SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit

Multicriteria Mapping - helping to understand complex decisions

Mulitcriteria Mapping is a new web-based application that helps to analyse complex issues and make decisions

MCM logoMCM is an interactive, multicriteria appraisal method for exploring contrasting perspectives on complex, uncertain and contested issues. MCM was first developed by Andy Stirling in 1997 for a collaboration between industry, government, academia and NGOs on the fraught issue of GM foods. It is based on many years experience by university researchers, industry executives, civil servants, activist campaigners and participation facilitators.

The current project is developing and distributing the multicriteria mapping appraisal technique as a web-based tool. It aims to help 'open up' technical assessment by systematically 'mapping' the practical implications of alternative options, uncertainties, different perspectives and values.

To find out more and access the web-based toolkit please visit: Multicriteria Mapping 


MCM allows each participant to define their own ‘options’ to address a particular aim and assess each option under their own evaluative criteria. The method ensures comparability across different perspectives, by developing a core set of options to cover a wide envelope of views, which all participants appraise as they wish. Each option is evaluated using several criteria that express technical judgments over particular aspects of performance. Each criterion is assigned two scores -  to reflect a positive and a negative view of conditions . In every case, provision is made for taking detailed notes concerning the reasons for judgments – as well as repercussions for definitions of options and criteria. This allows a rich picture to be developed of relevant uncertainties and their practical implications.

An MCM interview ends with the assigning of weights to express the relative subjective importance of different criteria. A dedicated analysis package allows highly flexible queries to be posed of the resulting quantitative and qualitative data – producing a sophisticated ‘map’ of the detailed ways in which different perspectives yield contrasting pictures of what count as the most important issues and the most promising options – as well as the reasons why.

Impact and Influence

MCM has been mentioned in an editorial in Nature, and favourably reviewed in a UK Government Manual ‘Multicriteria analysis manual for making government policy’ by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Since its development in the late 1990s, MCM has been used in a wide variety of contexts including the appraisal of options for energy strategy; food production; environmental policy consultation; radioactive waste management; obesity policy; and public health responses to the shortage of kidney donors.

Postgraduate student project - MCM was used by a doctoral student to help research alternative approaches to the ‘good governance’ of new stem cell technologies. As a result of using MCM, the student was able to make a series of policy prescriptions concerning more ‘reflexive’ policy making in this increasingly crucial area. 

Co-operative industry/NGO exercise - with Genewatch, a not-for-profit policy research and public interest group and the multi-national corporation, Unilever used MCM to to explore the underlying reasons for disagreement over proposed introduction of GM foods in the UK.

Collaborative appraisal in the health sector - a team at University College London has used MCM to look at health strategies for addressing the national shortage of kidneys for transplant with four citizen’s panels in the London borough of Camden, Engaging with the Department of Health, the National Health Service and National Institute for Clinical Excellence as well as many industry and stakeholder groups, the results shed important light on alternative ways forward.

Partners and links

This a collaborative project between Andy Stirling, SPRU, co-Director of the STEPS Centre, the Sussex Innovation Centre and the UK-based software design company DabApps.

Keep it complex – article in Nature by Professor Andy Stirling on the benefits of the risks of simplification of policy advice

Going public - editorial in Nature on MCM


Professor Andy Stirling: A.C.Stirling@sussex.ac.uk