Challenges of contemporary forest management are frequently referred to as complex. This article empirically studies complexity in forest management decision-making. In contrast to what is often assumed in the literature, this article starts by assuming that complexity does not just consist of an external descriptive element, but also depends on how decision-makers perceive the system at hand. This “perceived complexity” determines decision-making. We used a straightforward interpretation of perceived complexity using two criteria: the number of factors considered and the uncertainty perceived about these factors. The results show that Dutch forest managers generally consider forest management decision-making to be complicated (many factors to consider) rather than complex (many uncertain factors to consider). Differences in sources of complexity confirm the individual character of perceived complexity. The factors perceived to be most relevant for decision-making (the forest itself, the organization’s objective, the cost of management, public opinion, national policies and laws, and new scientific insights and ideas) are generally seen as rather certain, although “complexity reduction” may play a role that can adversely affect the quality of decision-making. Additional use of more open-ended, forward-looking methods, such as qualitative foresight tools, might enable addressing uncertainty and complexity, and thereby enhance decision-making in forest management to prepare for increasing complexity in the future.
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