Special Seminar: Addressing Social-Ecological Problems Through Participatory Systems Modeling


1:00 pm
EBB 1005 (CHOA seminar room)

Join us for a special IHE-LeaD seminar given by Laura Schmitt Olabisi, a professor in the Department of Community Sustainability at Michigan State University.

Abstract: From the COVID-19 pandemic, to climate change, to structural inequality, the most pressing issues facing scientists and decision makers in the 21st century are systems problems. These problems exhibit emergent behavior; there is often disagreement around how to solve the problem or even what the problem is; and interventions to address the problem may be ineffective or even backfire. A transdisciplinary approach to these problems is critical if real progress is to be made. Participatory systems modeling has emerged as a field of practice and a suite of tools and approaches for addressing systems problems in a transdisciplinary context. In this talk, I will describe some of the attributes of systems problems that make them challenging to work with, and give examples of modeling tools that can lend insight into these problems. I will also discuss two cases in which we used participatory systems modeling methods to gain insight into deforestation dynamics in Zambia, and the food system in Flint, Michigan. 

About Dr. Olabisi: “I am a participatory modeler exploring the sustainability of complex systems with human and environmental components. I work directly with stakeholders, using participatory model-building techniques to foster adaptive learning about the dynamics of coupled human-natural systems, and to integrate stakeholder knowledge with academic knowledge. The models I build incorporate feedback and non-linear dynamics, and typically include biophysical, social, and human behavioral components. My work therefore addresses the complexity, interdisciplinary, and engagement aspects of sustainability research. I work predominantly around problems related to agriculture, climate change, and food security, but the modeling tools I use may be applied in a wide range of contexts. My past and present research has addressed soil erosion, population growth, greenhouse gas emissions, water sustainability, energy use, deforestation, adoption of organic/sustainable agricultural techniques, and human health.”