What is the problem?
Natural resource ecosystems (e.g. forest, agricultural, land-use management, water) are complex to model and understand because they are affected by a wide range of factors including both environmental and human behaviours. Knowledge related to ecosystems and the factors that impact them is distributed between numerous stakeholders, such as scientists, local residents and frontline managers, and these actors often have distinct (and sometimes competing) interests in the ecosystem. This makes it difficult to understand the short and long-term impacts of environment and resource management decisions, and to tackle resource issues that require collective decision-making and agreement. In the case of the Sequía Project in Uruguay, local farmers were struggling to identify and plan adaptation strategies in the face of severe drought.
What is the CCI solution?
Companion modelling uses Agent-Based Models (ABMs) and role-playing games to help represent and simulate socio-economic systems for natural resource management. This participatory approach uses the collective intelligence of a wide range of stakeholders to design and implement ABMs, and features interactive simulations enabling participating stakeholders to test different scenarios and outcomes.
How is it being done?
The underlying concept of companion modelling is to use role-playing games to enable stakeholders to interact with a model or simulation of a specified resource ecosystem, and to modify the behaviour of various agents in order to understand the impact of different uses of resources. Over a series of workshops with stakeholders, the model is specified and explored while participants discuss the implications of various management decisions.
A companion modelling approach is a participatory and iterative process whereby stakeholders are involved in the definition and design of the questions, models, simulations and outputs. In turn, it is possible to collectively explore scenarios to better understand how a desired situation may be reached.The Sequía project used Cormas, a simulation computer program that uses ABMs. It is an open-source platform used by environmental resource researchers internationally to facilitate the design, monitoring and analysis of simulation scenarios.
In the Sequía project, Cormas has been used to help local farmers in Uruguay identify adaptive strategies to improve the resilience of livestock producers. The livestock sector plays a central role in the economy of Uruguay, which has the world’s highest number of cattle per capita. Due to severe droughts affecting the north Uruguayan region over recent decades, animals often die or are slaughtered prematurely. The companion modelling project sought to improve the adaptive capacities of livestock farmers, such as by testing different livestock breeding strategies. Many of the farmers and technicians who participated in the workshops continued using the model to find more effective management strategies under normal and drought periods.
A companion modelling approach draws on the collective intelligence of stakeholders and data to enhance collaboration and group decision-making. Outputs can be used by ecosystem stakeholders and managers to anticipate and model changes to the environment based on the input of different individuals/groups, in turn strengthening the ability of communities to manage environmental and resource challenges in the future.