B4: Participatory Modeling to Inform Environmental Planning and Policy

Participatory Modeling (PM) is a growing field of research and practice in environmental policy and conservation, due partly to technological advances that have increased access to information infrastructure, and to the growing understanding of the importance of diverse stakeholder engagement in decision-making processes (Sterling et al. 2019). PM processes draw from the implicit and explicit knowledge of stakeholders (from technical experts to community residents) to create together formal representations of their shared reality (Jordan et al. 2018). The PM community is strongly interdisciplinary and has supported the development, testing, and evaluation of a rich range of collaborative modeling approaches. In this session, we will introduce PM to the NCSE audience, and discuss how it can advance the community’s mission to inform policy with environmental and social science. We will provide specific examples of tools and supportive approaches used in a range of socio-ecological contexts, in the US and abroad. Our lessons learned from both successes and failures will provide a realistic view of what PM entails and of its transformative potential in building social capital and collective knowledge. PM supports a multi-directional dialogue between science and policy, between research and action, and across a range of disciplines and social sectors, through which communities (defined at any scale) can jointly shape their future as they address the complex social and environmental problems that they face.


  • Moira Zellner, Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Laura Schmitt-Olabisi, Associate Professor, Michigan State University
  • Rebecca Jordan, Professor and Department Chair, Michigan State University
  • Renee Wallace, Executive Director, Doers Consulting Alliance
  • Steven Gray, Associate Professor, Michigan State University
  • Eleanor Sterling, Jaffe Chief Conservation Scientist, American Museum of Natural History