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Collaborative Modeling for Decision Support in Water Resources: Principals and Best Practices 4. Summary

Summary and Recommendations

As facilitators and modelers, we wrote this monograph to improve the intersection of science, policy and social values within water and other natural resources management. Our experience shows that collaborative modeling can assist with complex decision processes, managing conflict, promoting learning and understanding, and building relationships among stakeholders. Our hope is that you, the reader, will build on our experiences and those of our colleagues and continue to improve water resources planning and management through the use of collaborative modeling processes.

We found that when stakeholders are willing to work together (Principle 1) and are represented early and often (Principle 2) they are willing to share their experience and knowledge. Models that are accessible and transparent (Principle 3) allow for easy-to-modify and quickly run simulations (Principle 5), while models that are built through iteration of stakeholder input (Principles 3 and 7) encourage scientific exploration and the development of new and creative management alternatives. This process, which values stakeholder input in the model development, builds trust and respect among parties (Principle 4). Through the integration of collaborative modeling and facilitation skills (Principle 8) models are designed to address questions that are important to stakeholders (Principle 6) and in doing so expand the potential decision-making or policy design environment.

Use the illustrations from actual case studies and the additional resources to help you to tailor the collaborative modeling method to your own situations.

As you gain experience in collaborative modeling, we welcome you to contribute your own cases to this document and to join our community of practice.2 We are currently working to expand the community and to increase the quality of collaborative modeling applications through recruitment of current users worldwide, training of the next generation, measuring effectiveness of the method, and building agency support. To continue innovative development in the field and expand our base of practitioners we ask you to share your experiences and help us create additional opportunities for the following initiatives:


  • Document case studies from which others may learn
  • Provide education and training in both facilitation and modeling
  • Create apprenticeships and mentoring programs for students and mid-career professionals

Evaluation and performance measures

  • Develop tools (surveys, interviews, analyses) to assess the impact of collaborative modeling projects
  • Design protocol that supports long term analysis of how collaborative modeling impacts decisions and aids adaptive management over time

Community of practice

  • Facilitate networking between modelers, facilitators and others interested in collaborative modeling
  • Build agency and NGO partners through outreach and education
  • Outreach to international practitioners of collaborative modeling and those who apply Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM)

Expanded applications across multiple disciplines, such as:

  • Sustainability planning for long-term supply and quality
  • Endangered species management
  • Climate change and adaptation
  • Agriculture


Best Practices

1. Collaborative modeling is appropriate for complex, conflict-laden decision making processes where stakeholders are willing to work together.
  • Conduct a situation (or stakeholder) assessment
  • Determine if all stakeholders are willing and able to participate.
  • Garner support of decision makers.
  • Evaluate your assets and resources.
  • Evaluate progress iteratively and interactively.
2. All stakeholder representatives participate early and oftento ensure that all their relevant interests are included.
  • Identify who to invite to the collaborative modeling process.
  • Define the role of the technical participants.
  • Engage the public.
3. Both the model and the process remain accessible and transparent to all participants.
  • Avoid technical jargon, acronyms and field-specific language.
  • Include the stakeholders in model selection and design decisions (including data, assumptions and limitations), as well as in the testing phase.
  • Select familiar or easy to learn software and design user-friendly models.
  • Provide support to each stakeholder as needed to enable them to participate effectively.
  • Communicate limitations and uncertainties throughout model development.
  • Document the model and the process.
4. Collaborative modeling builds trust and respect among parties.
  • Design and execute a process where stakeholders are valued for their contributions.
  • Establish a shared goal.
  • Establish ground rules for participation.
  • Respect participants’ time.
  • Approach the project with humility.
5. The model supports the decision process by easily accommodating new information and quickly simulating alternatives.
  • Ensure the model and modeler can accommodate rapid modifications and new alternatives, and can simulate relatively quickly.
  • Encourage stakeholders to suggest alternatives, then work with them to translate their ideas into parameters that the model can simulate.
  • Encourage representatives of each interest to imagine their ideal alternative, even when it may not be feasible or ignores other interests.
6. The model addresses questions that are important to decision makers and stakeholders.
  • Frequently ask the team and all participants throughout the process: “Who will use the model?” and “How will it be used?”
  • Build a simple model early in the process, then improve it over time with input from stakeholders and experts.
  • Conduct mock decision making sessions
  • Integrate all the information that is needed to support the decision into the model, but no more.
7. Parties share interests and clarify the facts before negotiating alternatives.
  • Engage stakeholders in iterative model development and technical analysis to foster shared learning.
  • Use the interest and values conflicts to creatively expand the range of alternatives.
8. Collaborative modeling requires both modeling and facilitation skills.
  • Choose modelers with collaborative skills and diverse modeling abilities, and choose facilitators with the ability to understand and appreciate what modeling can provide.
  • Ensure you have staff with the required skills throughout the process.

2The community is called: Collaborative Modeling for Decision Support  (CMDS): Integrating collaborative modeling with participatory process to inform natural resource management decisions.