This month’s Virtual Coffee

 Building Back Better in the Mountains: Experiences of marginalization in mountains - How can efforts of decolonization and reconciling knowledges advance mountain futures?
 Friday, October 23, 9:00 am MDT (15:00 UTC)
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We hope that Virtual Coffee provides a meeting space for reflection and conversation around mountain sustainability issues. Each Virtual Coffee session will focus on a specific topic and we welcome different peoples’ experiences and knowledge input. We hope these conversations will catalyze partnerships, projects, outputs, deeper understanding, and action.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

Virtual Coffee Archive

In this Virtual Coffee Session, Dr. Ethan Greene, Director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, talked about the work of CAIC, monitoring and forecasting avalanche conditions for two key stakeholders: backcountry recreators and the Colorado department of transportation.  He discussed the scientific monitoring protocols as well as efforts to get the information and messages out from the CAIC to the information users.

In this Virtual Coffee session, Heather Schinkel, Director of the Peaks to People Watershed Fund, talks about the fund, whose mission is “to create a watershed investment fund in the Cache la Poudre and Big Thompson watersheds through which water beneficiaries fund fire mitigation projects in the upper watersheds to reduce impacts of wildfire on water resources”.  She describes the fund, the partnerships, a watershed investment tool, and an outcomes tracker.  The group discusses how this model can be expanded in other mountain sites and regions.

Peaks to People Handout

Peaks to People Talking Points

Watershed Investment Projects – Updates from the Field

In this Virtual Coffee session “Identifying Stable and Unstable Equilibria with Agent-based Models”, Adrienne Gret-Regamey (ETH, Zurich, Switzerland) and Marty Anderies (Arizona State Univ, USA) present work they initiated with colleagues at our Mountain Sentinels workshop in Bend, Oregon.

Gret-Regamey & Anderies Presentation

In this session the speakers presented several citizen science projects including:

  • Stream Tracker
  • Mountain Goat Tracker
  • Pika Project
  • Snow Observations

In this Virtual Coffee session, which was held in the French language, Dr. Aida Cuni-Sanchez presented insights from her participatory work in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon.

In this Virtual Coffee from April 19, 2018, Florencia Zapata from The Mountain Institute discussed TMI’s ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) projects in Peru (Uganda, Nepal) and their new project that expands this work to several other mountains.  Florencia has worked for 20 years at TMI as an anthropologist.

The Virtual Coffee participants included: Julia, Cara, Catherine, Jessica, Aida, Florencia, Gabriel, Erin, Aaron and Mirella (coordinator of Eba program in Peru).  These were early career and senior scientists, practitioners from Bolivia, Peru, Namibia, Spain and the US.

The initial project in Peru was based in Nor Yauyos watershed, the headwaters of the Canete river.

The Peru-based EbA program is specifically about biodiversity and ES. It aims to increase adaptive capacity of both people and ecosystems.  One of the main goals of the Peru project was to improve learning and strengthen capacity across levels.

They started with a vulnerability and impact assessment. It was a participatory assessment based on local experiences. People are moving from agriculture to pastoral livelihoods because it requires less labor, but the space for grazing is limited.

April – Nov 2013 they had an 8-month consultation and worked closely with the community, and with the protected area.  The project was Implemented over two years from Dec 2013 – Oct 2015.  Synthesis and closure took 1 year Nov 2014 – Nov 2015. Worked with community and PA to evaluate outcomes.

In Nor Yauyos they restored wetlands using reservoirs and infrastructure (dikes, canals) and building fences to protect resources, lakes, dams, and grasslands. They sought to protect the seed banks in the grasslands.

They installed 6 watering tanks to improve access to water for animals, resulting in a different rotational grazing pattern in the area, resulting in improved grassland quality.

They also focused on Canchayllo where there used to be a glacier that disappeared, and the dam was leaking. They restored the dam and the old canal that fed the grassland – they replaced it with pvc piping.

While “natural infrastructure” is commonly used in EbA terminology, they focused partially on green infrastructure but also institutional strengthening and community capacity building. The key was social organization.

Institutions: They designed community grassland and water mgmt. plans with community to strengthen institutions. This took about a year with many meetings.

Community: They linked EbA to traditional knowledge

Green and grey infrastructure. Maintaining old infrastructure is not easy especially when there are not enough people living in the area to keep it going.

There is literature about the criteria for assessing the quality of EbA initiatives from design to implementation, monitoring and evaluation.   The EbA concept became more popular in the 2009 publication.  People are currently working on handbooks and guides on assessing effectiveness of EbA.

