Evaluating the role of participation in modeling studies for environmental planning
Stakeholder participation in modeling studies is often advocated as a means to enhance the acceptability of these studies. In turn, acceptability of modeling studies is considered as an important factor stimulating their actual use in policy making. Although these hypotheses are generally accepted, to date little empirical evidence is available to support or reject them. This study aims at exploring in more detail whether or not stakeholder participation increases acceptability of modeling studies and the use of their results in policy making, and how that can be understood. For this purpose thirteen projects were analyzed. Methods employed included a review of project reports and further papers on the project, as well as standardized surveys with scientists involved in the cases and open oral interviews with other key figures. A majority of the projects concerned European cases in which land use and exploitation of water resources had to be planned in combination. Our results suggest that acceptability of modeling studies is correlated to the actual use of these studies, although it does not seem to be a prerequisite. In turn, acceptability of modeling studies is positively correlated to a participatory approach. The latter is also correlated to the extent to which policy-oriented learning took place during modeling studies. In addition our study shows that stakeholder participation enhances acceptability of the models by allowing stakeholders to contribute ideas, knowledge, and priorities. Also communication of studies and their results to stakeholders is important for the acceptability of models. Finally, applicability of models seems to be a prerequisite for their acceptability. No evidence was found of the acceptability of models being positively influenced by the model’s credibility, the extent to which models reduce uncertainties, the insights that models give into the effects of policies, the transparency of models and modeling studies, nor the extent to which they facilitate a mutual understanding of actors with conflicting interests. We recommend further testing of the general validity of our conclusions by evaluating other projects.
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