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The Analytic Hierarchical Process (AHP) is a structured technique for organizing and analyzing complex decisions, based on mathematics and psychology. It was developed by Thomas L. Saaty in the 1970s and has been extensively studied and refined since then.

It is particularly applicable in group decision making, and is one of the most popular methods used around the world in fields such as government, business, industry, healthcare, shipbuilding and education.

Rather than prescribing a "correct" decision, the AHP helps decision makers find one that best suits their goal and their understanding of the problem. It provides a comprehensive and rational framework to structure the decision problem, represent and prioritize its elements, to synthesize all the information and rank the alternative actions that might be taken.

Users of the AHP first decompose their decision problem into a hierarchy of more easily comprehended sub-problems, each of which can be analyzed independently. The elements of the hierarchy can relate to any aspect of the decision problem—tangible or intangible, carefully measured or roughly estimated, well or poorly understood—anything at all that applies to the decision at hand.

Once the hierarchy is built, the decision makers systematically evaluate its various elements by comparing them to each other two at a time, with respect to their impact on an element above them in the hierarchy. In making the comparisons, the decision makers can use concrete data about the elements, but they typically use their judgments about the elements' relative meaning and importance. It is the essence of the AHP that human judgments, and not just the underlying information, can be used in performing the evaluations.

The AHP converts these evaluations to numerical values that can be processed and summarized over the entire range of the problem. A numerical weight or priority is derived for each element of the hierarchy. Diverse and often incommensurable elements can be compared to one another in a rational and consistent way. This is the capacity that distinguishes the AHP from other decisionmaking techniques.

In the final step of the process, numerical priorities are calculated for each of the decision alternatives. These numbers represent the alternatives' relative ability to achieve the decision goal, so they allow a straightforward consideration of the various courses of action.

Source: Wikipedia