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Tentative guidelines to help choosing an appropriate MCDA

method
Adel Guitouni
*
, Jean-Marc Martel
D epartement Op eration et syst emes de d ecision, Facult e des sciences de l'administration, Universit e Laval, Qu ebec, Canada G1K 7P4
Received 1 March 1997
Abstract
Despite the development of a large number of re®ned multicriterion decision aid (MCDA) methods, none can be
considered as the `super method' appropriate to all decision making situations. Hence, how can one choose an appro-
priate method to a speci®c decision situation? Recent experimental studies in psychology and behaviour have revealed,
on the one hand, that the human thinking is not to be modelled by logical rules and calculations, and, on the other
hand, that the response mode a€ects the preference formation as well as the use of compensatory or noncompensatory
strategies. The aim of this paper is to draw a conceptual framework for articulating tentative guidelines to choose an
appropriate MCDA method. This paper also presents the results of the comparison of well known multicriterion ag-
gregation procedures (MCAP) on the basis of these guidelines. In our opinion this study can constitute a ®rst step
for proposing a methodological approach to select an appropriate MCDA method to a speci®c decision making situ-
ation. Such an approach should be validated and may be integrated into a decision support system. Moreover, the
framework suggested is helpful to develop useful methods and to address neglected issues within the ®eld. Ó 1998
Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Multicriteria analysis; Decision making situation; Multicriterion decision aid method; Multicriterion
aggregation procedure; Comparative analysis; Preferences modelling; Behavioural considerations
1. Introduction
It is well accepted today that the decision mak-
ing process is extending beyond the classical mod-
el: optimizing a single objective function over a set
of feasible solutions. In fact, many con¯icting as-
pects are to be handled at the same time and hence
the decision is no longer an optimal one but a sat-
isfactory one. This consciousness of the organiza-
tional decision making features leads to the
multicriterion decision analysis (MCDA). The
MCDA methodology can be seen as a non-linear
recursive process made up of four steps: (i) struc-
turing the decision problem, (ii) articulating and
modelling the preferences, (iii) aggregating the al-
ternative evaluations (preferences) and (iv) making
recommendations.
European Journal of Operational Research 109 (1998) 501±521
*
Corresponding author. Fax: +1 418 656 2624; e-mail:
guitouna@osd.ulaval.ca.
0377-2217/98/$19.00 Ó 1998 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
PII S 0 3 7 7 - 2 2 1 7 ( 9 8 ) 0 0 0 7 3 - 3
Within this new paradigm, many MCDA meth-
ods and MCAP were proposed. One can ask why
this multiplicity of methods? The aim of every
multicriterion decision aid method is to help mak-
ing `good' recommendations. Then, which `consid-
erations' are important enough to help choosing
an appropriate method to a particular decision
making situation (DMS)? Furthermore, did all
these methods produce, in all cases, a `good' rec-
ommendation? We maintain that the answer is
`no'. Otherwise how can one explain the larger
number of methods? Why many methods are un-
able to handle `correctly' some DMS?
In practice, many analysts and researchers are
incapable of justifying clearly their choice of one
MCDA method rather than another one. In gener-
al, this choice is motivated by a sort of familiarity
and anity with a speci®c method. Hence, the way
the DMS is tackled, structured and modelled is
conditioned by the MCDA method. This behav-
iour is translated in practice by adapting the
DMS to the method and not the opposite, which
is in our opinion a non-productive attitude; it is
important to know how to use a method, but this
is not sucient to apprehend all the DMS. In this
paper, we are calling for a kind of `freedom of
thought' concerning the choice of a method: do
not be stuck in one way of thinking dictated by
one method framework.
In real life, a decision maker (DM) (or an ana-
lyst) facing a DMS tries ®rst of all to understand
and to structure the situation. Structuring the
DMS appears to be an important step to make a
decision. This step includes the determination
and the assessment of the stakeholders, the emer-
gency of the decision, the di€erent alternatives,
the consequences, the important aspects (criteria),
the quality and the quantity of the information,
etc. In general, neither the alternatives nor the cri-
teria are known a priori. Then, within the set of all
MCDA methods, one can select (or adopt) the
method that can handle `correctly' the situation
(which is not an easy task). However, it is not al-
ways the way the MCDA practitioners work (this
choice is always being in¯uenced by other contex-
tual, political and behavioural considerations).
