This CAREER project aims to create a decision theoretic life cycle assessment (DT-LCA) framework to critically advance LCA’s predictive power and usefulness in support of decision-making. In particular, the project will use DT-LCA to address health, economic, and environmental aspects related to drinking water emergency planning and response. The goal is to enable LCA to address important questions regarding how various human decision factors influence sustainability outcomes, and in turn, how sustainability outcomes influence decision-making. The DT-LCA approach will use an immersive game-based approach to engage stakeholders in simplified but realistic decision scenarios. Unlike the deterministic LCA approach, DT-LCA simulates sustainability outcomes in an iterative, dynamic manner based upon actual decisions made by stakeholders during the game. It combines social experimenting, computer modeling, education, and outreach into one integrated framework.

The research seeks to enhance the way LCA is conducted by tightly coupling it with stakeholder decision- making through serious gaming. Decision factors including risk attitudes, interorganizational networks, and access to LCA results will be introduced into the game’s experimental design to investigate their influences on sustainability outcomes. Stakeholder concept maps before and after game participation will be collected to study the influence of the DT-LCA on learning. These influences will be characterized by analyzing the quantitative and qualitative data obtained from the serious game through statistical and machine learning techniques, network analysis, and text mining. This project aims to generate new knowledge in 1) the influences of human decision factors including risk attitudes and interorganizational networks on sustainability outcomes; 2) the influences of knowledge about sustainability outcomes on decision-making; and, 3) the effectiveness of a tightly coupled decision-assessment framework on stakeholder learning as well as on improving the sustainability of drinking water emergency planning and response practices. This project will also result in the development of 1) a DT-LCA framework that allows for the tight coupling of assessment and decision-making; 2) a novel serious game for engaged learning about drinking water emergency planning and response; 3) a safety planning model and an emergency response model that incorporate various decision scenarios and the associated system responses; 4) a method to integrate impacts related to failure risks into sustainability measures; and, 5) a teaching packet that can be integrated into undergraduate and graduate level courses and be used by self-learners. This project will engage at least 50 stakeholders from New Hampshire along with additional water industry professionals and the general public through workshops and crowdsourcing. A teaching packet will be developed to encompass the game and the simulation tool from this project, and the teaching packet will be integrated into three undergraduate and graduate courses at University of New Hampshire (UNH). This is targeted to help students obtain new knowledge and skillsets that are critical to manage the complexity behind sustainability challenges. Key outcomes from the project will be further disseminated to a broader community through the UNH’s Research Experience for Teachers of Engineering (RETE) program, an existing science educator network (NHISE), conference workshops and presentations, webinars, social media posts, and journal publications.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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University of New Hampshire
United States
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