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Getting the picture: using data visualization to make complex models more accessible to policy-makers

SEI fact sheet

Author(s): Forni, L. ; Galaitsi, S.
Year: 2015

This fact sheet focuses on the role of data visualizations in participatory scenario-based adaptation planning, and the value of succinctly presenting the results of hundreds of model runs within a single chart to inform planning discussions.

History abounds with examples of water management decisions made without the involvement or consent of the parties most affected by the impacts. SEI endorses a more inclusive planning approach by inviting watershed stakeholders to the table to articulate the challenges they face and work with scientists to evaluate their options for the future.

Building on the RAND Corporation's work on robust decision-making, SEI has developed the Robust Decision Support (RDS) approach, which combines sophisticated water systems modelling, data visualization and participatory techniques. The goal is to work with stakeholders to identify strategies that demonstrate satisfactory outcomes over a broad range of possible futures, or scenarios. This fact sheet describes the role of data visualizations in that process.

The RDS process alternates between stakeholder engagement and technical/scientific analysis. It begins by soliciting input from key actors groups – scientists, resource managers, policy-makers, and citizens who rely on the water resources in question – to define the scope of the analysis. Key aspects include future uncertainties, potential strategies to address them, and the metrics that will be used to evaluate whether a particular strategy contributes to successful outcomes.

As the project progresses, the different actors are able to see how their contributions are reflected in the scientific model. The stakeholders work with the scientists to evaluate the model results and, as needed, to refine the different components. In this way, RDS helps ensure that the models reflect the different voices within scientific, stakeholder and policy-making communities and that the solutions identified through the process are appropriate to the context.

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