To address the choice problem of discrete
MCDA methods, we divided this paper into four
sections. In Section 1, we stress the importance
of structuring and characterizing the DMS. We
discuss the way a DMS is modelled and how these
di€erent models a€ect the DM preferences and sat-
isfaction. In Section 2, we consider the MCDA
methods. It is practically impossible to make a sur-
vey of all the di€erent methods and it is not the
purpose of this paper. Nevertheless, we review
the literature and we show how these di€erent
methods are theoretically and pragmatically limit-
ed. Hence, the natural question is to know how to
choose an appropriate MCDA method to a partic-
ular DMS? The answer to this question is not easy
to carry out. In Section 3, we try to address this
question and to suggest a framework in order to
identify the important guidelines. These guidelines
may be used eventually to think a methodological
approach to choose the appropriate MCDA meth-
od to a speci®c DMS. Section 4 is devoted to a
comparative analysis of some discrete multicriteri-
on aggregation procedures (MCAP).
2. Characterization of the decision making situation
2.1. From a MCDA perspective
Within the paradigm of the classical operation-
al research, a decision problem is modelled by an
objective function (f ) to be optimized over a set
of feasible solutions (X). The premise prevailing
is the `homo-economicus', which means that the
rational DM always prefers the solution that max-
imises his welfare. Tackling a DMS within this
paradigm supposes that the situation is isolable,
with shape boundaries, and stable with a `good'
structure that can be handled by the mathematical
models. This perspective also supposes that the
DM is able to articulate his preferences according
to the strict preference (P) and the indi€erence (I)
relations. Hence, the maximisation of the DM sat-
isfaction is correlated to the optimization of an ob-
jective function over a set of feasible solutions:
x
i
Px
j
== f (x
i
) > f (x
j
);
x
i
Ix
j
== f (x
i
) = f (x
j
); (1)
where P and I are two binary relations, x
i
and x
j
are two alternatives of X.
502 A. Guitouni, J.-M. Martel / European Journal of Operational Research 109 (1998) 501±521
The preference structure ¦P, I¦ leads to a total
preorder of the alternatives. As discussed by many
[1,9,49,61,72±74,76,90,97,99], the classical perspec-
tive stands on a non-realistic hypothesis (e.g. the
transitivity of P and I). Adopting this perspective
implies that the DMS that exists by itself be con-
sidered outside any subjective perception [48].
The knowledge is mainly originating from the
DMS which is external and independent of the
knowing subject. Within this perspective, the ana-
lyst task is to discover the `reality' and to describe
it through a model.
The perspective of the MCDA may lay in a new
paradigm. In fact, there is more than one unique
paradigm which are di€erent from one `school of
thought' to another. The idea of the optimal solu-
tion is abandoned for the notion of the `satisfac-
tion of the decision maker'. This change was the
beginning of the development of many MCDA
methods. However, the way of apprehending the
DMS is still merely in¯uenced by the classical ap-
proach. For example, the multiattribute utility the-
ory (multiattribute value theory) (MAUT or
MAVT) considers an A ÷ A ÷ E model to describe
a DMS; where the ®rst A is the set of alternatives,
the second A is the set of attributes and E is the
performance table. The outranking approach uses
an A ÷F ÷E model; in this case, A is the set of al-
ternatives, F a consistent family of criteria and E
the performance table. To stick to these models,
we consider the following notations:
A = ¦a
1
; . . . ; a
i
; . . . ; a
m
¦; (2)
A=F = ¦g
1
; . . . ; g
j
; . . . ; g
n
¦; (3)
It is important to mention that the AHP meth-
od [81,82] uses a di€erent model which is the hier-
archical model. Nevertheless, we can show that
this model can be represented using the
A÷ A ÷ E model. In the bottom line, we consider
that all these di€erent models are in certain ways
equivalent: model A÷ A=F ÷ E. Moreover, these
models are incomplete, partial representation of
the DMS, and must be improved [7]. Improving
such models leads to consider other aspects of
the DMS as discussed below. This improvement
may lead to a new model ( A ÷ A=F ÷E ).
2.2. Why structuring a decision making situation?
``The formulation of a problem is often more
essential than its solution, which may be merely
a matter of mathematical or experimental skill''
[29]. One can then ask why considering structuring
a DMS? It is obvious that the process of structur-
ing a DMS appears to many as the most valuable
and exciting part of the whole MCDA methodolo-
gy [43,48,63,72,76]. Moreover, the di€erent
MCDA methods are based on the DM preferences
articulations and actually new psycho-cognitive
®ndings reveal that the modelling and structuring
process a€ect the preferences articulations: ``One
of the most perplexing aspects of human decision-
making behaviour under risk is the sensitivity of
preferences to seemingly minor changes in the
way a problem is presented'' [52].
