Mental models are the cognitive representations of the world that frame how people interact with the world. Learning implies changing these mental models. The successful management of complex social-ecological systems requires the coordination of actions to achieve shared goals. The coordination of actions requires a level of shared understanding of the system or situation; a shared or common mental model. We first describe the elicitation and analysis of mental models of different stakeholder groups associated with water management in the Camargue Biosphere Reserve in the Rhone River delta on the French Mediterranean coast. We use cultural consensus analysis to explore the degree to which different groups shared mental models of the whole system, of stakeholders, of resources, of processes, and of interactions among these last three. The analysis of the elicited data from this group structure enabled us to tentatively explore the evidence for learning in the nonstatute Water Board; comprising important stakeholders related to the management of the central Rhone delta. The results indicate that learning does occur and results in richer mental models that are more likely to be shared among group members. However, the results also show lower than expected levels of agreement with these consensual mental models. Based on this result, we argue that a careful process and facilitation design can greatly enhance the functioning of the participatory process in the Water Board. We conclude that this methodology holds promise for eliciting and comparing mental models. It enriches group-model building and participatory approaches with a broader view of social learning and knowledge-sharing issues.
Water Management in the Camargue Biosphere Reserve: Insights from Comparative Mental Models Analysis