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Introducing environmental decision making
Introducing environmental decision making

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1.3 Decision making and policy making

Decision making is such an integral part of most people’s everyday lives that it is sometimes difficult to tell where decision making starts and ends.

An activity closely allied to decision making, yet different, is policy making. Policies are plans, courses of action or procedures that are intended to influence decisions. As such, they form part of the context for decision making, often providing guiding principles. But decision making is also a part of policy making and there is a dynamic relationship between decision making and policy making.

These two activities differ mainly in their purposes. A decision will usually be specific to a situation, even though it will be linked to other decisions in other situations. A policy however may apply more generically. Why does this difference matter? It matters when a decision made in one situation sets a precedent that may become a ‘de facto’ policy.

Examples where this has happened can be found in planning processes where precedents set are taken into account when appeals are made regarding granting planning permission. De facto policy also applies in some countries regarding prosecution of small scale polluters, where it is not practical to implement environmental legislation in a literal sense in all cases. Developing policy for dealing with diffuse pollution (i.e. from multiple sources) within water catchments is an example where decision making interacts with policy making. Problems of diffuse pollution are widespread, and where practical ways of improving diffuse pollution situations have been found, these have influenced policy options.