;3:109-124.


Local Navigation


Jump to main content.