Plenary Speaker

Biases, Beliefs and Values in Participatory Modeling and Citizen Science

Alexey Voinov
Professor of Spatio-Temporal Systems Modeling for Sustainability Science
University of Twente, Netherlands

Allyson Beall KingAlexey Voinov is Professor of Spatio-Temporal Systems Modeling for Sustainability Science at the University of Twente Faculty for Geo-information Science and Earth Observation (ITC). Prior to that he coordinated the Chesapeake Research Consortium Community Modeling Program, and was also Principal Research Scientist at Johns Hopkins University. He has spent time with the AAAS Science and Technology Fellowship program, working with the Army Corps of Engineers Institute for Water Resources. Before that he was with the Institute for Ecological Economics, first at the University of Maryland and later at the University of Vermont, working on integrated studies of ecological and human dynamics and sustainability sciences. He received his MSc and PhD from Moscow State University, Russia. His academic and teaching interests evolve around spatial dynamic modeling of ecosystems and sustainability science in application to decision support and policy making. In particular he is interested in integrated modeling and participatory modeling; integrated assessment; systems analysis in ecology and economics; and energy and natural resources, with applications in watershed management, agroecology, and alternative energy. He is a keen advocate of stakeholder involvement in modeling and decision making.

Dr. Voinov is editor of the Journal for Environmental Modeling and Software and vice-president of the International Environmental Modeling and Software Society. He wrote a book on Systems Science and Modeling for Ecological Economics (Academic Press/Elsevier).


Systems analysis and spatio-temporal modeling have long been recognized as powerful tools for decision support. One of the biggest challenges is the need to synchronize our understanding of systems gained from models with human perceptions, beliefs, values, and preconceived notions about the system. The modeling results may go contrary to our preferences and priorities. We then find it difficult to act based on the models and logic of the System 2 type of thinking involved when it clashes with the intuitive System 1 thinking. Engaging stakeholders in a participatory modeling process can help resolve some of these contradictions, though in many cases it is still difficult to organize and conduct the process properly. New technologies inspired by social media and wide access to the Internet deliver opportunities for broad democratic engagement of the public in science and decision making. However, the process is easily compromised by increasing uncertainties associated with information production and sharing, group thinking, and clustering along cultural, educational, or party lines.

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