The AHP addresses complex problems on their own terms of interaction. It allows people to lay out a problem as they see it in its complexity and to refine its definition and structure through iteration. To identify critical problems, to define their structure, and to locate and resolve conflicts, the AHP calls for information and judgments from several participants in the process. Through a mathematical sequence it synthesizes their judgments into an overall estimate of the relative priorities of alternative courses of action.
The priorities yielded by the AHP are the basic units used in all types of analysis; for example, they can serve as guidelines for allocating resources or as probabilities in making predictions. The AHP enables decision makers to represent the simultaneous interaction of many factors in complex, unstructured situations. It helps them to identify and set priorities on the basis of their objectives and their knowledge and experience of each problem. Normally, consumers’ feelings and intuitive judgments are probably more representative of their thinking and behavior than are their verbalizations of them. The AHP determines the priority any alternative has relative to the overall goal of the problem of interest.
The analyst/user creates a model of the problem by developing a hierarchical decomposition representation. At the top of the hierarchy is the overall goal or prime objective one is seeking to fulfill. The succeeding lower levels then represent the progressive decomposition of the problem. The analyst completes a pairwise comparison of all the elements in each level relative to each of the program elements in the next higher level of the hierarchy. The composition of these elements fixes the relative priority of elements in the lowest level (usually solution alternatives) relative to achieving the top-most objective.