The next step was the scaling up of of project aims to expand the lessons learned from the flagship countries (Nepal, Peru, Uganda) to Bhutan, Colombia, and Kenya.



  • Miraflores: there was no cattle grazing, but then the fencing helped…is it llama grazing?
    • 30 to 40 years ago the main activity was agriculture. They had camels, cows, and sheep, but in the past couple decades outmigration caused a lack of available labor. Even predominantly ag cultures in the Andes have some animals. In general, market forces and labor issues are causing a movement to pastoral livelihoods. Land abandonment
  • How did you work with the community, and how did you manage to get people to come together for a series of meetings?
    • One of the main challenges is bringing people together and building trust with the communities. Involving them from the very beginning was important. Working with local experts was key. External experts and researchers were also key. Making the meetings on days and times that were better for the community – the afternoons and evenings were better for people in Miraflores, but that was different for the other community. So being flexible about the logistics was important.


  • Was there any conflict in the design planning? Or was it resolved in some way through community institutions. Also, are there forests there? Some polylepis forests he thinks. Finally, abandoned terraces are present in the area – what are the implications of this? Also any loss of agrobiodiversity from the shifting livelihoods?
    • Yes of course there were conflicts. Canchayo only 40% of the community depends on cattle grazing because the community opened their community to outsiders due to the hydrological company was going to hire people from the community. When they had to make an agreement regarding the use of natural grasslands, most of the community did not benefit and so they were not so interested. The mining in the area is promising, but the PA managers refuse to let the community engage with it. It is a common area but there was some disagreement about how leaders were making decisions about it. Water infiltration has improved, but people are not benefitting the way they would like. Of course there are conflicts, which makes it difficult.
    • Yes, polylepis forests exist there, but they do not focus on them because they are not directly related to their livelihoods
    • Yes, abandoned terraces are not only in this area but throughout the Andes. There is some risk of erosion and collapse. There is a program for protection of terraces, and the PA is working on that.
    • Biodiversity and agro-biodiversity is a concern in the local communities and PA about erosion and loss of diversity. They worked with Internatioanl potato center to develop a seed bank and bring back local varieties of potatoes


  • How did you address and evaluate the role of women in this process?

Other Questions

One of the outcomes was improved biodiversity conservation, people say they saw more birds than they used to. What did locals say was the value of this?

“no-regret” measures?

Fences often cause social and biophysical change, what impacts from fence building?

One of the main goals was learning – how did you evaluate learning?

TMI Virtual Coffee Handout

In this Virtual Coffee session, Jessica Thorn discussed an on-going systematic review she is conducting on participatory scenario development in mountain SES.  Here, she wanted to include some resources about this approach:

Amer et al 2013

Capitani et al 2016

Chaudhury et al 2013

Kishita et al 2016

Van Notten et al 2003

Walz et al 2014

RMNP 2018 Mountain Sentinels

Moving from Science to Action in the Rocky Mountains, USA

Lisa Devore, M.S./ P.E.,  Colorado Air Pollution Control Division

Jill Baron, Ph.D., NREL, Colorado State University and USGS


If you are not at the table, you are “on the menu”

Background information:  ¾ of Rocky Mountain Park is over 9000 feet.

East of Rocky Mountain National Park is a lot of agricultural activities, feedlots, dairy.  Weld County = 10th highest producer of beef in the US.  100,000s (almost a million head of cattle)

How did Jill and Lisa meet and start collaborating?

The state of Colorado has regulations for pigs for swine farms due odor and air quality issues.

30-40 people came to quarterly meetings

First 4 years = explaining the issue, getting them to understand what was going on at the park and weather patterns.

Upslope events.  Happen when warm air and humidity on the plains and warm air drawn up from lower to higher elevation and it entrains pollution in it.

2007 – subcommittee formed when N reduction plan was being drafted.  Agricultural stakeholders came to the table and wanted their own group.

The US National Park Service could have declared an impairment and led to regulation requirements. There are not many examples where this regulation has been employed.  So Jill, Lisa, and their collaborators decided to go outside of the box.

What does success look like?

It has taken a long time for this to happen.

