Multi-criteria analysis, sometimes called multi-criteria decision analysis, is a general framework for supporting complex decision-making situations with multiple and often conflicting objectives that stakeholder groups or decision makers value differently. The basic idea of multi-criteria analysis is to evaluate the performance of alternative courses of action with respect to criteria capturing the key dimensions of the decision-maker preferences for option performance under each criterion. Multi-criteria decision analysis does not produce final ‘optimal’ outcomes, but rather is a decision-support and sounding board tool.
Multi-criteria decision analysis is typically used in participatory processes to facilitate dialogue between experts, stakeholders and decision-makers. It can facilitate value integration by combining and structuring diverse information including multiple criteria, different types of data, and diversity of actor perspectives and value judgements. It can be used as a value elicitation method to cover a broad range of values, including ecological and economic values, as well as social and cultural values. Its main output is a preference ordering of alternatives according to different value positions and worldviews.
Multi-criteria analysis methods are also suited for illustrating distributional impacts but not all of them can address incommensurable criteria such as rights and duties. However, some approaches such as social multi-criteria analysis can better accommodate incommensurable criteria that are difficult to trade-off against each other.