Interdisciplinary Approach to Understanding Stakeholder Reasoning and Decision-Making for Water

Katalina Salas, University of Texas at El Paso


On a global scale, humanity is compelled to address complex or ‘wicked’ resource-related issues in the face of accelerating environmental change. In our work, we use the term wicked problem to refer to an issue that has multiple potential solutions and involves various stakeholders. The paths to reach resource sustainability under environmental uncertainty are difficult to identify, plausible outcomes remain uncertain, and tradeoffs required by any path chosen are challenging to understand. Environmental sustainability issues may involve perspectives from multiple stakeholders (i.e., scientists, policymakers, community members, and industry), often leading to conflicting interests and cultural misalignments that trigger the need for a more integrated approach. Participatory modeling (PM) has been identified as an emerging strategy to address these problems. PM aims to generate a shared understanding of the challenges confronting a given resource system through social learning and collaborative thought experiments that explore potential societal responses supported by computational tools. This approach has many examples, but our understanding of how social learning, knowledge shifts, and decision-making occurs in this context remains limited. In this study, we focus on how people understand and collaborate through PM using freshwater supply models of the Middle Rio Grande River Basin. We conducted online workshops with activities targeting key competencies and collaboration, exposing participants to online scientific data and models. Through these workshops, participants identified conflicts, co-created knowledge, and developed potential solutions informed using scientific models. Results of the study allowed us to determine what mechanisms facilitated social learning and the effectiveness of various tools used to present scientific data and models to non-scientists. In this study, we extensively explore stakeholder engagement, participatory modeling, and scenario analysis in the Paso del Norte region's water challenges, utilizing SWIM 2.0. Our research underscores the significance of collaborative processes, knowledge co-creation, and diverse perspectives. The findings highlight participatory methodologies' potential in addressing complex water issues and fostering stakeholder trust. Furthermore, we emphasize the role of group dynamics and negotiations during the collective construction of a group concept map, shedding light on its impact on collaborative success, scenario analysis, and trust-building.

Subject Area

Environmental science|Environmental engineering|Sustainability|Geographic information science

Recommended Citation

Salas, Katalina, "Interdisciplinary Approach to Understanding Stakeholder Reasoning and Decision-Making for Water" (2023). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI30637906.