W6: Developing Tools to Support Management and Policy

Organised by Brian McIntosh, Sean Wang, Carlo Giupponi


Title: Bridging the gaps between design and use: developing appropriate tools for environmental management and policy

Authors: Brian S. McIntosh, Alexey Voinov, Court Smith, Carlo Giupponi

Abstract: Integrated assessment models, decision support systems (DSS) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are examples of a growing number of computer-based tools designed to provide scientific decision and information support to people within environmental management and policy organizations. It is recognized that end-user organizations are often not as receptive to using such tools as desired but that little research has been done to uncover and understand the reasons why. As part of the process to understand what tools are used and why, and conversely what tools are not used and why, this paper presents some views on the issues involved. No claim is made regarding the completeness of the issues covered, rather the purpose of the paper is to instigate discussion about how to improve tool design practices in such a way as to benefit environmental management and policy. Conflict between the aims of tool designers to develop usable and useful tools which also contain some degree of technological innovation is highlighted as a potential cause of problems. A call for clarity of purpose in tool design is made to make it clearer both to the designer and the client organization what the main aim of the design process is as a means of uncovering mismatches in expectation. Further, a call is made for designers to move from a technology-push to a demand-pull perspective as a necessary step towards designing more appropriate tools. A range of social dimensions of relevance to tool design are also discussed including the need to involve clients and stakeholders early in the design process, whether a model should present a simple and engaging story and to what extent good science can be implemented through the use of computer models, and the need to build trust between tool designers and tool users as a necessary part of making tools useful.

Title: Modelling Support to Improve the Quality of Environmental Studies

Authors: Huub Scholten

Abstract: Sound decisions in environmental management are often based on modelling, performed by teams consisting of team members with multidisciplinary backgrounds and solving multidisciplinary problems. Modelling in itself is a risky activity, in which many things can go wrong, including miscommunication within the team and between the team and the problem owner, malpractice, lack of process knowledge and a lack of documentation. This kind of problems makes modelling an obscure and arbitrary practice. The multidisciplinary character enhances the problem-solving scope of model studies, but does further increase the problems. Projects that use methods and tools for multidisciplinary model-based problem solving should be based on a sound, explicit methodology, described in a clear definition of the whole modelling process. Such a definition can be used as guidance for the modelling team. This guidance should be filtered for the role of a team member and to the disciplinary characteristics of a project. Next to the guidance on what modelling teams have to do, records should be kept of what they actually do and why they do it in that way. Together, guidance and records, provide transparency of modelling projects, allow audits, improve quality and make model studies reconstructable.

Title: Social and Policy Contexts for Environmental Modeling

Authors: Court Smith

Abstract: Modeling techniques and software can be an important part of the planning and policy processes associated with environmental decision making. Involving users, stakeholders, and clients is important for understanding and incorporating the social context associated with these decisions. Model developers have to understand the interaction of modeling with other social activities and agendas. Users, stakeholders, and clients are important for both generating information and building knowledge. The information and knowledge of users, stakeholders, and clients tends to be more local and specific. Models that broaden user perspectives can have important information generating and knowledge informing roles as well. Models can be used to conduct and evaluated social experiments and analyzing alternatives that are not possible with actual social systems. Involving users, stakeholders, and clients, however, heightens social and modeling tradeoffs about system completeness, expands the discussion of the complexity and realism to include in a model, and affects the allocation of project resources.

Title: An approach to develop decision support tools for the management of coastal lakes.

Authors: Jenifer Ticehurst, Dave Rissik, Lachlan Newham, Rebecca Letcher, Tony Jakeman

Abstract: The coastal zone of New South Wales (NSW), Australia is a highly valued for its economic, social and ecological resources. The long term sustainability of these resources depends upon a delicate balance in land and water activity within the catchment. However, an increase in urban development and tourist activity, an intensification of agriculture practices and a greater recognition for environmental and cultural conservation are increasing competition for resources. Thus an integrative approach is required to manage the emerging conflict. A decision support tool was developed for eight coastal lakes in NSW, to assist in their sustainable management. The Coastal Lake Assessment and Management (CLAM) tool allows users to predict the potential impacts of various management decisions on the economic, social and ecological resources valued by the community. Examples of management decisions, or scenarios, include approving new urban developments and remediating riparian zones. Community values could be visual amenity, costs to local government, and/or threatened species. Specific scenarios and values were identified through consultation with the local communities for each lake. The CLAM tool can be used to assess the trade-offs from single management decisions, but can also evaluate the impact from cumulative management options to assist in strategic planning. The interaction between the economic, social and ecological values identified by the community were integrated using a Bayesian Decision Network (BDN) approach. This method was selected because it enables the efficient representation of social, economic and ecological values that may operate at a range of scales, and enables both quantitative and qualitative data (i.e. data analysis, model simulation results and expert opinion) to be utilised. The uncertainty of the model input data and output results is inherently presented as a probability distribution, so the user is able to make a valued judgment on the reliability of the model information before using it to inform a decision. The BDN framework is nested into an easy-to-use software interface. The model and software was developed and tested in conjunction with the local stakeholders, and to date has been well received. The advantages noted by the users include justification for decisions (e.g local government planners are now able to assess the environmental impacts of urban development applications) and public education on the catchment system.

