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BY WHOM, WHEN AND HOW ARE COMPUTER MODELS USED IN PRACTICE?

The aim of the remainder of this chapter is to present insight from hindsight (lessons learned) in terms of factors determining the use and usefulness of computer models in everyday policymaking. Specific references are made to experiences from land use and natural resource management (NRM) models. The work draws heavily on Sterk (2007), who investigated the use (in societal problem solving) of a number of whole farm models and a range of land use and NRM models. A synthesis paper based on her work (Sterk et al. 2011) concluded that a number of conditions need to be met before a model can be used successfully, for instance to create awareness of a problem (phase 1 in Figure 5.2), define policy objectives (phase 2) or assess proposed policies (phase 5). These factors are necessary conditions, but do not automatically lead to successful application. However, by focusing on these conditions, application of a model is not merely a matter of luck but becomes something that can be managed to some degree. The section also brings in reflections on, and lessons learned from, a major European project to develop research models for ex ante impact assessment (van Ittersum et al. 2008).

Model Impact and Utility in 'Real World' Policy Formulation Activities?

Sterk (2007) demonstrated how land use models may contribute to societal problem solving and concludes that the uses are rather diverse, including heuristic, symbolic and relational. Cases where a land use model had an impact combined a heuristic role with at least one other, for example a relational or symbolic role (Shackley 1997; Sterk et al. 2009a; 2011). Also, the models fed into different policy formulation venues, ranging from high-level negotiations with directors of ministries, to far more technical policy analysis and support units of ministries or directorates (see below).

A heuristic role refers to learning about land use and NRM systems, but also to learning about the views, norms and values of other actors. Land use models are especially appreciated for their study of interactions between the components of systems; they allow integration and synthesis of fragmented knowledge on processes and components of the system to arrive at a more holistic view. All successful introductions of land use models described by Sterk et al. (2009a) fulfilled such a heuristic role. Another demonstrated role of land use and NRM models is relational, referring to the enhancement of mediation of conflicts between stakeholders or actors and contributions to community-building (facilitating the definition of common ground and purpose). EURURALIS (Westhoek et al. 2006; Verburg et al. 2006) is an example of a model which had this quality. It assessed the effects on landscape of plausible changes at the European level in different political and socio-economic conditions. To this end, EURURALIS assessed scenarios of plausible changes as defined by drivers of globalization and the control of governments over societal developments. In terms of our classification (Section 2), the model had predictive qualities. In 2002, Wageningen University and Research Centre and the Netherlands Environmental Agency were asked by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality to develop a partly quantitative decision support tool. Parallel to the development of EURURALIS, the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture initiated a European network of national policymakers to address the future of rural areas and to develop an EU rural policy agenda. It was similar to existing networks on water and nature conservation. Reflecting upon the role of the model in the process, an informant in the Ministry claimed the new network would cease to exist if the EURURALIS modelling work were no longer part of the network (Sterk et al. 2009a). According to the scientists and employee of the Ministry involved, the rural area directors especially appreciated the possibility of employing the EURURALIS tool as a card index and the visualization of output in land use maps because these features helped the users to get an overview of the diversity in developments and interdependencies in the rural area at both national and European levels. Respondents explicitly referred to its community-creating role, that is, the model facilitated the definition of common ground and purpose. Furthermore, its heuristic role was acknowledged, that is, EURURALIS helped the users to develop an idea of relevant aspects and interdependencies at both national and European levels.

The third demonstrated role of land use models is symbolic, that is, they may help put issues on the agenda. The Ground for Choices study (Rabbinge and van Latesteijn 1992) carried out by the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR), is a paradigm case of a land use study of explorative nature that fulfilled a symbolic role as well as a heuristic one. It was highly successful in putting the need for further reforms to the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) onto the agenda in the early 1990s, just after the so-called MacSharry reforms initiated a process of price liberalization with direct income support measures substituting price support. The study revealed the extreme consequences of prioritizing market liberalization, rural development, environmental or nature conservation objectives in a set of agricultural land use scenarios. It showed the enormous potential of increasing agricultural production and resource use efficiency in the EU (at that time comprising only 12 Member States) when exploiting technical potentials and concentrating agriculture on the land with best climate and soils. The study also made clear that policy objectives matter: consequences in terms of optimum land use are very different depending on what objective, for example market liberalization or rural development (still an important aim of the CAP), is prioritized. Though the study did not directly assess policies nor lead to immediate policy changes, the WRR itself and its collaborators in the study claimed that the Dutch government and agricultural and nature conservation organizations became convinced of the need for further consideration of the options to integrate environmental, nature and forest objectives with agricultural objectives in response to Ground for Choices. In the years after publication of the study, the focus shifted from 'agricultural' to developing 'rural' policy. This change of mindset is a typical quality of explorative studies; one which is especially important in the early stages of policy formulation.

 
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