Best project to date is the Early Warning System.  There is 70% participation (dairy, feedlots, ); if about to see an upslope, researchers from CSU tell people not to turn manure piles, use best management practices; they have provided a list of what not to do. Shift activities; warning from CSU.  Agencies help to fund it.  This program is in its pilot phase now.  They needed an extra day of warning.  This does not solve the problem of N pollution, it just sends the pollution in a different direction.  There is a checklist for each producer.  This is a checklist of best management practices they employ.  There is not a lot of information about actual emissions.  Not a ton of quantitative measures.  If people clean pens more, how much does this reduce ammonia?

Still need education.

Established “S.M.A.R.T” indicators of ammonia emissions.

Report in next month or two in early warning system.   Use satellite data.

John Slutsky – dairy farmers.  Industrial farming east of RMNP.  Conventional dairy farm.  Works with researchers at the vet school at CSU. They are fine tuning what to feed cows; can target food for milk production and less to waste production.  1200 head of cattle.  Reduce N in waste (manure and urine) by 11%.  If all dairy farms did this (change mixture of feed) this would reduce N emissions significantly.  The achieved this without reducing milk production or cost of feed.

Right now they are working farm by farm.

There are also projects focused on water applications to feedlots.  J. Hamm is a professor at Colorado State University.  He examines how you can wet down manure, how often you need to spray.  Stops volatilization.  Urine is a big problem.  Urine volatilizes when it hits the ground.  Add water to it, prevent volatilization.  Use it in compost retain N in compost.  He is working on that.

Nitrogen problems with livestock are common all over world – this has implications for both water and air quality.  It is important to change diets, especially where there is affluence where humans can get protein in other forms.  This is an urban and affluent country problem.

The threat of future regulation was helpful in encouraging this partnership.  The group worked hard to form relationships that are open.  There is fear in CO agriculture where already they have regulations for swine; that is  hard to meet, that happened through legislature.   The agriculturalists are more proactive now, especially on the water initiative.  It did take time –those who come on board are representatives, they do the outreach to their people on the ground.

Jill and her team organized field trips; they took agriculturalists up to Rocky Mountain National Park.  They hold quarterly meetings where science and concerns are shared; people have come to seminars; bbqs and socializing.

David Hik (University of Alberta, Canada) and Martin Price (University of the Highlands, Scotland) presented their experiences and programs on Teaching Mountains in Higher Education.  The presentations are available at the bottom of this post.  Martin’s presentation focused on the development, successes and challenges of the online MS degree program in Sustainable Mountain Development.  He shared information about using virtual learning platforms like Blackboard, peer learning, and different models for certificates and degrees.  David explained the high student demand at University of Alberta for interdisciplinary mountain studies and some of the programs and activities at his university and in the surround community.  He also described the evolution of the successful MOOC Mountains 101 (1,000 new students register each month with ages ranging from 8-80!).   

Following the presentations, participants raised issues that include: the challenges of bringing early career mountain scientists into the mountain science field; whether people identify themselves as doing ‘mountain studies’ or primarily identify as ecologists, anthropologists, glaciologists, etc who work in mountains. 

Some potential ACTION ITEMS for people interested in Teaching Mountains in Higher Education include:

  1. Organize a session on this topic at the upcoming Thinking Mountains Summit Oct 2-5, 2018.
  2. Develop mini-MOOCs, 1-3 hours of course material.  Mini-MOOCs on mountains could be more detailed on a particular topic and connect to each other. 

Please contact David Hik and Julia Klein if you are interested in 1 or 2. 

Other people contributed their educational mountain resources which include:

Dong Shikui mentioned: is a good resource, which provides a lot of cases on sustainable development, mountains in particular. Another site is:  

Eva Spehn shared: Alpandino ( is an e-learning course on alpine ecology developed by the University of Basel, Switzerland. The course contains lectures on various aspects of alpine ecology, including climate, microclimate, water issues, and soils, and also offers a photo-excursion to alpine habitats and treeline locations around the globe. This course is a great entry point for a diverse audience, ranging from alpine zoologists and microbiologists to conservation experts and nature reserve managers. It serves also as an ideal preparation for field excursions or field weeks with students. The course is available in English and Spanish.

Bob Nakileza shared that at Makerere University the undergraduate course on Highland and Mountain Resource Management has been run for over a decade. Bob maintains the 3 day field component, which exposes students to mountain socio-environmental settings.  Bob acknowledges that field work funds are hard to secure from the University but his program relies heavily on student financial contributions. Most students who join the course also end up being members of the Mountain Club Makerere branch, where Bob serves as a Patron. He plans to apply for funds to continue the program. 

