Using system dynamics to improve public participation in environmental decisions

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Systems Dynamics Review








Dana Meadows believed that computer simulation models and systems thinking could be powerful tools for democracy, helping make social decisions and the assumptions on which they are based more transparent and open to public debate. She also believed that people should be more involved in making conscious and informed choices about their future. In the environmental arena, pressure to increase public participation in decision-making is growing. Not only is public involvement seen as a cornerstone of democratic ideals, it is increasingly seen by decision-makers as a practical means of putting decisions into effect. Involving the public in decision-making helps avoid public obstruction of decisions and garners public resources for their implementation. However, traditional approaches to public involvement, which rely heavily on information campaigns, facilitated discussions, and public hearings for conveying information and capturing stakeholder input, frequently leave participants dissatisfied. They are often perceived as one-way communication from agency experts to stakeholders or as a mechanism for powerful special interest groups to serve their own ends. System dynamics has the potential to improve public participation in environmental decisions by providing a framework for structured deliberation when stakeholders are involved in making decisions and a more transparent and participatory educational framework to persuade stakeholders to help implement decisions. This article describes a case study using group model building to support a stakeholder advisory group examining transportation and related air quality problems. One of the most valuable effects of the approach was the information feedback it added to the advisory process. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


Citizens' advisory committees; Decision making; Environmental policy – Public opinion; Environmental policy – Social aspects; Group decision making; Political participation; Public policy


Civic and Community Engagement | Environmental Policy | Environmental Sciences | Natural Resources Management and Policy | Other Environmental Sciences | Public Policy



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