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Using fuzzy cognitive mapping as a participatory approach to analyze change, preferred states, and perceived resilience of social-ecological systems

Steven A Gray, University of Massachusetts, School for the Environment
Stefan Gray, Coastal & Marine Research Centre, Environmental Research Institute, University College Cork
Jean Luc De Kok, VITO NV, Flemish Institute for Technological Research
Ariella E. R. Helfgott, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford
Barry O'Dwyer, Coastal & Marine Research Centre, Environmental Research Institute, University College Cork
Rebecca Jordan, Rutgers University, Department of Human Ecology
Angela Nyaki, University of Hawaii Manoa, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management


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There is a growing interest in the use of fuzzy cognitive mapping (FCM) as a participatory method for understanding social-ecological systems (SESs). In recent years, FCM has been used in a diverse set of contexts ranging from fisheries management to agricultural development, in an effort to generate transparent graphical models of complex systems that are useful for decision making, illuminate the core presumptions of environmental stakeholders, and structure environmental problems for scenario development. This increase in popularity is because of FCM’s bottom-up approach and its ability to incorporate a range of individual, community-level, and expert knowledge into an accessible and standardized format. Although there has been an increase in the use of FCM as an environmental planning and learning tool, limited progress has been made with regard to the method’s relationship to existing resilience frameworks and how the use of FCM compares with other participatory modeling/approaches available. Using case study data developed from community-driven models of the bushmeat trade in Tanzania, we examine the usefulness of FCM for promoting resilience analysis among stakeholders in terms of identifying key state variables that comprise an SES, evaluating alternative SES equilibrium states, and defining desirable or undesirable state outcomes through scenario analysis.

Key words

bushmeat; fuzzy cognitive mapping; participatory modeling; resilience

Copyright © 2015 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