While discrete choice experiments (DCEs) are increasingly used in the field of environmental valuation, they remain controversial because of their hypothetical nature and the contested reliability and validity of their results. We systematically reviewed evidence on the validity and reliability of environmental DCEs from the past thirteen years (Jan 2003–February 2016). 107 articles met our inclusion criteria. These studies provide limited and mixed evidence of the reliability and validity of DCE. Valuation results were susceptible to small changes in survey design in 45% of outcomes reporting reliability measures. DCE results were generally consistent with those of other stated preference techniques (convergent validity), but hypothetical bias was common. Evidence supporting theoretical validity (consistency with assumptions of rational choice theory) was limited. In content validity tests, 2–90% of respondents protested against a feature of the survey, and a considerable proportion found DCEs to be incomprehensible or inconsequential (17–40% and 10–62% respectively). DCE remains useful for non-market valuation, but its results should be used with caution. Given the sparse and inconclusive evidence base, we recommend that tests of reliability and validity are more routinely integrated into DCE studies and suggest how this might be achieved.
- Discrete choice experiment
- Non-market environmental goods
- Systematic review