Sessions Report: Participatory Methods
At annual conferences, we have come to expect a number of papers on participatory methods and issues related to modeling work based upon stakeholder groups. The Boston Conference was no different. A superficial examination of the program revealed eight presentations, ranging from new scripts for group-modeling work to experimental assessment of the effect of individual vs. group structure upon model-based decision making. This session report highlights these contributions and calls for interest in the formation of a new SIG or Chapter focused upon this line of research.
Participatory Methods and Issues (Continued):
There is a consistent and growing interest for effective approaches and tools to facilitate model-based interventions involving multiple stakeholders and group activities. In the early years of system dynamics, the notion of involving the stakeholders directly in the modeling process focused upon tapping their knowledge base and securing their commitment to implementation. With the advent of the group model-building approach, a fresh interest developed out of working in stakeholder-driven, action-research interventions. This evolution went beyond the natural curiosity of the investigator-modeler to provide and help implement good solutions to real problems for paying clients involved in situations of interdependency with others.
Rather, in these cases, “facilitation” took a more prominent role than “reflection,” as a response to the need to bring about trust and collaboration in the group of stakeholders. Using analytical tools couched in carefully scripted protocols, these interventions aimed at finding “good enough” solutions, or simply helping stakeholders understand and appreciate each others perspectives. Satisfying the consultant’s need for good information and the client’s drive for results are important, but so is developing a sense of collective ownership over the system, the problem at hand, and the possible lines of action for a group of people who might not have met prior to the intervention.
The need to work with and satisfy a diverse constituency during a model-based intervention is a larger concept than what became known as “group model building.” Work on environmental issues brought about the notion of “mediated modeling.” The inherent conflict present in these model-based negotiations –in what can often be perceived by the interested parties as a zero-sum game– is very different from the usually cordial environment I personally observed in GMB interventions. Others use the more generic term “participatory modeling.”
The Boston Conference added a number of interesting papers to this growing literature:
- Winz & Brierley surveyed the public participation literature to better understand the interconnections between project purpose, participatory methods and their application. They found that participatory methods are often selected on the basis of familiarity or cost, even though this may compromise the outcomes and effectiveness of the project. Instead, in “Participatory methods in Environmental System Dynamics Projects,” they identify several criteria to consider when selecting a particular approach. Moreover, for projects where group model building is not a prudent choice, they suggest and discuss alternatives. They conclude that there is a need to balance active participation with technical limitations and political interests. They also call our attention to similar research efforts in other fields.
- Beall & Ford presented their Reports from the Field II, on “Participatory Modeling for Adaptive Management.” In their comparative analyses of their own case studies, they found three continua characterizing participatory environmental modeling: 1) Interventions may take place anywhere on the “problem solving to solution producing continuum.” 2) Stakeholder involvement in the actual building of the model varies; they call this the “hands on” continuum. 3) The type of data required varies on the “qualitative to quantitative” continuum. They also draw parallels between the adaptive management paradigm and systems thinking. Their objective is to encourage modelers to adequately customize interventions to the specific needs of each stakeholder group.
- Kim also presented a paper tackling conceptual issues. “In Search of a Mental-Model-Like Concept for Group-Level Modeling” argues that there is no single construct that parallels the notion of an individual mental model for products resulting from group brainstorming and discussion. Instead she found subtle differences among the concepts contained in the literature, and proposes a way to organize them. For convenience, she uses the term “the processor.” However, she points out that different terminologies used to describe it hold differences in their assumptions about its location and form. Depending on how the data is collected and integrated, we may be interested in the group process or in the way knowledge is pieced together from individuals in the group.
- Martinez-Moyano et al.describe an application in which group model building was used to help U.S. Transportation Security Administration officials look for high-leverage improvements to their security checkpoint operations. “Modeling Aviation Security Processes” reports the outcomes of a series of interviews with headquarters and field-operations staff, and of a two-day model conceptualization workshop with a group of key stakeholders. The elicitation approach used in this intervention, combining a strategy workshop with GMB, is described in more detail in the following paper by Andersen et al. This paper focuses upon the dynamic hypotheses about the complex interrelationships among various factors that impact the effectiveness and efficiency of an aviation security checkpoint.
- Andersen et al. offer “Two Group Model Building Scripts that Integrate Systems Thinking into Strategy Workshops.” Based upon a health care case of dementia services, the Strathclyde strategy-support team and the Albany GMB team used Group Explorer and Vensim to reap the benefits of both 1) the efficiency and legitimacy provided by the detailed issue mapping, and 2) the analytic power offered by the higher level SD-like graphs and diagrams. In one script, they introduce graphs over time to support scenario mapping. In the other, they use system-level “pressure points” to generate and map feedback-rich discussions. They encourage others to study the integration of systems thinking with other strategy approaches, and to continue in the tradition of documenting GMB practices.
- Pieters et al. present an action research case study of integrated obstetric care, the care for women and their newborn babies. In “E Pluribus Unum: Using GMB with Many Interdependent Organizations to Create Integrated Health Care Networks,” the authors argue that real systems-wide change depends upon stakeholder participation, understanding of each other’s perspectives, interests and convictions, and development of mutual trust. Although their work is still in progress, the authors see promising results in their efforts –based upon a modification of Akkermans’s Renga method– to foster collaboration and coordination between large numbers of institutionally independent service providers.
- Rouwette et al. discuss an application involving work done with the Dutch Ministry of Justice. A group of representatives from the police force, public prosecution, courts and sentence execution participated in a GMB project aimed modeling the combined effects of an increase in the caseload, and investments in different phases of criminal justice administration. “Modeling Crime Control in the Netherlands” describes the group’s process of model construction and compares it to existing “scripts” from the literature. In doing so, the authors contribute to the existing body of modeling techniques, and to the dissemination of process insights, for the purpose of democratizing knowledge and skills that are still in the domain of gifted practitioners.
- Last but not least, Borstnar et al. used pretests and control groups in an experimental design to assess the influence of individual vs. group structure on model-based decision making. In “A Model of Group Learning Supported by Simulation Experiment,” they set out to investigate if 1) the use of simulation and 2) group information feedback, a) positively influence the convergence of the decision process and b) contribute to faster decision making. Their results supported their initial hypothesis that introduction of group information feedback into the decision-making process contributes to group alignment and expedites problem solving.
Call for Interest: Formation of a New SIG or Chapter on Participatory Methods and Issues
In light of the observed and sustained interest on participatory methods, described and illustrated in the session report above, I would like to propose the formation of a new SIG or Chapter focused upon this line of research. Informally, at the Boston Conference, I began to seek out reactions to this proposal and my sense is that they were, in general, positive and supportive.
The preliminary steps to the formation of such SIG or Chapter are: 1) identification of the Society members interested, 2) discussion of our collective purpose and goals, form of organization (SIG vs. Chapter), and initial activities, 3) preparation of our charter and collection of signatures of support, and 4) submission to the SDS-PC for approval.
Some of the initial activities could entail: a) creating and maintaining a comprehensive annotated bibliography, b) highlighting the major milestones and existing works, and c) promoting opportunities for communication and exchange.
I am offering to facilitate the process of forming this new SIG or Chapter. If this is of interest to you, please let me know so that you can be included in the upcoming discussion related to purpose, goals, charter, and initial activities. Please drop me a note with your input at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.