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Participatory System Dynamics Modeling for Sustainable Environmental Management: Observations from Four Cases

Partners' Institution
Södertörn University
Reference
Stave, K., 2010. Participatory System Dynamics Modeling for Sustainable Environmental Management: Observations from Four Cases [WWW Document]. Sustainability. https://doi.org/10.3390/su2092762
Thematic Area
Development studies
DOI
DOI: 10.3390/su2092762
Summary
Sustainable environmental management requires a decision support approach that accounts for dynamic connections between social and ecological systems, integrates stakeholder deliberation with scientific analysis, incorporates diverse stakeholder knowledge, and fosters relationships among stakeholders that can accommodate changing information and changing social and environmental conditions. Participatory system dynamics modeling provides such a framework. It supports stakeholder learning about the system and the perspectives of other stakeholders, and can help build social capital among stakeholders. Four cases of participatory system dynamics modeling, which range from no to full participant involvement in model development, support the idea that greater social capital development results from greater participation in model development, but also suggest that even the simplest use of simulation models in a group fosters stakeholder learning about the system through surprise and discovery. To maximize the learning value of simulation models, it is important to allow enough time for debriefing the ―aha!‖ moments that lead to curiosity about system behavior. To maximize social capital development, it is important to build enough time into the problem structuring and model conceptualization phases for stakeholders to articulate their mental models and examine those of other participants.
Relevance for Complex Systems Knowledge
The main conclusion of this paper is that greater social capital development results from greater participation in model development, but also suggest that even the simplest use of simulation models in a group fosters stakeholder learning about the system through surprise and discovery. Participatory system dynamics modeling offers a strong framework for analytic-deliberation in sustainable environmental management. It is particularly useful for facilitating participant learning about the system, promoting social learning among participants and building social capital.

Engaging stakeholders in problem analysis using system dynamics methods, including approaches such as

group model building - whether it is a conceptual or fully operational model, and whether or not the model users are involved in model development.
mediated modeling

A fully participatory process would be one in which participants help structure the problem, describe the system, create an operational computer model of the system, use the model to identify and test policy interventions, and choose one or more solutions based on the model analysis. A minimally participatory modeling process might be one in which a model is used to help stakeholders understand the basis for an already selected decision.

Complex feedback relationships between human activity and environmental systems make it difficult to understand the potential consequences of decisions. Conflicts among stakeholders may obstruct implementation. Solving environmental problems can be as much about defining the problems to be solved as finding technical solutions, or negotiating between acceptable rather than optimal strategies. There is rarely an optimal solution when people assign different weight to different goals.

Participation should be central to decision-making: "Rather than seeing policy decisions as fundamentally technical with some need for public input, we should see many more decisions as fundamentally public with the need for some technical input." When participation is integrated well with technical information, education, and analysis, deliberation and technical analysis can reinforce each other. Normative arguments promote participation as a democratic right, substantive rationales say that public participation improves the quality of decisions, and instrumental or pragmatic justifications argue that participation increases the likelihood that decisions can be implemented.Requires that decisionmakers clarify what they want to sustain and for how long. These are questions of value and have to be answered by stakeholders.

Sustainable management requires adaptive governance, in which management rules evolve as our understanding changes and biophysical and social systems themselves change. Some argue that resource management depends as much on social capital—bonds of trust, reciprocity, and social connections and social learning among stakeholders—as scientific knowledge

The key steps in a system dynamics approach are identifying one or more trends that characterize the problem, describing the structure of the system generating the behavior, and finding and testing leverage points in the system to change the problematic behavior. System dynamics is an appropriate modeling approach for sustainability questions because of the long-term perspective and feedback dynamics inherent in such questions. Four cases:

In the first two cases, participants were not at all involved in model development. They used the simulation model to learn about the system and to experiment with the effects of different policy decisions on the problem variables.
Participants in the third and fourth cases were significantly involved in model development, model analysis, and developing policy recommendations.

In all cases, the model user interface was limited to one screen, and participants tested ideas on the user interface.

The time frame for a fully participatory modelling is rather long, many hours go into defining the model attributes, then the actual modelling takes months.
Point of Strength
 A clear description of how system thinking can contribute to participatory action research and vice versa