If you have a hammer everything looks like a nail : ‘traditional’ versus participatory model building
The modelling of complex, dynamic and uncertain socio-environmental systems requires close collaboration between research disciplines and stakeholders at all levels. If models are representations of aspects of reality, how can we build models without inputs from people who interact with the system? This paper reflects on findings of case study research involving stakeholders in knowledge creation through conceptual and formal model building to support upland water catchment management. The uncertainty, multiple scales and conflicting understandings of stakeholders that are inherent in natural resource management necessitate a strong focus on participatory processes in integrated modelling. This leads to the recognition that problems and solutions should be identified by the stakeholders themselves, emphasizing the intersection and complementarity of lay and expert knowledge. Stakeholders in this context comprise varied groups such as land mangers (e.g. grouse moor managers and sheep farmers), water companies and water users, tourists, residents, policy-makers and researchers. Models are used at multiple stages to help formulate problems, create and compare conceptual understanding and explore implications. This requires that involvement of stakeholders should happen early in the problem formulation and research process to help answer the ‘right’ questions and provide ‘relevant’ outputs. This poses a number of interesting new challenges to the organisation of the research process. In contrast to traditional approaches of matching model components to expertise in the research team, modelling expertise must adapt to answer the questions and priorities that emerge from stakeholder engagement.