There was A LOT of interest on this week’s Virtual Coffee Discussion.  Let’s continue to Elevate the Conversation!

Here are Martin and David’s presentations:

Hik PDF | Price PDF

In this Virtual Coffee session, we focused on Ciencia para la Adaptación (Science for Adaptation) in Andean Watersheds.  Mirella Gallardo Marticorena and Juan Ccahuana Giraud from our partner organization, The Mountain Institute,  gave a detailed and inspiring presentation about their work translating science to action in Peruvian watersheds. We talked about the importance of creating spaces for researcher-manager interactions, both in person and virtually, and the role that organizations like The Mountain Institute play in mediating between those groups. We also talked about how government structures and institutions can both facilitate and inhibit collaboration – even within the same project/context.  They are in the process of translating their webpage ( and materials into English.

Ccahuana and Gallardo PDF

In this Virtual Coffee session, PhD student and Early Career Mountain Sentinels member, Cara Steger, discussed the Multiplatform International Summer School on Agent-based Modeling and Simulation for Renewable Resource Management (abbreviated “MISS-ABM”; website: she had recently attended. At the school, participants learn the different skills required for building agent-based models for renewable resources management on multiple software platforms. It is oriented towards a participatory use of models and simulation, as the majority of the trainers are part of the Companion Modeling Network (  This Virtual Coffee session stimulated much discussion on the participatory modeling approaches the Mountain Sentinels network is employing and exploring.  

Steger PDF


Models as a Tool for Enhancing Sustainable Outcomes in Mountain Coupled Natural-Human Systems, Part II

Virtual Coffee, 15 December 2016

Discussion summary


Mountain Sentinels, a NSF-funded coordination network, is preparing for a workshop on participatory modeling of mountain social-ecological systems. We are asking for input from our community of what modelling tools or frameworks are currently being used, what data is collected, what are the challenges faced in modelling, and what resources would be most useful to expand and facilitate the understanding and use of transdisciplinary modeling in your research sites. We are using the term quite broadly, from conceptual to toy models, and invite input from those who do or not use models.

What modelling tools/frameworks are currently being used and what data is collected?

Robbie Hart has worked on projects in the Himalayan region examining the diversity of plants, languages and culture. He discussed that we have a strong conceptual model of coupled natural human systems, showing how diversity of language can promote traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and the protection of biodiversity. Data collected has included factors demographics (e.g. age, language proficiency), land and natural resource use, TEK of biological resources and environmental characteristics (e.g. species, patch harvest levels). Cluster analysis was used to examine variable relationships. Jessica Thorn described a similar study assessing ecosystem provision of unmanaged plant material in and around farms in the Terai Plains of Nepal along a climatic gradient. Given the Nepalese are a culturally diverse population, the study set out to assess whether knowledge of use and maintenance of species on farms differed according to caste. Multivariate statistics (hierarchical cluster analysis using the group average, and the corresponding SIMPROF test for non-metric multidimensional scaling) identified four statistically different caste groups in terms of similarity of knowledge of plant use. Particularly, Chettri, Brahmin and Tharu have the most diverse knowledge of plant uses, and have a 40% similarity in knowledge of species. AMRDI recently began surveying coffee farming households in Latin America to establish baseline data (e.g. access to water, crop diversification, education levels, access to healthcare, as well as localized climate change).

What are the challenges faced in modelling, and what is needed to find common scenarios and system components across mountain sites?

Challenge 1: Balancing case-specificity and abstraction

Roman Seidl discussed we have to differentiate two elements of participatory modelling: the idiosyncratic case, which builds on local knowledge, and has some social learning and input from stakeholders; and abstraction of this scientific basis at a global level. How to scale up is an important question.  Julia Klein emphasized the importance of employing an iterative approach, looping back and forth between site-specifity and abstraction. Aida Cuni Sanchez also described the challenge she has encountered in comparative case study analysis in Africa, of finding patterns in very context specific systems. Matt Klick suggested we need not we need not loose the nuance and richness of details of TEK in our efforts to find a larger understanding of the elements that bind these regions. There is a local knowledge that threatens to be lost. We should honor that and utilize it, especially in light of climate change.

Challenge 2: Modelling for whom?

Roman Seidl asked: What do we do with the participatory model? There are different approaches that say it is “for the people” and “not for the science”. Others say we want to use the models, to get knowledge and data.  Aida Cuni Sanchez responded sometimes there is a compromise between being scientific and meeting the stakeholder’s expectations.