A review of the literature shows that there is no
unanimous de®nition of the DMS concept. Landry
[48] stated that a variety of decision situations ex-
ists (automated decision, habit decision, urgent de-
cision, etc. . .). Roy [72] suggested that the DMS
can be categorized according to some decision
problematics; like the description problematic
(P:d), the choice problematic (P:a), the sorting
problematic (P:b), the ranking problematic (P:c).
Bana and Costa [6] suggested to introduce other
problematics like the choice of k from n (P:k=n),
the successive choice (P:a × k), etc. . .
On top of this, the DM is not always consistent
and rational when the time comes to articulate his
preferences. So far, it is clear that many other con-
siderations a€ect the decision making process as
shown in Fig. 1. The decision maker (stakehold-
ers) acts within a decision context that can in¯u-
ence him (them) and be in¯uenced by him (them).
A. Guitouni, J.-M. Martel / European Journal of Operational Research 109 (1998) 501±521 503
Accepting that the decision is the result of an
interaction between many actors in¯uenced by a
context, it becomes easy to discard the concept
of rational decision making. In our opinion, the
domain of the decision can be considered as a tri-
angle facet (see Fig. 2). Within this framework, a
decision is neither completely rational, completely
irrational, nor completely non-rational. A rational
decision consists of the evaluation of all the alter-
natives and then choosing the one that maximizes
the DM's satisfaction or his utility function.
Hence, the rational is associated to both the pro-
cess (analysis) and its result (maximisation). Simon
[84] stated that the DM has neither the time nor
the abilities to analyse all the alternatives. More-
over, the DM does not maximize functions [99].
The decision based on the DM's experiences and
knowledge is quali®ed as a non-rational decision.
The irrational decision considers only the personal
aspirations and aversions.
Basically, we maintain that the problem of
structuring a DMS should have thoughtful consid-
eration. It is clear that a seemingly minor variation
in the way a problem is represented may lead to
di€erent recommendations. We think that the
A÷A=F÷E model is incomplete and one should
think about the way of improving it by considering
other DMS aspects ( ÷ A÷A=F÷E÷ ). Also,
we maintain the idea that it is a dicult task to
characterize all DMS.
Fig. 1. Some consideration inherent to a decision making situation.
Fig. 2. The decision domain.
504 A. Guitouni, J.-M. Martel / European Journal of Operational Research 109 (1998) 501±521
3. MCDA methods
3.1. Preferences modelling
It is clear that all (or almost) MCDA approach-
es use the DM preferences to make recommenda-
tions. The major diculty facing an MCDA
methodology lies in the assessment and the model-
ling of the DM preferences [79,85]. But, the DM
preferences may not be modelled only by logical
rules and relations [99]. Clearly, the assumptions
about the DM preferences a€ect both the MCDA
process and the solution [37]. Furthermore, the
DM does become emotionally and psychologically
involved in the decision making process and these
emotions will a€ect the outcome of the analysis
[25].
A possible way to deal with the DM preferences
uses the four elementary binary relations intro-
duced by Roy [72]:
1. a I b (indi€erence situation): a is indi€erent to b,
2. a P b (preference situation): a is strictly pre-
ferred to b,
3. a Q b (weak preference situation): it is the hesi-
tation between the indi€erence and preference
situations and not being sure that (a P b) [75],
4. a R b (incomparability situation): in this situa-
tion the hesitation is between a P b and b P a.
Clearly, there exists many other preference rela-
tions and other modelling ways, but we limited this
presentation to those means used by the MCDA
methods. It is clear that each MCDA method uses
a speci®c approach to model the DM preferences.
Moreover, it is important to stress that some meth-
ods are performance aggregation oriented and oth-
ers are preference aggregation based. The ®rst kind
of method is aimed to establish an aggregation
function (V ) that represents at best the DM prefer-
ences, which is known as a single synthesizing cri-
terion such as follow:
g(a
i
) = V [g
1
(a
i
); g
2
(a
i
); . . . ; g
n
(a
i
)[; (5)
where a
i
is an alternative i, g
j
are the attribute j, V
is the aggregation function and g is the single syn-
thesizing criterion.
