|Quality of Life
Optimizing Environmental Decisions and Community Well-Being through
Quality-of-Life Assessment and Management
by Robert Stenner
Everyone would like an improved quality of life. But, as Robert
Stenner shows, one persons benefit is anothers deficit when
it comes to assessing general quality-of-life issues. The issues
become more confusing when the needs of diverse cultures collide.
ASTM Committee E47 is working toward writing a standard that would map out a process
for assessing quality-of-life issues where multiple and diverse
stakeholders are involved.
Industry and government alike are faced with complex environmental
decisions that affect a variety of affected sub-populations with
very different values and issues, all caring very deeply about
their quality of life, as it will be affected by these decisions.
The expressed quality-of-life issues often get very complex. What
one group thinks is a bad thing another group is likely to think
is a good thing. As a simplistic example, consider the morning
A Bad Thing: Surely commuting an hour to work, morning and night,
decreases the quality of the commuters life. Time is wasted,
fuel is spent, tires are worn out, and money is put into restoring
A Good Thing: Tire company workers, fuel providers, and mechanics
have their quality of life increased as a direct result of commuters
funding their paychecks.
Can we then say peoples lives are better or worse because of
a longer commute? This good news/bad news scenario is a simple
example of the type of challenge facing decision-makers. Now,
increase the complexity of the issues to consider balancing the
quality of life for a diverse community facing the problem of
how to balance the need for growth and economic stability with
deep-seated religious and cultural values, such as those of Native
Americans. How does one get both sides to meet somewhere in the
middle, so to speak, to move ahead with solving specific environmental
problems? Conflicting issues such as these need to be resolved
through informed consensus building and the direct hands-on
involvement of affected stakeholders.
The World Health Organization has defined quality of life as:
The individuals perceptions of their position in life, in the
context of cultural and value systems in which they live, and
in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns.
ASTM Committee E47 on Biological Effects and Environmental Fate
is taking on the challenge of seeking to improve quality of life
by enabling and placing effective, science-based tools in the
hands of stakeholders. The intent is for the stakeholders to decide
what areas and issues are most important (human health, ecology,
economics, socio-cultural issues) and use the tools best suited
to assess and decide on the best course of action for pressing
Stakeholder is a term applied to a mix of affected peoples associated
with a particular environmental decision. They are made up of
individuals whose lives are directly or indirectly affected as
a result of the decision. The types of stakeholders will be discussed
later under the Affected Stakeholder section, but it is important
to note here that the goals of these stakeholders can be quite
diverse and focused. One of the major challenges in environmental
decision-making is to determine which of these goals are essential
to a fair and successful decision.
Many decisions have impacts that affect various stakeholders in
completely different ways. For example, an increase in commute
time to and from work burdens drivers, yet benefits mechanics
and petroleum companies. Balancing the needs and desires of multiple
stakeholders can be accomplished through informed consensus building.
A process that emphasizes openness, fairness, and consideration
of the values of others is required, as well as well-defined leadership
and understood rules of engagement.
QOL Assessment Process
Subcommittee E47.05 on Risk Assessment, Management, and Communication
is taking on the challenge of developing a general process-focused
framework standard on quality of life assessment and management.
This quality of life process standard will then be supported by
existing and new tailored specific analysis and management standards
designed to address very focused issues. The existing ASTM Standard,
E 1739, Risk-Based Corrective Action Applied at Petroleum Release
Sites (RBCA), is an example of such a tailored standard.
QOL Framework Assessment Process Components
Affected Stakeholder Identification
The identification of affected stakeholders and the assembly of
the stakeholder committee is probably the most important step
in the whole process, as they will be empowered and responsible
for the facilitation of the complete QOL process. Stakeholders
can often be grouped into the following three categories: 1) affected
stakeholders, 2) interested party stakeholders, and 3) regulatory/oversight
stakeholders. The affected stakeholders are those people whose
lives will be directly impacted by decisions with respect to their
health, economic condition, personal environment, and social-cultural-religious
lifestyle. The business or responsible party owners are certainly
part of the affected stakeholders. The interested party stakeholders
are those people who have a vested interest, but who do not personally
live and work in the impacted area. The regulatory/oversight stakeholders
are usually the local, state/provincial, and federal regulatory
agencies charged with legal responsibility for controlling the
effect of the environmental decision. Often, one or more of these
regulatory agencies are part of, or choose to be part of, the
affected stakeholder group.
The stakeholder committee is established by drawing primarily
from the affected stakeholder group and is charged with the responsibility
for managing the assessment process and making the decisions.
Once the stakeholder committee is established, it is essential
that the rules of engagement for all stakeholders be established
and communicated. All stakeholders need to be encouraged and shown
how to get involved up front in the process. The stakeholder committee
will be empowered and responsible for the issues and information
gathering, analysis and forecasting activities, establishing informed
consent, and managing the initiatives and actions resulting from
In todays complex society, fair and equitable environmental decisions
require the balancing of many issues and concerns expressed by
the stakeholders impacted by the decision. These issues and concerns
generally will fit into these four categories:
Human health issues;
Economic issues; and
Often environmental decisions are based on the in-depth analysis
of the issues and concerns of just one, or possibly two, of these
categories, with human health usually being the most favored.