Challenge 3: Developing a conceptual model of mountain SES, incl. components & interactions

Marty Andries highlighted that frameworks and conceptual models allow for comparative analysis. The Library on the governance of socio-ecological systems has 100s of cases of shared institutional arrangements and infrastructure. They are all variations of Ostrom’s socio-ecological systems framework and institutional design principles. However, there is a need to incorporate process and interactions between variables in a systematic way. The Coupled Infrastructure System framework of Anderies, Janssen and Schlager attempts to do this. Here, the notion of institutions is described as rules and norms that structure repeated interactions between actors. Within the CIS framework, in addition to biophysical conditions and attributes of communities, clusters of rules and their interactions are identified at a fine scale.

Challenge 4: Operationalization of concepts

Roman Seidl agreed with Robbie Hart that a challenge is the operationalization of concepts, and will forward a paper he recently reviewed addressing this, in Journal of Artificial Society and Simulation. Anne Nolin particularly discussed the challenge of expressing mountain characteristics and paradoxes as variables in a model (e.g. mountains are resource rich, poorest people live there, the decisions are made by outsiders). There is high complexity in modelling biophysical factors, political and social marginalization, and delivery of ecosystem services across scales. A key question is “How do you go from mental models of a system to a more quantitative model?”

What are the variables that represent characteristics that are unique and common to mountains?

Julia Klein described that in Mountain Sentinels is analyzing data from 59 sites find out if there are commonalities and differences across mountain communities. We are asking: “What are current and future key drivers of change (presses and pulses), such as climate, economic shocks, land tenure and policy? How this is affecting different ecosystem services across mountains? What are the elements most important to stakeholders which make them stand out from lowland areas and common to each other?”. Generally we are seeing some common drivers, critical ecosystem services and linked trajectories.

Our current thinking is to use Bayesian Networks to come up with key system components and interactions from data that has been collected from previous work and from interactions with stakeholders.  Ideally we will develop 5 different model structures that might test within each across five land use typologies (pastoral, crops, agro-pastoral, NTFPs, tourism/residential and tourism/logging).

New initiatives, meetings and publications

  1. Matt Klick introduced the Artic and Mountain Regions Development Institute (AMRDI), which is currently in stage one of the organization and has a main project amongst three, called “Coffee Lives” (Nicaragua). In this project, AMRDI is exploring new pricing structures and contracts that help deliver farmers a fair and equitable share of coffee profits in the face of climate change. In March 2017, the team will be travelling to the Jinotega and Matagalpa regions to 100 interview farmers, pickers, partners, and stakeholders regarding climate change observations.
  2. Roman Seidl highlighted at the end of January there will be a meeting at ETH of a working group researching the acceptance of new renewable energy infrastructure in mountain areas. Currently, the study is only in the Swiss Mountains.
  3. Robbie Hart and Aida Cuni Sanchez will be attending the Society for Economic Botany 58th annual meeting in Bragança, Portugal (June 4th-9th, 2017), co-hosted by the School of Agriculture of the Polytechnic Institute.
  4. Robbie Hart will be attending XIX International Botanical Congress in Shenzhen, China (July 23-29, 2017) and will holding meetings regarding high elevation ethnobotany. Abstract submission closes: 15 January 2017.
  5. Jessica Thorn, the Mountain Sentinels postdoc, will be going to work with Adrienne Grêt-Regamey’s Planning Landscapes and Urban Systems Lab (PLUS) in ETH Zurich in for six weeks from the 9th January – 19 February 2017.
  6. Jessica Thorn will attend the Global Environmental Facility Expanded Constituency Workshop for Southern Africa in Mbabane, Swaziland 2017 21 – 24 February 2017.
  7. Aida Cuni Sanchez and Robert Merchant and others at the Department of Environment in the University of York areconducting participatory research in East African mountains of Ethiopia, Tanzania and Kenya. The study is examining how people are being impacted by changing climate, land use, crop types, interactions with pests, as well as adaptation and how stakeholders envision the future. Jessica Thorn will attend a workshop on behalf of Mountain Sentinels Network entitled “Climate vulnerability, adaptation and resilience: frameworks and lesson learned from Chiesa – Aferia project” from 6 -10 March 2017, in York, UK.