This function is useful to make evaluations and
comparisons between the alternatives. The global
performance leads to a total preorder of the alter-
natives of A. This approach supposes that the DM
preference structure is ¦P; I¦. Hence, the single
synthesizing criterion approach does not accept
that there may exist some good reasons to justify
the incomparability between two alternatives.
On the other hand, synthesizing using an out-
ranking approach supposes that the DM prefer-
ences can be modelled using di€erent preference
relations (like those presented above). The meth-
ods based on this approach are aimed at the aggre-
gation of the DM preferences established when
comparing alternatives along each criterion. The
outranking relation S (binary relation:
S = P Q I) holds when there is a strong reason
to believe that with respect to all the n criteria of F,
an alternative a, is at least as good as b (a S b),
without any reasons which absolutely prevent
from saying so. `At least as good as' is synony-
mous with `not worse than' [75]. To establish such
a relation, it is possible to use the concepts of
`thresholds', `concordance' and `discordance'.
The outranking synthesizing approach leads to dif-
ferent order structures depending on the prefer-
ence relations considered, the hypotheses about
the properties of these relations (transitivity, etc.)
and the use of thresholds (veto, preference, etc.).
Fig. 3 shows the di€erent preference structures of
Fig. 3. Complexity of the preference structure (adapted from
[93]).
A. Guitouni, J.-M. Martel / European Journal of Operational Research 109 (1998) 501±521 505
these methods. The axes indicate the increasing of
the preference structure complexity.
The aggregation of the alternatives evaluations
expressed according to di€erent dimensions im-
plies some kind of `compensation'. Furthermore,
to choose an MCDA method is to choose a kind
of compensation logic [93]. Even though these fun-
damental aspects of the MCDA methods were im-
portant, this subject did not receive a lot of
attention and so far only a few studies have been
published [13,15,32±34,77]. Moreover, there are
no unanimous de®nitions or principles to charac-
terize the degree of compensation. We can state
that any MCDA method can be either [22]:
1. compensatory: in this case, one admits that an
absolute compensation between the di€erent
evaluations can exist. Hence, a good perfor-
mance on one criterion can easily counterbal-
ance a poor one on another. There exist many
methods that can fall into this category like
the weighted sum;
2. non-compensatory: no compensation is accepted
between the di€erent dimensions. The DM may
state that the dimensions are important enough
to refuse any kind of compensation or tradeo€s.
The lexicographic method is considered as a
non-compensatory method;
3. partially compensatory: in this case, some kind
of compensation is accepted between the di€er-
ent dimensions or criteria. Most of the MCDA
methods fall within this category. The major
problem is to evaluate the degree of compensa-
tion for each one.
This intuitive de®nition of the `compensation'
concept is not very useful. It is not an easy task
to qualify a method as compensatory, non-com-
pensatory or even partially compensatory. In this
paper, we consider the compensation at the level
of the input data: how a (many) good evaluation
on one criterion can compensate a (many) bad
one on another?
On the other hand, many psycho-cognitive
studies have been conducted to determine to what
extent the preference compensation exists. These
studies led to ®nding that the DM is using two
types of cognitive compensation strategies when
the time comes to articulate his preferences [44].
These strategies can be compensatory or non-com-
pensatory [2]. Moreover, it has been established
that the DM is better satis®ed after using a non-
compensatory cognitive strategy [3,44]. It has also
been established that the preference articulation
mode in¯uences the use of a speci®c strategy
[11,89]: ``di€erent elucidation procedures highlight
di€erent aspects of options and suggest alternative
heuristics, which may give rise to inconsistent re-
sponses'' [89].
For example, a tradeo€ mode advantages a
compensatory strategy [2,66]. These results have
so far been ignored within the ®eld of MCDA.
We think that these ®ndings may help in choosing
the appropriate MCDA method for a speci®c
DMS.
3.2. Characterization of the MCDA methods
All the methods discussed until now are con-
cerned with a set A of discrete alternatives. These
methods are called discrete MCDA methods. Use-
ful references concerning these methods include
[5,12,40,42,43,62,65,68,79,83,93]. These methods
can be assigned to one of the three following cate-
gories: (i) the single synthesizing criterion ap-
proach without incomparability, (ii) the
outranking synthesizing approach and (iii) the in-
teractive local judgements with trial-and-error ap-
proach [72]. These categories are called by Vincke
[93] (i) the multiattribute utility theory methods,
(ii) the outranking methods and (iii) the interactive
methods. Many other speci®cations and categori-
sations exist.
