Taking participatory in participatory modelling seriously
Over the last three decades participatory research processes have informed much international development and conservation work in developing countries. Public participation is also a growing legislative requirement in natural resource and environmental management in developed countries. So far, multiple participatory approaches have been formulated and applied in different contexts, including so-called participatory modelling methods. The latter have developed alongside a growing unease and fundamental critique of the participatory approaches and their theoretical underpinnings. One of the central themes running through the critique is the naivete with which complexities of power relations are assumed to be understood and addressed in participatory approaches. The critique also highlights the danger that participatory approaches become legitimising instruments that simply maintain and reinforce existing power relations. In this paper we engage with the critical literature in the hope of drawing lessons and requirements for participatory modelling. We also empirically evaluate participatory modelling case studies with regard to the fundamental critique. While we do not agree with some demands from the critique that imply abandoning the whole participatory enterprise, we suggest that claims to participatory modelling be taken seriously and that each claim be accompanied by critical reflection. Based on a review of the literature we suggest initial set of questions towards developing a framework for critical reflection.
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