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Waypoints on a Journey of Discovery: Mental Models in Human-Environment Interactions

Timothy Lynam, CSIRO; Reflecting Society
Raphael Mathevet, CNRS, UMR 5175 CEFE; Stockholm Resilience Centre
Michel Etienne, INRA, Unité Ecodéveloppement
Samantha Stone-Jovicich, CSIRO
Anne Leitch, CSIRO
Nathalie Jones, School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, The University of Queensland
Helen Ross, School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, The University of Queensland
Derick Du Toit, AWARD
Sharon Pollard, AWARD
Harry Biggs, SANParks
Pascal Perez, University of Wollongong


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Although the broad concept of mental models is gaining currency as a way to explore the link between how people think and interact with their world, this concept is limited by a theoretical and practical understanding of how it can be applied in the study of human-environment relationships. Tools and processes are needed to be able to elicit and analyze mental models. Because mental models are not directly observable, it is also important to understand how the application of any tools and processes affects what is measured. Equally important are the needs to be clear on the intent of the elicitation and to design the methods and choose the settings accordingly. Through this special edition, we explore how mental models are elicited using two approaches applied in two case-study regions. We analyze two approaches used in the Crocodile River catchment of South Africa: a graphically based approach, i.e., actors, resources, dynamics, and interactions (ARDI); and an interview- or text-based approach, i.e., consensus analysis (CA). A further experiment in the Rhone Delta (Camargue), France, enabled us to test a cross-over between these two methods using ARDI methodology to collect data and CA to analyse it. Here, we compare and explore the limitations and challenges in applying these two methods in context and conclude that they have much to offer when used singly or in combination. We first develop a conceptual framework as a synthesis of key social and cognitive psychology literature. We then use this framework to guide the enquiry into the key lessons emerging from the comparative application of these approaches to eliciting mental models in the two case regions. We identify key gaps in our knowledge and suggest important research questions that remain to be addressed.

Key words

ARDI; consensus analysis; France; mental models; social representations; South Africa; water management

Copyright © 2012 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087