These di€erent methods are often presented as a
combination of two steps: construction and exploi-
tation [14]. For instance, one can consider that
these two steps overlap. Based on this aspect, we
consider that an MCDA method can be described
by Fig. 4.
The MAUT and the MAVT are major methods
of the single synthesizing criterion approach.
These methods assume that there exists a utility
(or a value) function U to represent the DM pref-
erences. In this manner, the analyst's task consists
of the assessment of such a function and hence the
ranking of the alternatives is straightforward (di-
rect rating). The assessment of this function can
506 A. Guitouni, J.-M. Martel / European Journal of Operational Research 109 (1998) 501±521
be obtained in an additive, multiplicative, distribu-
tional. . ., manner with the hypothesis that there
exists a partial utility functions u
j
according to
each attribute j. Many methodologies were devel-
oped to determine this function [30,31,41,43]. Jac-
quet-Lagreze and Siskos [41] proposed an indirect
method for building an additive utility or a value
function called UTA.
The MAUT and MAVT methods use a single
synthesizing criterion approach and lead to a
¦P; I¦ preference structure. The axiomatic analysis
of the MAUT methods reveals the following hy-
potheses: the preference independence, the transi-
tivity, the dominance and the invariance [88,95].
However, the Allais paradox proves in fact the
transgression of the independence hypothesis.
Moreover, the modelling e€ect shows the violation
of the invariance [52]. Most of the utility assess-
ment procedures use the tradeo€ mode to elucidate
the DM preferences (u
j
and U).
The AHP methods use the pairwise compari-
sons along with a semantic and ratio scale to assess
the DM preference (relative measurement scale).
The ®nal result of these methods can be completely
described by the ¦P; I¦ structure, and in some in-
stances by ¦P; Q; I¦. The hierarchical model is use-
ful in many situations but it is not easy to assess.
Moreover, the axiomatic foundations of these
methods suppose that there must be outer and in-
ner independence between the di€erent hierarchi-
cal levels and elements (which is not always easy
to verify). As many other methods, the AHP is
not indi€erent to irrelevant alternatives (rank re-
versal). The AHP is considered as a single synthe-
sizing criterion approach.
The ELECTRE method was the ®rst one that
used an outranking synthesizing approach. The
basic idea of the outranking methods can be found
in the social choice theory [67]. Table 1 shows this
conformity. The ELECTRE method was followed
by many others like the di€erent ELECTRE and
the PROMETHEE methods. Other methods like
ORESTE, REGIME and MELCHIOR, which
are based on the same concepts as ELECTRE,
are considered as ordinal. These di€erent methods
make sense practically. As mentioned before, these
methods are based on di€erent preference struc-
tures (Fig. 3). However, they are lacking on the ax-
iomatic basis.
The intent of Table 2 is to summarize some of
these MCDA methods. However, we decided to
limit the presentation only to some multicriterion
aggregation procedures (MCAP), which are, in
our opinion, the heart of these methods (see
Fig. 4). The MCAP and MCDA methods are con-
fusing concepts and in general have been used in-
geniously with the same semantics (in the same
way).
Despite the large number of MCDA methods
(see Table 2), no one is perfect and can be consid-
Fig. 4. Schematization of a MCDA method.
Table 1
Correspondence between the social choice theory and the out-
ranking approach
Social choice theory Outranking approach
Candidate Alternative
Voter Criterion
Individual preference M Partial preference
Social preference Global preference
For more details see [92].
A. Guitouni, J.-M. Martel / European Journal of Operational Research 109 (1998) 501±521 507
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A. Guitouni, J.-M. Martel / European Journal of Operational Research 109 (1998) 501±521 509
ered as appropriate for all DMS. Moreover, the
great number of these methods is considered as a
weakness: ``Although the great diversity of
MCDA procedures may be seen as strong point,
it can also be a weakness. Up to now there has
been no possibility of deciding whether one meth-
od makes more sense than another in a speci®c
problem situation. A systematic axiomatic analysis
of decision procedures and algorithms is yet to be
carried out'' [16].
These di€erent methods are merely concerned
with re®nements of algorithmic steps rather than
addressing fundamental aspects of the decision
making process and the DMS. In addition to this,
real applications revealed the weakness of the dif-
ferent MCDA methods to handle `correctly' a
DMS. For instance, as an example, we can men-
tion the work of Wenstop and Carlsen [96]: two
di€erent MCDA methods to rank 542 hydropower
projects in Norway produced two diametrically
opposed orders.
