Optimization is a normative approach to identify the best solution for a given decision problem (Wilson et al 1981; Thomas and Huggett 1980). An optimization method seeks to find the best (maximum or minimum) solution to a well-defined management problem (one which has been structured in a way that the optimization method can utilize. Common to all optimization models is a quantity (or quantities) to be minimized or maximized. The quantity is often termed objective or criterion function.
While muticriteria decision analysis is powerful in many situations of decision problem solving one major drawback is that it does not allow comparing a large number of alternatives as needed in some spatial decision problems such as multi-site land use allocation problems. With only a few alternatives to be evaluated, it is likely that the best alternative chosen from the set is in fact a sub-optimal solution. This problem can be avoided by applying a design technique in optimization method. Design techniques generate an optimal solution from a much larger or possibly infinite set of alternatives, where the set of alternatives to choose from is implicitly created by the optimization procedure itself.
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