La modélisation participative, un lieu privilégié pour l’interdisciplinarité? / Participatory modeling: An ideal place for interdisciplinarity?

Community member post by Pierre Bommel

bommel
Pierre Bommel (biography)

An English version of this post is available

La modélisation participative cherche à impliquer un groupe de personnes dans la conception et la révision d’un modèle. L’objectif à terme consiste à mieux caractériser les problèmes actuels et imaginer collectivement comment tenter de les résoudre. Dans le domaine de l’environnement en particulier, il apparaît nécessaire que les acteurs concernés se sentent impliqués dans la démarche de modélisation, afin qu’ils puissent exprimer leurs propres points de vue, mais aussi pour mieux s’engager dans des décisions collectives. De ce fait, pour aborder la gestion intégrée des ressources, il est nécessaire de mettre les acteurs au centre des préoccupations de recherche, à la fois lors de la phase la conception du modèle mais aussi pour l’exploration de ces scénarios.

Cependant, pour mener des démarches prospectives de manière participative, il est nécessaire de réduire les frontières entre les disciplines. Au lieu d’accumuler des informations et de superposer des concepts, la modélisation peut alors jouer un rôle original en favorisant l’interdisciplinarité. Ainsi, le modèle progressivement co-construit devient un objet de médiation permettant à la fois d’échanger des points de vue sur une question de développement et de réviser les connaissances. Dans ce domaine, la modélisation multi-agent peut autoriser cette médiation en représentant un ensemble d’entités, leurs relations et les règles de décision qui animent les agents. Leur implémentation en un outil de simulation permet d’observer l’évolution d’un cas virtuel en poussant ces règles (des pratiques agricoles, une politique publique, par exemple) jusqu’à leurs conséquences extrêmes. Ce résultat direct permet en retour d’interroger les connaissances véhiculées et leurs articulations. Ce processus conception-évaluation-révision favorise un apprentissage efficace.

Or, la phase de conception doit être considérée comme l’étape privilégiée d’un dialogue entre les experts, les thématiciens, les acteurs du développement et parfois les informaticiens. Il faut appréhender cette phase avec des outils graphiques simples et non ambigus afin de rapprocher les disciplines. Néanmoins dans cette démarche, le modélisateur doit aussi être un facilitateur. Car, pour permettre cette collaboration entre les disciplines, il est nécessaire que les interlocuteurs des diverses thématiques parcourent les uns comme les autres une partie du chemin qui les sépare trop souvent. Il est essentiel en effet que chacun sache s’exprimer dans un langage accessible à ses partenaires, ne serait-ce que pour pleinement appréhender les limites et les possibilités des approches respectives des uns et des autres. Dans ce contexte, le modélisateur doit faciliter les échanges et traduire les propositions de chacun en un modèle conceptuel cohérent et compréhensible par tous.

Alors, si la modélisation participative favorise effectivement la compréhension réciproque de points de vue disparates en essayant de proposer une synthèse intelligible et sensée, il reste encore à proposer une posture d’écoute et des méthodes pratiques pour guider le modélisateur à conduire cette maïeutique. Alors peut-être bien que d’être capable d’articuler savoirs scientifiques et profanes, serait une voie prometteuse pour la transdisciplinarité?

 


 

Participatory modeling: an ideal place for interdisciplinarity? / La modélisation participative, un lieu privilégié pour l’interdisciplinarité?

A French version of this post is available

Participatory modeling seeks to engage a group of people in the design and development of a model. The ultimate goal is to better characterize a problem of concern and imagine collectively how to solve it.

In the field of environment in particular, participants from different disciplines and non-research stakeholders need to feel involved in the process, so they can express their own views, as well as better engage in collective decisions. Therefore, it is necessary to put the actors at the center of the research concerns, both in the model design and in the exploration of scenarios arising from the model.

In order to conduct such prospective approaches in a participatory manner, it is necessary to reduce the boundaries between disciplines, as well as between researchers and other stakeholders. Instead of accumulating and overlaying concepts, modeling can play a unique role in promoting interdisciplinarity. The model, gradually co-designed, becomes a mediation object that allows the participants to exchange viewpoints on the issue at hand and also to revise their own knowledge.

Agent-Based Modeling is particularly effective at enabling this mediation by representing a set of entities (agents), their relationships and the decision rules of the agents. Their subsequent implementation in a simulation tool allows the participants to examine ways of addressing the problem by pushing the decision rules to their extreme consequences.