The study of di€erent MCDA methods reveals
that every method has its assumptions and hypoth-
eses on which is based all its theoretical and axiom-
atical development. These assumptions and
hypotheses are, in our opinion, the frontiers beyond
which the method cannot be used. Surprisingly,
practitioners and analysts ignore in most cases
these limitations of the methods. Such a situation
justi®es to raise the question of method selection.
More justi®cations about the selection problem
can be found in [63]. The results of a comparative
study of di€erent MCAP are presented in this pa-
per. Then, how to choose the appropriate MCDA
method applicable to a decision making situation?
4. A framework to help choosing an appropriate
MCDA method
4.1. How to situate the problem?
To tackle such a question, we suggest the
framework of Fig. 5. First of all, we have to stress
the fact that it is impossible to characterize all the
DMS; there might exist as many DMS as there are
decisions. To bypass this problem, we suggest to
study di€erent MCDA methods and to character-
ize their application domains. This can be done by
identifying a set of parameters of the limits and
conditions of application for each single method.
On the other hand, based on theoretical, axiomat-
ical and pragmatical comparisons, it is possible to
propose a typology of these di€erent methods. The
Fig. 5. Framework to think of the methodology to choose an appropriate MCDA method.
510 A. Guitouni, J.-M. Martel / European Journal of Operational Research 109 (1998) 501±521
results of these studies may lead to suggest meth-
odological principles to help choosing an appro-
priate MCDA method. It is clear that these
principles do not have the same semantics as crite-
ria. We think that it is important to avoid the vi-
cious circle of using a MCDA tool to choose an
MCDA method. Such methodology can be easily
incorporated within a DSS.
To handle this task and outcome with a realistic
methodology, we thought of looking at other ®elds
and identifying other considerations. Psycho-cog-
nitive ®ndings suggest the in¯uence diagram of
Fig. 6. It is clear that the conceptualization of
the DMS a€ects the modelling process. Many
studies revealed that, during the decision making
process, the DM was in¯uenced by the preference
articulation mode [36,53,58,89], the alternatives
description [86], the conceptualization and the
modelling process [39,51,55,59,91], etc.
The in¯uence diagram (Fig. 6) represents these
overlapping aspects of the decision process. Hence,
we maintain the idea that the decision making sit-
uation is not given but human constructed. As we
mentioned before, each MCDA method uses a spe-
ci®c preference articulation mode. Di€erent prefer-
ences elucidation modes highlight di€erent DMS
aspects and bring about inconsistent responses
[89]. Furthermore, it is proven that di€erent modes
showed the decision con¯icts di€erently. These
con¯icts play a major role, because it is possible
that the DM will avoid bene®cial decision aids
due to the misperceptions created by these con¯icts
[44]. Moreover, these con¯icts perception in¯uence
the DM cognitive strategy (compensatory or non-
compensatory). As we discussed it before, this
strategy acts upon the degree of the DM satisfac-
tion. Finally, one must note that it is clear that
people become emotionally involved in their deci-
sions and that psychological considerations will
play a major role in the outcome of the decision
making process.
4.2. Tentative guidelines to help choosing an appro-
priate MCDA method
As we mentioned before, the DMS situation is
to be considered as a whole and is not given a pri-
ori by an A ÷ A=F ÷ E model. The di€erent con-
siderations identi®ed in this paper are, in our
opinion, major principles to be considered when
the time comes to choose an appropriate MCDA
method. However, before articulating some tenta-
tive guidelines, one can also think of taking a look
at the theoretical and technical features of these
methods. Based on the illustration of Fig. 4, these
features can be divided into three aspects: (i) the
input capabilities, (ii) the preference elucidation
and modelling, and (iii) the aggregation procedure.
The input capabilities of the method concern the
information accepted (required), the criteria, the in-
ter-criteria information, etc. The input information
can be expressed as cardinal or ordinal, uncertain
or certain, ambiguous or unambiguous, mixed, lin-
guistic, etc. Therefore, one should not use a MCDA
method conceived to handle cardinal and certain
information to process ordinal or uncertain infor-
mation. The feature of the information and the
preferences of the DM dictate the criteria to build.
It is possible to use true criteria, semi-criteria, pre-
criteria or pseudo-criteria (see [72] for detailed def-
initions of these terms). Hence, not all the methods
can deal with semi-criteria or pseudo-criteria. It is
also clear that, if the DM wants to ®x thresholds
on some criteria, it is appropriate to think about a
MCDA method conceived for such a kind of crite-
ria. In some DMS, the DM is not able to assign ex-
plicitly importance coecients to the criteria.
