Robust decision making - a requirement for embedding adaptation

I just presented at the IPWEA Sustainability in Public Works 2014 conference. My job was to outline the innovative methods that the City of Greater Geelong and Net Balance have implemented to respond to climate change.

Geelong has taken an interesting route, being one of the leaders in understanding and realising the benefits of embedding climate change considerations into their council operations early on in 2010. The key message of my presentation was the importance of embedding new ways of thinking and new ways of decision making to deal with climate change and the uncertainty associated with it, rather than just focusing on understanding climate and its impacts.

Geelong, with the help of Net Balance, has implemented robust decision making methods into their adaptation work. This decision making method was recommended by the Rand Corporation as a useful tool to deal with climate change and its uncertainty back in 2007. Robust decision making inverts the traditional decision making methods of predict, estimate and respond. Instead RDM, seeks to understand actions that can be taken and then use quantification tools and scenario planning to test each action against a number of climate futures. The aim of RDM is to identify and implement the robust actions rather than the optimal action. A robust action is one that provides benefits under a wide range of futures, i.e. high rainfall, low rainfall, and also incorporates flexibility and preserves action options in the future.

Geelong have implemented robust decision making through a number of ways. The two key ways that Net Balance have been involved in, include:

  • Climate change adaptation toolkit
  • Through their community infrastructure guidelines.       

The toolkit outlines a way for the council to systematise thinking about climate risks, associated uncertainty and applies robust decision making principles to prioritise actions to implement. Check out the toolkit on our website (, if you want to systematise these things in your organisation.

Geelong’s has embedded robust decision making into their community infrastructure guidelines, which inform internal staff of required considerations when designing and procuring infrastructure, and inform external infrastructure providers of Geelong’s requirements when designing infrastructure for the council. We assisted Geelong to define key principles to embed into the guidelines to shape infrastructure design and procurement. These principles were based on robust decision making, and were refined in collaboration with key staff within the council. Now these principles are embedded not only in the guidelines, but also in the asset decision making processes, with key questions engineers must answer to consider.  

Throughout our work with Geelong, Geelong staff are unaware that they are implementing robust decision making principles, but they are. This is fantastic, as they are without being confused by new terminology.

Now we working with Geelong and RMIT to develop a train the trainer program, to assist to train key staff in the council who can then train other staff to think through climate change. A key component of this work will include training in the application of robust decision making processes.

Recently, at the Adaptation Futures conference in Brazil, robust decision making was put forward with the adaptation pathways method as a useful method to manage the uncertainty associated with climate change.

For more information about robust decision making methods and adaptation pathways, please contact Fiona Silke on 0431 726 648

Fiona Silke is an Associate at Net Balance. Fiona is based in Melbourne.