Conservation managers often have to make decisions in uncertain and complex situations. One way of dealing with this uncertainty is by modelling the different management alternatives on offer to see what type of results they might yield. The correct use of the appropriate model not only helps in making robust, transparent and defensible conservation decisions, it often generates insights on the nature of system being managed.
There’s no question that when used well, models can deliver good outcomes. But despite their demonstrated benefits, models are often mis-used or not used at all to support conservation decisions. Instead, decisions are frequently based on intuition, personal experience or unaided expert opinion; and this can lead to biased decisions that rest on hidden assumptions and individual agendas.
My colleagues and I recently investigated why models are still not used in many conservation decisions. We found a number of common objections to the use of models in environmental decision-making. In response to these common objections we suggested five practical solutions to help modellers improve the effectiveness and relevance of their work in conservation decision-making.
Our practical solutions include: using a structured decision making (SDM) framework to guide good modeling practice (see Fig 1 for suggested modelling techniques that can be used within a SDM framework); improving the social process of decision-making by including stakeholders, experts and decision-makers in the modelling for decision-making; and, building trust and improving communication between modellers and decision-makers.
Our practical solutions will challenge many modellers as they require skills outside of their core training and experience. However, if the aim is to achieve better conservation outcomes, then it’s definitely worth considering.