Moreover, it is possible that he may refuse any kind Fig. 6. In¯uence diagram.
A. Guitouni, J.-M. Martel / European Journal of Operational Research 109 (1998) 501±521 511
of compensation (substitution) between some crite-
ria. In such a situation, one cannot use a totally
compensatory method.
Preferences elucidation and modelling are im-
portant steps within any decision analysis process.
We stressed the importance and the in¯uences of
the preferences articulation mode on the whole
process and how this mode can play a major role
in the outcome of the decision process. The di€er-
ent elucidation modes used by the MCDA meth-
ods are: tradeo€s, lotteries, direct rating and
pairwise comparisons. Each mode has its advan-
tages and disadvantages. It is too soon to make
major conclusions, but we think that the pairwise
comparisons appear to be a `good' elucidation
mode. Many methods require the elucidation of
the preferences a priori (direct), progressively (di-
rect) or a posteriori (indirect). Most of the well
known methods require an a priori preferences ar-
ticulation.
The hypotheses about the DM preferences lead
to di€erent preference structures. Hence, MCDA
methods are concerned with di€erent preference
relations like P, Q, I, R, S, and so on. As shown
by Fig. 3, any combination of these relations can
lead to a di€erent preference structure and conse-
quently to a speci®c order of the alternatives (par-
tial, weak, semi, total, etc.).
The multicriterion aggregation procedure
(MCAP) is merely a matter of algorithmic and
mathematical skills. The approach considered by
each MCAP can be one of the following: the single
synthesizing criterion approach, the outranking
synthesizing approach or the interactive approach.
Every MCAP addresses a speci®c decision prob-
lematic (P:a; P:b; P:c; P:d; P:k=n; P:a × k; etc.).
The MCAP mathematical skill is a type of search-
ing for a kernel, a core, ranking, sorting, reduction
of graph circuit, matrix calculus,. . .
This presentation illustrates how dicult it is to
identify all the important aspects to be considered
to elaborate guidelines to choose an appropriate
MCDA method. A DMS is not easy to handle
and the DM is an active actor who transforms
and in¯uences all the decision process. Hence, no
MCDA method can easily be used in all DMS.
Hereby, we try to articulate some general tentative
guidelines:
Guideline G1: Determine the stakeholders of the
decision process. If there are many decision mak-
ers (judges), one should think about group deci-
sion making methods or group decision support
systems (GDSS).
Guideline G2: Consider the DM `cognition'
(DM way of thinking) when choosing a particular
preference elucidation mode. If he is more com-
fortable with pairwise comparisons, why using
tradeo€s and vice versa?
Guideline G3: Determine the decision problem-
atic pursued by the DM. If the DM wants to get an
alternatives ranking, then a ranking method is ap-
propriate, and so on.
Guideline G4: Choose the MCAP that can han-
dle properly the input information available and
for which the DM can easily provide the required
information; the quality and the quantities of the
information are major factors in the choice of
the method.
Guideline G5: The compensation degree of the
MCAP method is an important aspect to consider
and to explain to the DM. If he refuses any com-
pensation, then many MCAP will not be consid-
ered.
Guideline G6: The fundamental hypothesis of
the method are to be met (veri®ed), otherwise
one should choose another method.
Guideline G7: The decision support system
coming with the method is an important aspect
to be considered when the time comes to choose
a MCDA method.
It is easy to use a decision aid package and in
many cases people choose the software without
understanding the procedure. It happens that the
suitable MCDA method is not implemented in a
DSS. To overcome this problem, it is important
to go forward by developing user friendly decision
aid packages which implement a variety of MCDA
methods.
4.3. Tentative typological tree
Hwang and Yoon [40] and Teghem et al. [87]
suggested a tree diagram for the selection of the
apropriate MCAP. These trees can help the DM
or the analyst to narrow down his opinion follow-
512 A. Guitouni, J.-M. Martel / European Journal of Operational Research 109 (1998) 501±521
ing the branches. However, Ozernoy [63] stated
that it is impossible to develop a tree capturing
all the sides of a DMS. The large diversity of the
methods, the information used and the DMS fea-
tures discourage any attempt to suggest a compre-
hensive tree. Laaribi et al. [47] proposed a
typological tree. Based on their work and using
the guidelines, we suggest to build a typological
tree of discrete MCAP as shown in Fig. 7.