List of resources available on request

  1. The Artic and Mountain Regions Development Institute (AMRDI)
  2. Coffee Lives:
  3. SEB 58th Annual Meeting Society for Economic Botany
  4. XIX International Botanical Congress
  5. Anderies, J.M., Janssen, M.A. & Schlager, E., (2016). Institutions and the performance of coupled infrastructure systems. International Journal of the Commons. 10(2), pp.495–516.
  6. Library on the governance of socio-ecological systems
  7. Roman Seidl’s reviewed paper in the Journal of Artificial Society and Simulation.
  8. Robbie Hart’s research in the Himalayas examining the diversity of plants, languages and culture.
  9. Jessica Thorn’s research on ecosystem service provision in agricultural landscapes in the Terai Plains of Nepal, and the relationship between knowledge of use and maintenance of species on farms and caste.


  1. Julia Klein,Colorado State University (moderator) [email protected]
  2. Catherine Tucker, University of Florida [email protected]
  3. Roman Seidl, ETH Zurich [email protected]
  4. Matt Klick, Artic and Mountain Regions Development Institute [email protected]
  5. Aida Cuni Sanchez, University of York [email protected]
  6. Anne Nolin, Oregon State University [email protected]
  7. Robbie Hart, Missouri Botanical Gardens [email protected]
  8. Jessica Thorn, Colorado State University [email protected]
  9. Cara Steger, Colorado State University [email protected]
  10. Marty Anderies, University of Arizona [email protected]

Next virtual coffee meeting: 27 March 2017 , 8am MST.

Virtual Coffee, October 20, 2016

Some common threads and questions that emerged from this Virtual Coffee session and the email conversation that followed:

  • Is collaborative modeling a subset of general participatory modeling (Roman’s paper), or is it distinctly different (Derek’s comments)?
  • How have use and methods in participatory/collaborative/companion modeling evolved over time? Are current methods really different than what was being done 20 years ago? Who is tracking this?
  • How do we tailor the participatory approach to particular contexts? Should model selection be driven by stakeholder preferences/ forms of knowledge? What is the purpose of stakeholder engagement in each context, and how do we ensure our methods of engagement fit those goals? Is more stakeholder engagement always better?

Cara Steger’s Summary of the Virtual Coffee and her follow-up questions:

In this Virtual Coffee, Anne Nolin started off by pointing out the many different forms models could take, with computer or numerical models being only one type. Still, I think you could argue that computer models have the most legitimacy – or influence – with both academic and policy stakeholders. They tend to be seen as more powerful form of modeling than something like conceptual mapping, and I think it’s the kind of modeling many of us do or want to do.

However, these kinds of models are very difficult for the average person to understand, especially in the rural places many of us work throughout the world. Some people use toy models for that reason, to make complex models more accessible, which is fine for communicating the model to the stakeholders. What I worry about is the other direction – how are we translating local or traditional knowledge into forms that can be programmed into a computer model, and what does that do to those types of knowledge? Is it still traditional knowledge? Do computer models inherently bias certain forms of knowledge, or ways of knowing, or can we build ones that don’t?

Does this concern resonate with anyone else? Any feedback on methods you use to overcome these barriers or references you know would be most appreciated!

From Derek Kauneckis:

I have long been concerned with the usability of modeling sciences.   We have a project now that is using collaborative modeling (different from participatory modeling in important ways).

I usually avoid anything that uses the term “participatory” since that implies people are somehow involved, but is not very specific.  It can simply have modelers deign to present their research to a community or deep engagement in the modeling process.  The collaborative modeling literature is more focused, although still evolving, and tends to focus explicitly on the role that users/community member/managers play in the research process.  Modeling tends to be too technical for most folks (apart from managers) to understanding so what the end output is, in what form, and how it is expected to be used is absolutely critical.  That question helps to evaluate underlying assumptions of how science is used, and engages and challenging the modelers directly which is a useful discussion to have upfront.  Coupling systems is much more complex and mapping the outputs as inputs takes tons of time and real engagement across the disciplines.  The project we are working on allows the management and user communities to actually make choices about the scenarios they want to see and what aspects of the model are critical for their own uses.  They get to drive rather than just ‘participate’.  Below are some good reads to get into the literature on CM.

Beall King, Allyson, and Melanie Thornton. 2016. “Staying the Course: Collaborative Modeling to Support Adaptive and Resilient Water Resource Governance in the Inland Northwest.” Water 8(6): 232.

Gaddis, Erica J Brown, Hilary Harp Falk, Clare Ginger, and Alexey Voinov. 2010. “Effectiveness of a Participatory Modeling Effort to Identify and Advance Community Water Resource Goals in St. Albans, Vermont.” Environmental Modelling & Software 25(11): 1428–38.

