Accepted Paper:

'Re-wilding' participatory modelling for democratic environmental management  


Catharina Landstrom (Chalmers University of Technology)

Paper short abstract:

Participatory modelling aims to incorporate 'local knowledge' in the evidence-base supporting environmental management, so far with marginal impact. Inspired by the notion of science in the 'wild' we can re-think the role of science in participatory modelling to increase its democratic efficacy.

Paper long abstract:

Participatory Modelling is widely used among environmental scientists who want to incorporate 'local knowledge' in environmental management. However, recurrent failure of participatory modelling projects to impact on decision making calls for critical STS analysis and intervention.

A closer look at participatory modelling shows that projects often strive to develop new computational approaches that can also represent 'social dimensions'. Drawing on STS perspectives this can be understood as attempting to turn the socio-environmental reality into a digital laboratory. Thus, the failure to impact can be explained, not as another example of the well-documented lack of science-policy communication, but as the consequence of misunderstanding the nature of public participation in environmental governance. Environmental managers and decision makers do not need scientific knowledge claims in which local publics are represented, they need on-going involvement of local communities in the governance process.

Environmental governance occurs in the 'wild', management and decision making are parts of complex processes of place-making. For science to respond adequately to appeals for local public involvement requires a 're-wilding' of participatory modelling. Recent transdisciplinary work has demonstrated that it is possible to use scientific computer models in ways that enhance the capacity of local publics to engage with the governance of environmental matters of concern to them. This paper considers such examples in relation to STS discussions of participatory experiments in democracy.

Panel E09
Experiments in democracy