Plenary Speaker

Moira Zellner
Associate Professor, Urban Planning & Policy Program
University of Illinois at Chicago

Moira ZellnerMoira Zellner joined the Department of Urban Planning and Policy in January of 2006. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Zellner earned her undergraduate degree in ecology at the Centro de Altos Estudios en Ciencias Exactas and pursued graduate studies in urban and regional planning and in complex systems at the University of Michigan. Before coming to the United States, she worked in Argentina as a consultant on environmental issues for local and international environmental engineering firms and for the under secretary of environment in the city of Buenos Aires, in projects related to domestic and hazardous waste management, river remediation, industrial pollution control, and environmental impact assessments. She also participated in interdisciplinary and international research projects on urban air pollution and on the spread of tuberculosis through public transportation. In the United States, her professional work includes greenway development and river restoration projects in Miami Beach and in California, and transportation surveys. In her position at UIC, she has served as primary investigator and co-primary investigator for interdisciplinary projects investigating how specific policy, technological, and behavioral changes can effectively address a range of complex environmental problems, where interaction effects make responsibilities and burdens unclear. Her research also examines the value of complexity-based modeling for participatory policy exploration and social learning with stakeholders. Zellner teaches a variety of workshops on complexity-based modeling of socioecological systems, for training of both scientists and decision-makers.

Participatory Complex Systems Modeling for Environmental Planning: Opportunities and Barriers to Learning and Policy Innovation

Since 2011, Zellner’s team has studied the use of visualization tools in collaborative water planning efforts in northeast Illinois. The team set out to understand how such tools allow people who are planning for future water sustainability to see the hidden aspects of water flow and the effects of land- and water-use decisions on water supply, and how such visualization contributes to collective deliberation and innovation. The team first adopted a developmental and collaborative agent-based approach, where stakeholders worked in small groups around a progression of models—from highly abstracted models to geographically detailed models of land use, water use, and water dynamics—to recognize and assess the interactive impacts of different implementation strategies. Stakeholders learned how to use the models, understand the relationships among their components, interpret the meaning of their outputs based on these relationships, and modify the models with new insights from the discussions and their experience. Despite their improved understanding and the stimulation to explore a wider range of solutions to water shortages, participants resisted policy innovation beyond the strategies they already knew. This talk explores possible reasons for this resistance and suggests ways to overcome them.