Title: Best practice guidelines for biodiversity DSS and prioritisation tools: useful or useless?

Authors: Neville Crossman

Abstract: Australia has recently moved to a regional, integrated and target-based model of delivery for natural resource management (NRM). There are now 57 NRM regions operating across the country. Each region is required to develop an integrated NRM Plan and associated Investment Strategy as a way of identifying regional NRM priorities and planning for investment in managing and meeting those priorities. Targets are set that involve temporal, quantitative and qualitative goals. Significant planning and decision-making is going into the development of projects and programs for meeting these targets and monitoring and evaluation of progress toward meeting these targets. Decision support systems (DSS) are playing an important role in identifying priorities for on-ground NRM work. This is particularly the case in efforts to plan for biodiversity conservation. Several NRM regional projects are employing DSS and spatial modelling to identify priorities for protecting and managing biodiversity. However, the application of these DSS can be clouded by a limited understanding of their development, their suitability for the application to which they are being applied and their general limitations. Consequently there is a strong need, in response to demand from NRM regional bodies, to develop best practice guidelines that succinctly review and summarise existing DSS and recommend particular DSS for particular applications. The question is whether best practice guidelines will be of any use given the unique application for which many DSS have been developed, the disparate availability and utility of data needed for input into DSS, and the significant heterogeneity of NRM and biodiversity problems in Australia. If there is agreement among workshop participants that best practice guidelines would be useful, then what would they look like?

Title: Stakeholder involvement in participatory computer based planning in St. Albans, Vermont

Authors: Hilary Harp

Abstract: Natural resource managers face a set of complex challenges to address non-point source water pollution. In Vermont, these challenges include scientific uncertainty and stakeholder conflicts in the context of defining the causes and potential solutions to high levels of phosphorus in Lake Champlain. Researchers at the University of Vermont have proposed a computer modeling approach that incorporates stakeholders and scientists to generate local solutions to the problem. The computer model provides opportunities for participants in watershed planning processes to examine the sources of water pollution, and explore future policy and management options. This paper considers the question: How does participatory computer modeling help stakeholders address conflict and promote collaboration in watershed planning for the St. Albans Bay watershed? This in-depth case study of watershed planning focuses on a participatory computer modeling project. Data were gathered from three sources: participant-observation of computer modeling, interviews with participants, and documents generated through the modeling process. The data are analyzed to assess dimensions of conflict as they relate to varying problem definitions and scientific uncertainty, and how participatory computer modeling aids in stakeholder collaboration. Initial results indicate that the modeling process provided a perceived neutral atmosphere for discussion of water pollution issues and participants gained a greater understanding of local environmental issues. Overall, this study highlights the importance of considering the dynamics of both social and technical factors in the use of modeling in natural resource planning processes.

Title: Models and output are interpreted in conflicting frames that cause the gaps to be unbridgeable

Authors: Rien Kolkman

Abstract: The unreceptiveness of potential end-user organisations to the potential benefits of IAMs en DSSs can be analysed and explained by frame reflection. The notion of “frame” is already used in social psychology, management sciences, and policy sciences. Frames are used by a person to make sense of their environment, to make observations and decisions rationally accountable, both to themselves and to others. Frames are relevant for communication and learning at the level of both individuals and organizations. Collectively shared frames may influence how knowledge is selected and organised. This abstract focuses on the implications of frame research (Kolkman, 2005) on tool design for management and policy. The challenge is to stimulate people to re-examine and revise existing frames. This requires a preceding creation of awareness for frames and frame differences. Frame reflection serves to reveal experiences, perceptions, assumptions, limitations, interpretations and uncertainties in argumentation, and thus make these available for discussion and mutual learning. A frame reflection approach, however, requires individual willingness to: • cooperate in the fields of system knowledge, legislation and economical consequences (including long term costs and but possible future flood damage claims) by open communication, also on disputed items; • change existing regulations, or at least their practical interpretations; • break through institutional communication patterns and distributions of responsibilities. Such an integrated problem approach has to deal with different authorities, in order to creatively redefine the problems on a higher level of aggregation and to find new solution spaces. This also requires integrity of, and trust between participants. These requirements pose new challenges for the design of IAMs and DSSs. Many of the above requirements are present in informal policy networks only, and formalising them in software systems may potentially have the adverse effect.

