How Future Farms used a decision support tool to make complex information accessible

A decision support tool is an online device – often framed as a quiz or a questionnaire – that asks users to input information about their particular situation and provides feedback, a recommended action, or set of actions, based on those inputs.

Although they can be more involved to create, the pay back is that they are very powerful in their ability to direct users to the precise information they need. On a website with hundreds of pages and dozens of potential solutions to a problem, decision support tools can dramatically increase the engagement of a user who may otherwise become overwhelmed and give up.

The Saltland Genie website (built for the Future Farms Industries CRC & Land Water and Wool) used a decision support tool – in the form of a questionnaire – to direct users to the most relevant information on the site (their ‘solution’).

saltland genie tool1

You can view the Saltland Genie decision tool here.

Users were asked four questions about their situation (regarding rainfall, region, salinity and motivation). Based on their answers, the tool provided recommendations from a range of eleven pre-determined solutions for salinity. From there, users could find out more information about each recommendation at their own pace.

A few ways to identify if a decision tool might be valuable:

1. Specific issue or desired outcome. This is the obvious case – when you wish to provide guidance or direction but the situation or decision is complex
2. Most users/audiences have a common goal, usually involving taking an action or solving a problem they are struggling with
3. Dramatically short-cutting a journey by identifying the ‘solution’ or information that people need – without them needing to become experts on the entire topic

How do we go about creating a decision tool?

As indicated this can be a little involved, however to keep it brief, one approach is to imagine that you are a consultant solving a problem for your client.

Imagine how the advice is formulated (the questions that need answering, the situations understood), and document that process.

The next step is to figure out what is the ‘algorithm’ or approach to calculating the answers. Try keeping it as simple as possible – these things can get complex fast – so consider ranking rather than calculating, or vetoing to quickly rule out options.

I am simplifying a little here, but I hope that I have at least painted a picture of the process. Suffice to say that whilst it may seem too difficult to attempt, there are often ways to create decision tools that are simpler than expected.

For more information on creating decision tools or short cutting user journeys please feel free to get in touch.