Modeling as empowerment

Who can make systems change? The challenges of complexity are intensely felt by those who are trying to make strategic interventions in coupled human-environmental systems in order to fulfill personal, societal, or institutional goals. The activists, leaders, and decision-makers I work with often feel overwhelmed by trying to deal with multiple problems at once, with limited time, resources, and attention. We need tools to help leaders cut through the complexity so that they can identify the most effective strategies to make change.

This is where participatory system dynamics modelers like myself come in. We work side-by-side with communities and decision-makers—not to tell them what to do, but to help them figure out how to accomplish their goals in a complex systems context, regardless of where in the system they sit. We say that ‘the one who models is the one who learns’—about the system and how to change it. From helping a development agency determine the root causes of deforestation in Zambia to working with community partners to determine how best to enhance household food security, models can help decision-makers figure out the best options for moving the system levers, given limited time and limited resources.

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  • : Laura Schmitt Olabisi