24 – 28 March 2014 – Antigua, Guatemala
18 – 22 August 2014 – Panama City, Panama
The Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI), the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala, and the University of Illinois at Chicago are pleased to organize this event which is funded by the IAI with resources from the US National Science Foundation (NSF).
Addressing complex societal and environmental issues of the 21st century (e.g., preserving natural capital in food production, adapting to and mitigating climate change, accessing safe drinking water and sanitation) demands novel technologies, innovative policies, and integrative science dealing with complex socio-ecological problems. Simulation models are a common approach to integrating disciplinary perspectives and stakeholder values around such problems. Models provide a way to synthesize, codify, and organize different forms of knowledge into a coherent framework. They encourage thinking about causal relationships, and they allow researchers, practitioners, and stakeholders to collectively explore how a target system may respond under a variety of scenarios. This is useful for joint discussions and decisions.
Participating scientists, practitioners and stakeholders will get hands-on experience in modeling complex societal and environmental problems, from the formulation of research questions that are policy relevant to the communication of useful results to diverse audiences and knowledge users. Participants organized themselves into working groups to formulate projects and develop proposals; the groups will have the opportunity to compete for IAI funding for a collaborative project under the Seed Grant Program. The PDS will involve two sessions, each one a week long. The first session was held 24-28 March 2014 in Antigua, Guatemala; the second session will be held 18-22 August 2014 in Panama City, Panama. Between sessions, participants are interacting among themselves and with IAI staff and Institute instructors through Internet-based tools.
First PDS session
(24-28 March 2014, Antigua, Guatemala)
25 participants from 15 countries in the Americas participated in the first session which focused on the use of modeling tools as a way of structuring multiple disciplinary approaches, organizing knowledge, and identifying gaps. Participants got hands-on experience in rigorous problem definition and explicit formulation of research/policy questions as a transparent, negotiated process involving scientists, practitioners and stakeholders. By their nature, modeling projects that involve complex socio-ecological systems with many interacting components lend themselves to multiple foci. During problem definition, experts often show a bias towards their own areas of expertise and different stakeholders frequently have various perceptions of a problem. The PDS emphasized that the choice of focus and research/policy questions is a negotiation process that must be approached with openness, dialogue and respect for alternative views.
A second important skill is the selection of an appropriate level of analytical detail. Participants were exposed to the tradeoffs involved in the definition of detail for a model – that is, what should be included, what should be left out. Three types of approaches widely used in research on complex socio-ecological systems were reviewed: (1) data-based, (2) system-dynamics, and (3) agent-based models. Data-based modeling may involve input-output models (e.g., life-cycle analysis), or statistical relationships. Systems-dynamics modeling is used when systems can be conceptually represented as stocks and flows. Agent-based modeling allows for explicit representation of space and time, and interactions within and across scales. Participants received guidance on the criteria for selection and use of these tools, that is, when to use each type of tool and what features of the target system guide this choice. These criteria form the basis for appropriate conceptualization of the problem, the target system, and the research question. Conceptual modeling and problem definition constituted the core of this session.
The final important skill that was developed in this first session was proposal writing, which was applied to develop letters of intent for the grant program.
Between the first and second sessions, groups established during the first session are working to refine the initial research concepts developed in the letters of intent to develop a full proposal. The working groups are interacting through discussion groups or electronic fora, and “meeting” virtually (about once a month) with IAI staff and PDS leaders to review progress in project development. Virtual meetings also may include additional tutoring on the use of modeling tools.
Second PDS session
(18-22 August 2014, Panama City, Panama)
Modeling tools introduced during the first session will be discussed in greater detail, and use of each technique will be illustrated for specific complex natural/human systems (e.g., water sustainability in light of land-use and land-cover change due to agricultural expansion and intensification and/or urbanization). Because the ultimate goal of modeling is to aid policy and behavioral decisions, participants will develop the skills to communicate the research questions identified by the working groups and justify the approach chosen to a broad audience. Moreover, groups will work on completing full proposals to the grant program.
The TISG program will fund projects for the Seminar participants to join the IAI network and continue engaging with colleagues, strengthen and foster multinational and multidisciplinary collaboration; and promote application of research ideas and knowledge imparted in the training.
1. Further encourage network building
2. Promote the application of the training provided on pressing real-world issues that have both a global and a local environmental change dimension
3. Foster the understanding of the institutional factors shaping risk management and adaptation responses
4. Foster multinational and multidisciplinary collaboration
5. Develop and strengthen proposal writing skills
6. Develop and strengthen management capacity for international grants
7. Increase the participation of small countries in IAI research program