Stakeholder perceptions and use of Andean landscape maps and models

past research

     The objective of this ethnoecology project was to conduct basic and applied research on local perceptions of and behavior toward the landscape vis-à-vis scientific measurements, rules, and models.  The research aimed to disaggregate and compare intra-cultural cognitive models: i.e., between people belonging to different classes, between men and women, and between indigenous people and newcomers.  In the final year of analysis of the cognitive mapping and Thematic Apperception tests (TATs), 48 local cognitive maps (disaggregated by gender, age, ethnicity, and class) were analyzed using SPSS.  The maps were analyzed by representation (abstract/pictoral), focus (scale), perspective (horizontal/flat/cosmic), detail and emphasis (e.g., place, roads), and dominant features (cultural or natural).  On conclusion was that gender, more than ethnicity, class, or age shapes how the environment is perceived.  The conclusions are relevant to planners who must be aware that local people do not see their environment though the same eyes as outsiders and that there is even internal differentiation that must be accounted for.

     To test the modeler’s derived rules for landuse changes in Nanegal, ethnoecological methods were used to generate local people’s cultural envisioning.  Fifteen individuals were given story completion tests based on local folk tales which motivated the respondent to project 30 years into the past and 30 years into the future.  In summary, the story completion revealed that people saw regeneration of the forest as a “default” reflecting the inattention of the owner (just the opposite of environmentalists’ purposeful conception).  Also, colonization and deforestation was seen as “progress” towards human welfare, not something detrimental.

present research

     Currently, a primary SANREM-Andes Phase II objective is to ground-truth decision-support (DSS) tools that incorporate and integrate information from previous research.  This project aims to complement biological, economic, and institutional research by focusing on their interrelationships with significant sociocultural variables extant in the landscape.  Any DSS that purports to be relevant to stakeholder groups must take into account diverse cultural, cognitive, behavioral, and ethno-demographic aspects of human behavior.  Many models assume decision-makers are motivated by the desire to optimize performance and therefore will readily incorporate biological research results and price information into their decision-making.  It is often assumed further that failure to incorporate such rational information (“what if” exercises) is an exogenous barrier or remediable market imperfection (Rayner and Malone 1998).

     Ethnoecological research in SANREM Phase I, however, has shown that information does not flow smoothly among ethnic groups, communities, government institutions, and scientific development projects.  The use of information and DSS in human groups should build upon cultural meaning and identity not captured by simple application of the rational choice model since scientists’ assumptions and perceptions are not the same as those of local farmers or those of government officials (Nazarea-Sandoval 1995).  Therefore, a strong sociocultural component would enhance success of the project by identifying opportunities to integrate local perspectives into real-world decision processes rather than trying to make decision processes conform to any rational choice model.  Learning how to understand a negotiated watershed process, and developing research and training publications to extend the experience, is the essence of this project.

Future research

In the future, this project will address the interaction of cultural (cognitive, behavioral, and ethno-demographic) factors with biophysical, institutional, and economic components in the testing of Phase II decision support processes, including the “future scenarios” exercise.  Scientifically determined maps and models will be “ground-truthed” through local decision makers who must be involved in the formulation of decision support system tools directed at guiding their choices of land use change.  Using cognitive mapping, TATs, and story completion tests, local perceptions of the landscape will be analyzed and integrated with more objective measurements and trends.  Publications, training protocols, and multimedia will be used as mechanisms to help negotiate a vision of the landscape through time and space which reflects culturally relevant as well as sustainable directions.

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