Multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA), also termed as multi-criteria assessment (MCA), is a powerful policy appraisal tool but as Stirling (2006) has suggested, it can be used both for opening up and closing down policy discourses. Our analysis of MCA in addressing a conflict between state forestry and indigenous Sámi reindeer herding in Upper Lapland, Finland, illustrates MCA's potential in promoting open discussion about policy alternatives and their consequences, and also its limitations in highly controversial policy processes. The key features of the MCA process that served to open up policy discourse were the plural and conditional conclusions, which illustrated the diversity of viewpoints bearing on the Upper Lapland resource management conflict. The main risk of MCA to close down policy processes is to hide the scoring process and let the participants to focus only on the weighing stage. In the article, we present a novel approach to “interrogate uncertainties” and open up the information base. The Upper Lapland case study also illustrates the limits of MCA in the face of fundamental questions of ethical principle. MCA was helpful in addressing the problem situation that was formulated in terms of two competing livelihoods, forestry and reindeer herding, but unhelpful when the problem situation was formulated in terms of indigenous Sámi people struggle for land rights.
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