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Understanding the Mechanisms of Collective Decision Making in Ecological Restoration: An Agent-Based Model of Actors and Organizations

Cristy Watkins, The Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Dean Massey, University of Illinois at Chicago
Jeremy Brooks, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Kristen Ross, University of Illinois at Chicago
Moira L. Zellner, University of Illinois at Chicago


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Ecological restoration, particularly in urban contexts, is a complex collective decision-making process that involves a diversity of stakeholders and experts, each with their own perceptions and preferences about what landscapes should and can look like, how to get them to the desired state, and on what timeline. We investigate how structural and behavioral factors may influence collective decision making in the context of ecological restoration, with the purpose of establishing general relationships between management styles (defined by structural and behavioral factors of the organization) and decision outcomes. Informed by existing literature on collective decision making and by empirical data from the Chicago Wilderness region, we present a stylized agent-based model that maps out and simulates the processes by which individuals within restoration organizations communicate, discuss, and ultimately make a decision. Our study examines how structural and behavioral characteristics—including: (a) the number of actors and groups involved in decision making, (b) the frequency and type of interactions among actors, (c) the initial setup of positions and respect, (d) outside information, and (e) entrenchment and cost of dissent—lead to or prohibit group convergence in terms of collective position, variation in position across actors, and final decision strategies. We found that formal meetings and group leaders are important facilitators of convergence, especially when multiple groups are present, new information is introduced in the process, and participants are polarized around an issue. Also, intergroup interactions are particularly important for overall convergence. Position entrenchment slows the convergence process and increases the need for decision strategies involving outside intervention. Cost of dissent can reinforce these effects. Our study formalizes collective decision-making processes within the context of ecological restoration, establishes generalizable relationships between these processes and decision outcomes, and provides a foundation for further empirical and modeling research.

Key words

agent-based modeling; Chicago Wilderness; collective decision making; ecological restoration

Copyright © 2013 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087