Title: Agent-based modelling: a new approach for bridging the gap between design and use of models in water management?

Authors: Anne Gunkel

Abstract: In order to cope with the challenges ahead, water management has to become more flexible and adaptive. Consequently, improved tools are necessary for augmenting and supporting the human decision-making in water management. Agent-based models are possibly a valuable approach for the development of such tools, for example because of their relative high user friendliness. However, it is not likely that the application of a new technology achieves to overcome all the obstacles hindering possible end-users from actively using the developed tools. The question remains what makes an ABM suitable and useful for water management. Answering this question requires discussing some of the qualities of agent-based models first, for example the following ones: • In which part of the modelling process should the stakeholders be involved? • Which specific data and knowledge is necessary to develop agent-based models in water management? • Which possibilities exist to achieve any kind of validation for this kind of model? • What are potential failures in creating such models? Moreover, agent-based models can be discussed in comparison to other modelling approaches, e.g. equation-based models. Such a discussion may include the following questions: • Which specific benefits do agent-based models have for water management? • What are the qualities that make a system suitable for agent-based modelling? • Which of the reasons why stakeholders in water management refuse to use environmental models apply to agent-based DSSs? In addition, it may be beneficial to discuss interesting or new areas for further research on agent-based models for water management, e.g. coupling different approaches or the development of optimal rules for autonomous water supply.

Title: Taking end-users into account - reshaping the environmental decision support research agenda

Authors: Brian McIntosh

Abstract: There is a clear need for the environmental modelling and decision support research community to become more sensitive to the needs and working practicies of potential 'end-user' organisations. One aspect of becoming more sensitive will be making more explicit our own reasons for developing a model or decision support tool (DST) in the first place. Are we trying to (i) develop tools to be used by researchers with results used by external organisations, or to; (ii) develop tools for use directly by external organisations to support current actions, or are we trying to; (iii) develop tools for use directly by external organisations but which do not support current actions, but instead support alternative actions or bases to action and in doing so constitute arguments for change in practice? If the answer is (i) we should stop trying to push our technologies out to so called 'end-users' as they will be designed for research needs, not policy needs. If the answer is (ii) we need to better understand what makes a model or DST (a source of information) useful to an organisation. And if the answer is (iii) we perhaps need to consider whether developing a model or DST is the most effective and efficient way of arguing for a change in working practice.

Title: Tools supporting environmental management and policy - epistemic and practical limitations

Authors: Patrick Wager

Abstract: Integrated, computer-based models are intended to handle complex issues. However, in policy-making and environmental management, their application is not always successful if compared to claims made about their usefulness. This raises some questions that could be discussed within the Workshop W6 of 'Developing tools to support environmental management and policy' of iEMSs 2006: Which are typical user expectations towards computer-based models designed to support policy-making and environmental management? Are such models seen as epistemic tools helping to gain knowledge about the structure of complex socio-environmental issues (through modeling), or are they practical tools allowing to learn how systems react on specific interventions (through simulation experiments)? What are the reasons for the gaps between expectations and usefulness? Are they of a more epistemic nature, i.e. do they result from difficulties in understanding the issue, e.g because - socio-environmental issues are complex and 'epistemologically distant'; - the relevant knowledge, which has been gained inductively within different scientific disciplines, is incomplete or too heterogeneous; - the modeling approach is not accessible / not transparent enough for non-specialists? Or are they more of a practical nature, insofar as they do not support real-world like experiences through simulation experiments, because e.g. - the computer-based model fails to provide an adequate, real-world-like simulation environment for the policy-makers and environmental managers that improves their problem-solving capacity? Which are then realistic expectations towards computer-based models supporting policy-making and environmental management? And what are the necessary preconditions for a successful application of such models?

Title: Questions to address at workshop.

Authors: Aaron Racicot

Abstract: Interests include: * Integration and utilization of Open Source tools in management and policy DSTs. Incorporating of this technology has social, economic, and technical benefits in direct relation to supporting decision making. * Removing the GIS/Modeling analyst when workflows become repetitive. Analysis supporting decision making tends to be a repetitive and iterative process. Focusing on integrated tool sets that allow for decision makers to run analysis in a simplified environment can provide greater sense of ownership and participation by managers, while reducing cost and burden to analytical organizations. * Use of the web for tool deployment. The web has rapidly become the medium of choice, but many historical and best practice tools have not found there way toward utilization on the web. How to migrate and what tools are suited for this environment?