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Making Computer Models Useful: An Exploration of Expectations by Experts and Local Officials

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Recent trends indicate increasing use of computer modeling in support of local environmental policy making. The ability of such models to improve local environmental decision making will depend not only on the characteristics of the models but also on those who will draw on them in making local policy: local government officials. In this study we examine the views of town officials concerned about nitrogen levels in local estuaries about computer models developed to inform their understandings and decisions regarding nitrogen loading. We also compare the views of the town officials with a sample of modelers. We find that town officials are supportive of models and the scientists who build them. However, town officials seek more information about the impacts of changes at small spatial scales (e.g., house building lots) than current models provide or than modelers believe that they can accurately provide, while recognizing the inability of current models to support such analysis. Town officials are also interested in more distant endpoints in the causal chain (e.g., effects on fish populations) than the modelers feel comfortable providing. Finally, our findings suggest that town officials are not supportive of broad public use of the models.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Environmental Science and Policy Program, Departments of Sociology and Crop and Soil Sciences, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA; and Social and Environmental Research Institute, Greenfield, Massachusetts, USA 2: Department of Geography, Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA 3: Social and Environmental Research Institute, Greenfield, Massachusetts, USA; and George Perkins Marsh Institute, Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA 4: Social and Environmental Research Institute, Greenfield, Massachusetts, USA; and Environmental Studies, Antioch New England Graduate School, Keene, New Hampshire, USA

Publication date: 2004-07-01

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