This practice has often left many stakeholders frustrated and
upset that their real concerns were never addressed, and it
is not because they did not want the in-depth analysis regarding
human health. They expect that to occur, but they had important
issues from the other categories that they felt were equally important
and not adequately addressed. The framework standard being developed
is aimed at establishing a process for a balanced approach to
assessing the issues associated with all four of these categories.
After the initial issues and information have been gathered from
the stakeholders and it is known where the priorities and values
of the stakeholders rest, then the necessary analyses associated
with the environmental decision at hand can take place. At this
point, the stakeholder committee will bring in the technical experts
necessary to adequately assess the agreed-upon issues and their
associated impacts. It is expected that technical impact modeling
and analyses will need to be conducted for all four of the issue
categories (i.e., human health, ecology, economics, and socio-cultural
issues). Once the results from the modeling and analysis activities
is available, the stakeholder committee will be responsible for
establishing agreed-upon weighting and valuations of the forecast
range of possible outcomes.
Each of these four areas of analysis potentially encapsulates
hundreds of possible forecasting methods and approaches. Also,
the analyses performed in each of these four areas can be intimately
related with one another. The analyses should not be conducted
in isolation. For example, an overall increase in peoples incomes
often results in increased use of natural resources with greater
environmental degradation, an increase in human health due to
the fact that health care is more affordable, and can result in
more money being spent on cultural preservation. In essence, measuring
one of these four variables will require that the other three
variables be taken into account.
There is no one specific set of analysis methods that will work
for all situations. Instead the stakeholder committee will need
to consider a variety of models and methods in the tool box
associated with the QOL process to address the specific issues
and questions raised regarding the decision at hand. A host of
risk analysis tools are currently available from a broad range
of sources (e.g., through ASTM, the Environmental Protection Agency,
and many others).
To adequately implement the forecasting/analysis stage, a great
amount of communication between the stakeholders and the expert
advisors will need to take place. Oftentimes stakeholders are
turned off immediately when their needs and values are thrown
into a black box and an answer suddenly appears. Although this
cannot be avoided completely, stakeholder facilitation throughout
the forecasting/ analysis stage can help alleviate much of this
Also, it is essential that the four forecasting/analysis areas
(i.e., human health, ecological, economic, and socio-cultural)
be able to speak with one another with respect to their results.
If all of the economics results are in money terms while all of
the socio-cultural measures are in qualitative form, then there
will be no real way to analyze these measures together, which
is the opposite result of that intended for the QOL process.
Informed Consent Establishment
Once the analyses have been completed, keeping in mind the whole
process will likely be quite iterative as the analyses can uncover
new issues, it will be necessary to reach (an) agreed upon solution(s).
In order to do this, criteria need to be created to decide which
solution(s) is (are) preferred. The stakeholders have to agree
upon what is most important to them in balancing the human health,
ecological, economic, and socio-cultural impacts to establish
criteria that cater to what they value most. This structured area
of solution selection criteria is essential to guarantee that
all the needs of stakeholders are accounted for during the selection
process. Without this structure, certain needs could easily go
unaccounted for. The stakeholders, through the leadership of the
stakeholder committee, will have to begin making trade-offs among
the different forecasting results. Not every forecast will be
positive, so the stakeholders must decide what is most important
(from the information stage and their solution selection criteria)
among all of their options. Decision assessment tools can be used
at this point to prioritize the stakeholders decisions and to
help analyze the trade-offs that will be made depending on the
This step of the process involves the implementation of the selected
solution(s). Impact and benefit analyses must be run throughout
this stage to assess the actual realized impacts of the decision
and any associated changes that need to be made to the original
At any point throughout the QOL assessment process, the participants
can go back through previous stages to reassess the progress.
If certain stakeholder values were not fully accounted for, then
it will be necessary to gather more information before making
and implementing a decision. If the expert advisors cannot produce
accurate forecasts with the information provided, it will be necessary
to go back and obtain the necessary information. At any point
in the QOL process, there are opportunities to renegotiate and
reassess the stakeholders needs and additional issues.
Creating a Standard Guide
As mentioned, ASTM Subcommittee E47.05 on Risk Assessment, Management,
and Communication is in the process of developing a general process-focused
framework standard on quality-of-life assessment and management.
It is believed that a framework standard defining the process
is the essential first step to developing standard-based guidance
to effect such a holistic approach to environmental decision-making.
E47.05 has held general QOL interest meetings in Denver, Colo.,
and Phoenix, Ariz., to solicit the input and participation of
a variety of diverse cultures. As a result, a QOL team has been
established that extends beyond the normal membership of the sub-committee
to help focus and review the QOL-based standards being developed.
If you would like to become part of this QOL team, please contact
Scott Orthey, ASTM (610/832-9730). //
Copyright 2002, ASTM