Sustainable management of natural resources requires adequate scientific knowledge about complex relationships between human and natural systems. Such understanding is difficult to achieve in many contexts due to data scarcity and knowledge limitations. We explore the potential of harnessing the collective intelligence of resource stakeholders to overcome this challenge. Using a fisheries example, we show that by aggregating the system knowledge held by stakeholders through graphical mental models, a crowd of diverse resource users produces a system model of social–ecological relationships that is comparable to the best scientific understanding. We show that the averaged model from a crowd of diverse resource users outperforms those of more homogeneous groups. Importantly, however, we find that the averaged model from a larger sample of individuals can perform worse than one constructed from a smaller sample. However, when averaging mental models within stakeholder-specific subgroups and subsequently aggregating across subgroup models, the effect is reversed. Our work identifies an inexpensive, yet robust way to develop scientific understanding of complex social–ecological systems by leveraging the collective wisdom of non-scientist stakeholders.
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Codes for mental model aggregation and FCM analyses are publically available and can be obtained on GitHub at https://github.com/payamaminpour/PyFCM/wiki.
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We thank A. McFall and J. Hilsberg for their assistance in data collection. Funding was granted to R.A. by the German Ministry for Education and Research (grant nos. 01UU0907, 033W046A and 01LC1826E), the European Union through the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and the State of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (grant nos. MV-I.18-LM-004, B 730117000069). Funding was granted to S.A.G. from the Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center from National Science Foundation (grant no. DBI-1052875) and to A.J.J. from National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (grant no. 200007350).
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Supplementary methods, discussion, references, Figs. 1–3 and Tables 1–3.
Excel file of stakeholders’ adjacency matrices of fuzzy cognitive maps.
Excel file of experts’ adjacency matrices of fuzzy cognitive maps.
Excel file of participants’ identification codes and positions.
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Aminpour, P., Gray, S.A., Jetter, A.J. et al. Wisdom of stakeholder crowds in complex social–ecological systems. Nat Sustain (2020) doi:10.1038/s41893-019-0467-z