Risk management of groundwater pollution : a knowledge-based approach
Risk assessment and risk management now underpin environmental protection in the UK. Risk assessment provides for a structured and systematic analysis of a problem, and is an objective tool to inform risk management decisions. In particular, risk assessment can assist in the prioritisation of management activities to direct resources more effectively to significant risks. However, the application of risk assessment remains ad hoc and often focused on quantified approaches. The problem of how to integrate the results of a risk assessment into decisionmaking processes remains. The objective of this research was to assess whether a knowledgebased approach could be usefully applied to risk management decisions associated with the protection of groundwater. The use of a knowledge-based system offers considerable potential to support regulatory decision-making relating to environmental risks. Such systems utilise expert knowledge to solve specific problems as an expert would but without requiring specialist or skilled users. This research describes the development of a prototype decision-support system to assist non-specialist regulatory personnel, in the prioritisation of risks and management activities relating to groundwater threats from hydrocarbon point-sources. The research focused on the knowledge acquisition process using semi-structured interviews, concept sorting and risk rating to identify the type of information required by the expert in their decision-making processes and also to distinguish any differences of approach between experts and 'non-experts'. A conceptual model was developed that represented expert decision-making and problem solving. This model was used to develop the prototype decision-support system which was subsequently evaluated by experts and users, resulting in system refinements. A positive response to the usability and utility of the system was received from both expert and user groups, suggesting a knowledge-based approach can be usefully applied to risk management decisions associated with the protection of groundwater.