A conceptual model can be defined as a drawing of system parts connected by arrows showing functional or cause and effect relationships between the parts.

Representing under different conceptual or cognitive views the social – ecological system will foster system thinking. The whole is more than the sum of the parts: conceptual mapping ensures that all components of the system are put in perspective and help choose which are the more relevant parts and identify missing ones.

The first conceptual maps can be messy and dense. Start thinking in terms of interactions; focus on dynamics rather than detailed structure of components. Think simple and hierarchical – simplified view of complex systems.

The mapping exercise can be carried out as a group within the project core group or for example during a stakeholder interview.

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Est quam patriae sit res.

Est quam patriae sit res.


Case study: Charente river water mitigation

An example from the SPICOSA European project. In the first representations of the water mitigation issue in the Charente river watershed (France), we always represented the components of the system in an upstream to downstream scheme. Even while representing the stakeholders and institutions, it was difficult to integrate management options to the representation.

By using a Resources / Uses / Governance framework representation, the governance system became much clearer.

Finally, a ‘Forrester’ system representation helped identify the management levers for water mitigation.
These final representations became the basis of a simulation model of the Charente river water mitigation issue.
In the context of environmental management, it is essential to have a focus on the governance of the system and not stay in the usual representation of the natural system.

Photo: © Pierre-Alain Dorange / Creativecommons