Mental Modeling Approach

Decades of research demonstrate that people’s judgments about complex issues are guided by their “mental models.” Mental models are the tacit webs of beliefs that all people draw upon to interpret and make inferences about issues that come to their attention. They cannot be determined without empirical research.

The Mental Modeling approach has been used effectively to understand risk management contexts and develop robust solutions that incorporate the beliefs and priorities of stakeholder groups. It is ideally suited to issues where:

  • • Disparate viewpoints must be synthesized on complex topics;
  • • Decisions are required among multiple potential risk management options with a significant degree of consequence; and
  • • Transparency is required when characterizing the issue, incorporating stakeholder input, and designing appropriate risk management solutions.

Expert Models

Following the development of the Opportunity Statement, a base expert model, developed through review of relevant literature and through formal and informal discussions with the Project Team and a limited number of key experts, is developed. The draft base expert model is then shared with a larger group of experts and stakeholders in a more formal, moderated workshop setting where participants are encouraged to discuss important elements of the model and provide input into development of detailed expert models. The detailed expert models, created subsequent to the workshop, are then presented back to workshop participants, in a workshop or by webinar, to validate that the system being depicted is accurate and adequately reflects the input of participants. The validated expert models then become the analytical basis for design and analysis of subsequent mental models research with a larger group of expert or nonexpert stakeholders.

Mental Models Research

Mental models research comprises one-on-one, in-depth interviews, usually conducted by telephone, in which participants respond to a series of open-ended questions, allowing them to express themselves in their own terms, thereby allowing unexpected beliefs to emerge and underlying thought processes to be revealed. Mental models interview transcripts are coded and analyzed against the expert models to ensure that all data is be accounted for. The analysis of the results yields valuable, in-depth insight into stakeholder thinking about the topic at hand.

 
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