Mental models of an Afroalpine grassland encourage social learning among a diverse management team

Authors: Cara Steger*, Colorado State University
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Cultural Ecology, Sustainability Science
Keywords: transdisciplinary science, collaborative environmental management, social learning, conceptual modeling, cognitive modeling
Session Type: Paper
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Social-ecological systems can be conceived as cognitive constructs or “mental models”, which guide an individual’s thinking and behavior. When shared among a broader group, mental models are partly a reflection of individual lived experiences and partly the product of socially transmitted knowledge about how the world functions. In this paper, we describe an iterative process of constructing and revising mental models at both individual and small group levels over the course of a year. We present a case study of a community-based conservation area in the Ethiopian highlands, with participants from four social groups involved in the community conservation area management (women and men farmers, scientists, and local government). The objectives of the research are to (1) understand how perceptions of the social-ecological system differ among the groups involved in management, and (2) assess the level of social learning experienced by participants in the mental modeling process, with the aim of contributing to more empirically-informed theories and methods for facilitating collaborative environmental management.

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