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Perspective ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Environ. Sci. | doi: 10.3389/fenvs.2019.00122

Unpacking the black box: demystifying ecological models through interactive workshops and hands-on learning

 Brook Herman1, S. K. Mckay1,  Safra Altman1, Nathan Richards2, Molly Reif1, Candice Piercy1 and  Todd Swannack1*
  • 1Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), United States
  • 2United States Army Crops of Engineers, United States

Environmental management decisions increasingly rely on ecological models to forecast outcomes of management actions. Models are becoming increasingly complex through the integration of processes from multiple disciplines (e.g., linking engineering and ecological models). These models are often viewed as mysterious, baffling black boxes, which can lead to mistrust, misinterpretation and/or misapplication of model results. Numerical models have historically been developed without decision makers, coordinating partners, or stakeholders playing active roles in model development, which further complicates communication. Ultimately, mistrust of models and associated outputs can lead to poor decision-making, increase the risk of ineffective decisions, and lead to litigation over decisions. Improved ecological model development practices are needed to increase transparency, include stakeholders and decision makers throughout the entire modeling process from conceptualization through application, and overcome common communication barriers. Building from participatory modeling and prototyping methods, we have developed a workshop approach for applied ecosystem modeling problems that cultivates a foundational understanding of ecological models through hands-on, interactive model development. In this workshop environment, interdisciplinary and interagency working groups co-develop models in real-time which demystifies technical issues and educates participants on the modeling process. The purpose of this paper is to synthesize a repeatable mediated modeling workshop and identify its utility in overcoming major communication challenges of integrated modeling for complex environmental problems. The workshop approach informs modeling teams of the complexity facing decision-makers, creates a sense of model ownership by participants, builds trust among partners, and ultimately increases “buy-in” of the eventual decision.

Keywords: Ecological models, Mediated Modeling, Participatory modeling, Model communication, Ecosystem restoration

Received: 08 Apr 2019; Accepted: 02 Aug 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Herman, Mckay, Altman, Richards, Reif, Piercy and Swannack. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Todd Swannack, Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), Vicksburg, 39180-6199, Mississippi, United States,