Could complex simulation be of help to rural planning and development? PoliRural thinks yes, and is testing the use of System Dynamics Modelling (SDM) as one of the building blocks in the project. This will be showcased and the Innovation Hub. The strength of the SDM approach is that it allows the planner or decision maker to consider the rural area as a system, and see the implications of specific actions or policies both on the whole and on for specific indicators. However, the use of SDM presents is not a single-sided blessing, as with all new technology it brings new challenges to tackle. To mention a couple: to be useful and relevant, a model needs a quite complex structure but at the same time it has to be understandable for the users, not giving the impression everything is decided in a black box; and the need of a user-friendly interface.

The solution proposed by PoliRural deals with these challenges by defining: 

  • Several levels of different users, including model authors, model executors, model viewers and system integrators;
  • A general qualitative model, the ‘PoliRural Base Qualitative Model’. This model will allow any rural area to introduce local quantitative and qualitative data and be run, without the need for any other modelling software. The model aims to provide output that will support foresight analysis for the rural area and will also allow testing policy actions and draw scenarios;
  • The possibility to enrich the model locally is present through the ‘Local Customized Model(s)’, to get more accurate results and interpretations of local conditions and perspectives. In this case a revision of the model takes place (to refine calibration, modify variables or relations, or even introduce new modules). This process incorporates experts’ work as well as a public layer for consultation;
  • A public database of local dynamics, fed from the Local Customized Model and expressed either in causal loop diagrams or a more structured way. This will allow comparing regions best practices and identifying general dynamics and trends in rural development;
  • Finally, in order to bring SDM into the reach of planners and decision makers, PoliRural will experiment with integration of SDM functionality in mainstream decision support systems such as geoportals and other systems currently feeding planning and strategy processes in rural areas. A pathway for collaboration between SDM professionals and people who merely wish to tweak or execute existing models is also proposed;

(for further details on the above, interested readers may find more information in the deliverable 3.3. System Dynamics Tool Technical Specifications, available here).

These pieces together with a well-established workflow will allow the development of a learning community combining local and general experts. But it will also stimulate the production of relevant knowledge to be integrated in iterated versions of the model. A good example could be made around the CAP. For a given rural area, examples of relevant questions about CAP could be, is it going to increase agricultural jobs? Is going to make farming more attractive to young people and newcomers? Is going to improve natural capital so that tourism can be improved?

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