In November 2014, I helped my colleague Dr. Krystyna Stave from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, run a one-day systems mapping workshop entitled “Strengthening Links between Policy and Research for Sustainable Development in the Lake Tana Basin” in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. The purpose of the workshop was to begin a structured dialogue among scientists and decision-makers in the Lake Tana basin and to begin to develop a high-level, integrative framework for understanding the causes of complex social and ecological issues, research needs and potential policy solutions.
In one day, participants collectively developed a list of key problematic trends, a conceptual model of how the system produces those problematic trends in the form of an integrated causal map, and a broader vision of how their own work fits into the context of the whole system.
The workshop demonstrated how integration and collaboration can be done. While there is a lot of value in a formal simulation model for evaluating the impacts of proposed policies, it is important to first build an environment and an institutional setting that allows the insights from a simulation model to be required, appreciated, understood and eventually implemented by the respective stakeholders. This is a long-term process that was hopefully initiated with this system mapping workshop.