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Eliciting Mental Models: a Comparison of Interview Procedures in the Context of Natural Resource Management

Natalie A Jones, University of Queensland
Helen Ross, University of Queensland
Timothy Lynam, Reflecting Society
Pascal Perez, University of Wollongong


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The sustainable management of natural resources largely depends on people’s conceptions of environmental systems and how they function. The mental model construct provides an appropriate means to explore the cognitive dimension of people’s interactions with such systems. Mental models are cognitive representations of external reality that people use as the basis for acting with and within the world around them. We aimed to improve the application of the mental model construct to the field of natural resource management, with an emphasis on creek, i.e., stream, systems, by exploring how certain elicitation procedures may affect the mental models expressed. One of the initial hurdles that must be overcome is to work out how to effectively elicit people’s mental models of complex, dynamic phenomena. By improving their understanding of mental model elicitation procedures, researchers can make better use of the mental model construct to further explore the cognitive and social dimensions of human–environment interactions. The procedures compared were oral interviews and a drawing task with oral commentary, conducted at either a creek location, where visual cues were available, or in the interviewee’s home. We found that the location of the interview had a greater effect on the expressed mental models than the interview task. The locations also evoked different emphases in the mental models: those elicited by a creek featured more concepts and were more specific, whereas those elicited at home were typically more generic and dense. The interview task was found to have minimal effect on the mental models expressed.

Key words

drawing; elicitation; interview; mental model; method; natural resource management; oral; transect

Copyright © 2014 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