Analysing trade-offs in land-use decision-making: Learning to use AHP as a tool - Module 1

A training course by Xiaoting Hou-Jones (IIED, UK) and Alan Renwick (Lincoln University, New Zealand)

Overview | Module 1 | Module 2 | Module 3

AHP and its use in land-use trade-off analysis

This module is designed to help you understand what AHP is, including its strengths and limitations. You will learn how AHP is applied to help understand and support land-use decision-making that involves managing trade-offs alongside multiple factors and objectives. 


1. What is AHP? What are strengths and limitations? 

Through the video and reading materials, you will learn the theory and process of AHP as well as its strength and limitations as a research methodology. 

Remote video URL


1.1 Reading materials

  • What is multi-criteria analysis and its use in trade-off analysis?
  • What is Analytical Hierarchy Process (AHP)? 
    • Decision making with the analytic hierarchy process by Thomas L Saaty (journal article, paid access)
      This paper, authored by AHP’s creator, provides an overview of the theory and mathematics behind AHP, a widely used multi-criteria analysis. The paper also gives examples of how AHP has been used in practice to understand and inform decision-making processes that involve trade-offs among multiple criteria. 
  • Using AHP to make decisions:
  • Strengths and limitations of AHP: 
    • Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP)
      This 8-page leaflet provides an overview of key steps of AHP and the general use of AHP in the fields of environment, land use and sustainability. It also discusses its strengths and weaknesses. 


2. Application of AHP in understanding and supporting land-use decision-making

Through the video and reading materials you will learn about the wide application of AHP and how it can be used to understand and support land-use decision-making. The video also gives an example of how AHP has been utilised in the Sentinel project focusing on:

  • Why AHP is chosen as a methodology
  • Overall lessons drawn from the pros and cons of using AHP in understanding trade-offs in land-use decision-making by different types of landowner


Remote video URL


2.1 Reading materials

2.1. a. Selected overview of AHP application in land-use decision-making: 

2.1.b. Selected examples of how AHP is used to understand and analyse drivers of decision-making: 

2.1.c. Selected examples of how AHP is used to support land-use decision-making: 


3. The practical example of using AHP to understand and support land-use decision-making in New Zealand 

Through the video and reading materials you will learn how AHP was used by researchers in New Zealand to understand and support land-use decision-making focusing on:

  • Why AHP was chosen as a methodology
  • How it was applied
  • Overall lessons on advantages and disadvantages of using AHP as a methodology in supporting land-use decision-making. 


Remote video URL


3.1 Reading materials

3.1.a. Research findings brief: supporting complex decisions on land-use changes

The Our Land and Water National Science Challenge site provides an overview of the development and application of multi-criteria decision-making tools in New Zealand. A research brief can be downloaded from the site and highlights examples of how multi-criteria decision-making tools have been applied. 

3.1.b. Balancing the push and pull factors of land‑use change: a New Zealand case study 

This paper highlights how AHP was used with a range of land managers in New Zealand facing different opportunities and challenges. It shows how AHP results can be compared across land managers and provides examples of how results of the AHP process can be displayed. It also highlights how the tool can be used to facilitate discussion with land managers; in this case to help identify factors that may act as barriers or facilitators of change.  An extension of the analysis in this paper considers the findings of the AHP in terms of insights that are provided concerning the risk perceptions of land managers.

3.1.c. Challenges and opportunities for land-use transformation: insights from the Central Plains Water Scheme in New Zealan

This paper highlights how AHP was applied to a specific land-use issue in New Zealand and what happens to land use in a region when a large-scale irrigation scheme is developed. As well as highlighting the quantitative results from applying AHP (in terms of the weight given to the domains and subdomains), the paper also illustrates how qualitative information can be collected through the process and how this can provide useful insights into factors that are shaping land-use decision-making. For example, it found that − in addition to profitability − the desire of land managers to simplify complex agricultural systems, their need for scale, their concerns over knowledge competition, their willingness to collaborate and the challenge brought about by ‘cultural path dependency’ are all important factors. 


question mark After going through all the materials above, have a go at testing  your knowledge by answering the following questions: 

  • What is multi-criteria analysis? What is AHP? 
  • How  can AHP be used to understand how land managers make decisions concerning land-use trade-offs? 
  • What are the strength and limitations of using AHP to understand land-use trade-offs and support land-use decision-making?