Exploring the use of computer models in participatory integrated assessment – experiences and recommendations for further steps


  • Urs Dahinden University of Zürich
  • Cristina Querol Spanish Council of Scientific Research
  • Jill Jäger International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental CHange
  • Mans Nilsson Stockholm Environment Institute


participatory integrated assessment, methodology, focus groups, computer models, uncertainty


Integrated assessment (IA) can be defined as a structured process of dealing with complex issues, using knowledge from various scientific disciplines and/or stakeholders, such that integrated insights are made available to decision makers (J. Rotmans, Enviromental Modelling and Assessment 3 (1998) 155). There is a growing recognition that the participation of stakeholders is a vital element of IA. However, only little is known about methodological requirements for such participatory IA and possible insights to be gained from these approaches. This paper summarizes some of the experiences gathered in the ULYSSES project, which aims at developing procedures that are able to bridge the gap between environmental science and democratic policy making for the issue of climate change. The discussion is based on a total of 52 IA focus groups with citizens, run in six European and one US city. In these groups, different computer models were used, ranging from complex and dynamic global models to simple accounting tools. The analysis in this paper focuses on the role of the computer models. The findings suggest that the computer models were successful at conveying to participants the temporal and spatial scale of climate change, the complexity of the system and the uncertainties in our understanding of it. However, most participants felt that the computer models were less instrumental for the exploration of policy options. Furthermore, both research teams and participants agreed that despite considerable efforts, most models were not sufficiently user-friendly and transparent for being accessed in an IA focus group. With that background, some methodological conclusions are drawn about the inclusion of the computer models in the deliberation process. Furthermore, some suggestions are made about how given models should be adapted and new ones developed in order to be helpful for participatory IA.

Author Biographies

Urs Dahinden, University of Zürich

IPMZ Department of Communication

Cristina Querol, Spanish Council of Scientific Research

Institute for Advanced Social Research