Tidwell, Vincent. 2013. “Climate Adaptation Through Collaborative Modeling: Examples from the Rio Grande and Western Interconnection.”

From Cara Steger:

I have been reading up on the Companion Modeling approach of the CORMAS group, which I really appreciate for their focus on the modeling process as a catalyst for stakeholder interactions, rather than just for the production of a model to answer certain questions (though they do that too). They treat modeling as a boundary object, which can bring people together around a common cause without requiring everyone to understand that system in the same way.

However, I’m still not sure whether models can fundamentally represent different forms of knowledge in culturally appropriate ways…can the critical realist approach of science and statistics be reconciled with the individual ontologies of people working and living in traditional landscapes? What gets lost in translation?

I welcome all references and advice you have, and would love to hear more about your collaborative modeling approach.

From Marty Anderies:

Having worked with various forms of collaborative modeling over the past 20 years, it is seems different groups prefer different models. I have found that farmers, pastoralists, and irrigators don’t like complex computer models because 1) they are often told that the model needs more data and calibration, and 2) they are asked to generate more data!  In this case, stylized dynamic models that capture only the key interactions with few parameters seem to work well.  This seems especially true when groundwater is an issue. When in a future scenarios/planning mode, I love the companion modeling work of Michelle Etienne and Francois Bousquet.  Board games are often even better (they are just real-time computational models….).  I guess having a diversity of models in your back pocket is always good.

Other Topics that Arose at Virtual Coffee:

The Mountain Institute mentioned that when working with communities, people do represent their territories, their maps, mental representations of reality.  They are focused at the grassroots with local representation.  Sometimes, when gathering many leaders from 30 communities, one challenge is: how can they represent the main issues that they share? They can identify well the threats and opportunities.  How they see their way of operating. TMI is Interested in understanding more and collaborating with more academic groups associated with models.

Anne talked about different types of models: Simple models, toy models, to a more quantitative models.  We try to understand seasonal changes in behavior.  Seasonal climate change. We try to combine climate change, seasonal change and behavioral change.  We want to define the spatial and temporal scale.

In Northern Ghana we are working with stakeholders to see how they understand pollination visitation and yield of vegetation.  Participation and communication is important in this project. We have 2 models in 2 climate zones. We ask, if there is a change in policy, shift in regulation, how will it affect variables. The challenge is getting people together in an environment – developing causal relationships.  Need easy communication for decision makers to represent their perceptions – methods related to consultation(not sure whose comment this was)

You need to have an even playing field.

Anne Asked: What are the biggest data needs for global and cross comparisons?  Answer: Socio-economic is most lacking. Anne had to commission two really big surveys – enormous inputs. This is for the Wilamette watershed, which is 30,000 km square.


Beall King, Allyson, and Melanie Thornton. 2016. “Staying the Course: Collaborative Modeling to Support Adaptive and Resilient Water Resource Governance in the Inland Northwest.” Water 8(6): 232.

Gaddis, Erica J Brown, Hilary Harp Falk, Clare Ginger, and Alexey Voinov. 2010. “Effectiveness of a Participatory Modeling Effort to Identify and Advance Community Water Resource Goals in St. Albans, Vermont.” Environmental Modelling & Software 25(11): 1428–38.

Tidwell, Vincent. 2013. “Climate Adaptation Through Collaborative Modeling: Examples from the Rio Grande and Western Interconnection.”

Mountain Sentinels Virtual Coffee – September 22nd, 2016

Agenda: –   New things going on (projects / conferences / publications, etc.)

–   Compiling a list of “best practices” for transdisciplinary approaches (publications, / projects / tools / educational materials)

–    How can the Mountain Sentinels Network contribute to transdisciplinary science?

–    Is there something unique/specific about transdisciplinary approaches in mountainous regions or is the approach/experiences general across all geographical areas?


Anne:  –   Using a transdisciplinary approach to look at the relationship between climate change, snowpack, vegetation and policies concerning the harvesting of Dall sheep  in Alaska.