In this way public policy options (for example) that would be too risky to implement in real life can be explored and their consequences assessed. For example, what would happen if agroecological practices were completely adopted by the farmers in a suburban area, or for another problem, what if land was redistributed from the rich to the poor? This in turn helps to question the knowledge being brought to address the problem and to understand how several viewpoints are linked. This design-evaluation-correction process promotes effective learning.

The design stage starts the dialogue between disciplinary experts and non-research actors. This stage must be tackled with simple and unambiguous graphical tools to bring the disciplines and other stakeholders closer. Furthermore, in this process, the modeler must also be a facilitator.

To enable collaboration between disciplines and between researchers and other stakeholders, it is necessary that all actors travel a part of the way that separates them. The main difficulty for researchers is to abandon the full complexity of their approach and agree to enter a collective process, especially when non-researchers are involved.

It is essential that everyone can speak in a language accessible to their partners, to fully understand the limits and possibilities of other approaches. In this context, the modeler must facilitate exchange and translate everyone’s proposals into a coherent and understandable conceptual model.

Participatory modeling actually promotes mutual understanding of disparate viewpoints by trying to offer a synthesis that makes sense. But a posture of active listening and practical methods must still be provided to help the modeler guide this process of giving birth to ideas (the Socratic method or maieutics). In this way, being able to articulate folk knowledge and know-how as well as scientific knowledge is a promising approach for interdisciplinary. What do you think?

Biography: Dr Pierre Bommel is a modeler scientist at CIRAD (French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development). As a member of the Green Research Unit, he contributes to promoting the Companion Modeling approach. Through the development of CORMAS, a Framework for Agent-Based Models, he has been focusing on the development and use of multi-agent simulations for renewable resource management issues. He was based in Brazil for several years and is currently based at the University of Costa Rica working on adaptation of agriculture and livestock to climate change. He is member of the Participatory Modeling Pursuit funded by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC).

This blog post is one of a series resulting from the first meeting in February 2016 of the Participatory Modeling Pursuit. This pursuit is part of the theme Building Resources for Action-Oriented Team Science through Syntheses of Practices and Theories funded by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC).

3 thoughts on “La modélisation participative, un lieu privilégié pour l’interdisciplinarité? / Participatory modeling: An ideal place for interdisciplinarity?

  1. Dear Bianca,
    In my activities, the main conflicts I have to face often involve problems about access and competition to common resources by stakeholders (natural pastures, water, fisheries, …). As explained in the text, participatory modeling enables the model to become a mediation object that allows the participants to exchange multiple viewpoints on the issue. This work is frequently done with researchers from different disciplines, and in my case, I rarely had to deal with disciplinary claims. Maybe because it was often about practical problems where the theoretical questions are not so essential?

    There is also a question of method. The ComMod approach (www.commod.org) does not always require the design of a formal model. We often organize sessions of role-playing games or Forum Theater. They are already kinds of scenarios (thus models). The most important part of these sessions concerns the debriefing phase that triggers discussions on the issues and the various ways to resolve conflicts.

    During more formal modeling workshops (agent-based modeling in my case), I first ask each participant to describe one of the objectives of the model. This first round seldom results in competing objectives and is fairly quick to get a consensus. Then in a second round, everyone indicates briefly 2 (or max 3) elements that seem fundamental to him or her. The purpose is to make sure that everyone is heard in a short speaking time and that all can express themselves. Listening to each other stimulates the participation of all. Thus, one cannot develop a long theory about a disciplinary corpus.

    This process is repeated once or twice so that the elements that seem essential shall be present in the model. From there, several methods are available to arrange these elements and describe their relationships. One advantage of a UML [unified modeling language] class diagram, for example, is the ability to name an entity in many ways, depending on who designates that entity. Thus, disciplinary conflicts that often arise on vocabulary and semantic matters, can sometimes be solved with this formalism.

    Obviously all of these tips to facilitate the model design should be improved further. By gathering and analyzing several participatory modeling experiences, it would be a good idea to write a manual for “Participatory Modelers” …!

    • Dear Pierre
      Thank you very much for your enlightening answer. Certainly, it would be a great idea to write a manual for “Participatory Modelers”. Do any of the authors of this blog know any “kind of” manual for beginners as myself?

  2. Dear Dr. Bommel
    In your post, you considered that “Participatory modeling actually promotes mutual understanding of disparate viewpoints by trying to offer a synthesis that makes sense”. But how do you tackle conflicts among these diverse actors?

    It is well known that one of the major obstacles that interdisciplinarity (ID) has to cope with is legitimatization among disciplines. How to move forward disciplinary conflicts and use ID in a productive way in participatory modeling (when at the same time you are facing problems with other actors in the process)?

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