First of all, we consider the operational ap-
proach that might be the single synthesizing crite-
rion, the outranking synthesizing approach, the
interactive approach or a mixed approach. Hence,
within each category one can determine the quality
and the quantity of the input information. The in-
formation can be cardinal, ordinal or mixed. At a
lower level, this information can be expressed as
certain, uncertain, fuzzy, etc. Finally, the decision
problematic can be a major element for the assign-
ment of the methods to the branches of this tree.
Up to now, all the single synthesizing criterion
methods address only the choice problematics (it
is possible to use these methods for sorting or
ranking, but these methods are conceived for the
choice). To simplify the tree, we did not include
the MCDA methods studied. However, we present
comparison tables (Tables 3±6) to illustrate the
guidelines and the typological tree.
5. Comparative study of some MCDA discrete
methods
Hereby we present the results of a MCDA
methods comparative study. We are not consider-
ing group decision aid methods. Tables 3 and 4
summarize the results of the comparison along
guidelines G2, G3 and G4, while Tables 5 and 6
are concerned with guidelines G5, G6 and G7.
The guideline G1 helps to identify the appropriate
approach to handle the DMS. All the methods
studied in this section are concerned with one
DM (who can be one or more persons but having
the same views).
The guideline G2 concerns the preferences elu-
cidation and modelling. In this study, we com-
pared 29 MCAP. We divided G2 into: (i) the
preference elucidation mode, (ii) the moment of
preference elucidation, (iii) the global DM prefer-
ence structure considered, and (iv) the resulting
type of ordering on the alternatives. The prefer-
ence structure refers to the global preferences ob-
tained using the aggregation procedure. The
order follows from this preference structure (see
Fig. 3). The guideline G3 concerns the decision
problematic addressed by each PAMC. It happens
that one procedure may address more than one
problematic. In this table, we consider the original
problematic for which the procedure was devel-
oped. The guideline G4 is split up into various
kinds of information and information features.
The kind speci®es if the information is either ordi-
nal, cardinal or mixed. The features concern essen-
tially the information determinism (uncertain,
certain, fuzzy, etc.). G5 investigates the discrimina-
tion power of the criteria, the compensation be-
tween them and the inter-criteria information
needed. In this case, the compensation concerns
only the input data. G6 concerns the MCAP and
its hypothesis. Finally, G7 determines if the meth-
od is supported by a commercial decision aid
package. As we mentioned, it is too soon to artic-
ulate general conclusions. Moreover, concepts as
`compensation' might be clari®ed and useful de®-
nitions should be provided.
6. Conclusions
The presentation made in this paper shows that
the structuring and the modelling process is an im-
portant step of any decision aid methodology. Un-
fortunately, not only this step has not received
considerations until now, but also the di€erent
models are neglecting many aspects of the decision
making situation. We maintain the idea that the
A÷ A=F ÷ E is incomplete and should be im-
proved ( = A ÷ A=F ÷ E ). We stated that it
is impossible to think about characterizing all the
decision making situations. However, up to now
these issues are neglected within the ®eld and
should have more consideration.
We suggest that a comparative study of di€er-
ent MCDA methods might help to identify in what
circumstances one method is appropriate. The dis-
cussion of di€erent MCDA methodologies and the
A. Guitouni, J.-M. Martel / European Journal of Operational Research 109 (1998) 501±521 513
Fig. 7. Typological tree of the MCAP.
514 A. Guitouni, J.-M. Martel / European Journal of Operational Research 109 (1998) 501±521
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518 A. Guitouni, J.-M. Martel / European Journal of Operational Research 109 (1998) 501±521
review of the psycho-cognitive literature allowed
us to articulate seven tentative guidelines to help
to choose an appropriate MCDA method. We
stressed the fact that it is a vicious circle to think
of using a MCDA tool to choose a MCDA meth-
od. Hence, these guidelines are simply general
principles and cannot be considered as criteria.
Based on these guidelines, we presented results
about the comparison of 29 di€erent MCAP. From
a practical point of view, these results are far from
being completely satisfactory since they do not al-
low to make a clear unequivocal choice. Moreover,
an axiomatic study of the di€erent MCAP should
be carried out to show the weaknesses and
strengths of each one. This study should consider
other MCAP like interactive and mixed ones.
Acknowledgements
This research is ®nanced, in part, by the
Defense Research Establishment of Valcartier
(Canada).
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