Julia: Interesting upcoming meetings in the fall:

  1. 1st International Conference on Research for Sustainable Development in Mountain Regions (Mountains 2016 – Branca, Portugal; October 5th – 7th Conference website:
  1. World Mountain Forum 2016 – Mountains for our Future (Mbale, Uganda; October 17th – 20th) Conference website:
  1. Mountain Climate Conference (MtnClim 2016 – Lavenworth, Washington; October 17th – 21st) Conference website:

Jeeban: Upcoming conferences in Nepal:

  1. International Conference on Biodiversity, Climate Change Assessment and Impacts on Livelihood (Kathmandu, Nepal; January 10th-12th) Conference website:
  1. Currently organizing a conference on Climate Change & Mountain Hydrology to take place in Nepal

Julia: –      Collaborators, feel free to send an e-mail to Julia if there is anything else you’d like to share with the larger Mountain Sentinels Network (papers, projects, tools, ideas, etc.)

Robin:  –     Mention of thoughtful paper:

“A Pedagogical Model for Team-Based, Problem-Focused Interdisciplinary Doctoral Education”, June 2016 / Vol. 66 No. 6 BioScience


-Education, publications, projects, tools –  things that make you say, “WOW”

Jamila: –   Useful transdisciplinary tools from the Stockholm Resilience Center such as

resilience assessment tools that bridge across disciplines in both the natural and social sciences and strive to make links with practitioners.

*There are very few mountainous examples with these community protocols. This could be a potential opportunity for Mountain Sentinels to contribute through assessing resiliency in mountain areas.

Julia: –     BiodivERsA: Stakeholder Engagement Handbook                                                                             Link:                                                           *Open question: “Has anyone ever implemented some of these guidelines? “

  • The resources we’ve been compiling are transdisciplinary oriented i.e. games on this type of practice / workshops geared towards compiling a list of case studies of on-going or completed projects that showcase transdisciplinary projects in mountainous regions.
  • *Open question: “Feel like you have an example of a transdisciplinary project, initiative or case study in the mountains to showcase? We can put it on the website to share with the network.
  • Catherine Tucker is a great resource for those based in the natural sciences who are wanting to implement anthropological research methods.
  • The Stockholm Resilience Center resources could be useful. We’re looking for links to other platforms that are pushing transdisciplinary approaches, i.e. journals, non-academic resources, pedagogical tools – these are the types of things that we’re interested in putting out there through the Mountain Sentinels Network.

Tsechoe: – Has had interesting experiences this year combining architecture and restoration ecology. He’s trying to incorporate both the natural sciences and anthropological approaches in these initiatives. He is using interview methods and looking for other ways to communicate the voices of locals and stakeholders.

Robin:    – Researchers from the natural sciences who are unsure about how to implement methods from the social sciences is a common issue. Dipping a toe into the social sciences like this can be dangerous. She suggests reaching out to Catherine Tucker for feedback on ideas / how to go about incorporating anthropological methods.


  • We developed a conceptual model for transdisciplinary science with a group of stakeholders and a group of researchers. This was a novel approach in our group of researchers, but not so groundbreaking in broader terms.
  • Does anyone else have a thought based on this literature? What is our unique contribution to transdisciplinary literature as researchers who focus on mountains?

Martha:    –There is so much variability among mountains both geographically and culturally.   Is there a theme or commonality that emerges that we could identify across this diverse range?

Julia:        -It could be interesting to use a survey that looks at different governance systems, land tenure systems, common obstacles and facilitating factors across a diverse range. This would be an interesting way of looking at generalities, commonalities and unique circumstances

Andrea:    -Posted several resources in the chatbox related to– anthropology and the                                          environment where they frequently post about positions, jobs and internships.

  • Bosques Andinos (Andean Forests) – Program that aims to incentivize conservation of Andean forests on the local and political levels while creating synergy for adaptation projects and resiliency (*Spanish) Good resource on the Andean environment. Link:

Julia:  – We want to be more interactive with researchers / stakeholder through the use of a transdisciplinary survey and have a more diverse range of participants in the survey.

  • Current status of newer survey: Interpreting results from a recent workshop held in France that targeted people who had conducted transdisciplinary projects in mountains. Researchers and a stakeholders were invited from 12 mountain sites from around the world. We came up with steps in the knowledge co-production system from both researchers and practitioners.
  • We want the newer survey to draw on examples of these different steps from different mountain sites around the world.

Robin: –     Is it possible that we’re too worried about [the uniqueness of mountains for transdisciplinary approaches?] Are we perhaps, “navel gazing”? Is there anything unique popping out or are transdisciplinary approaches a general process with nothing particular about mountains that makes the process unique?

  • Driving question: Is this a general process that can be applied anywhere? OR is there something unique about mountains? 

Julia:  –     It isn’t so much that it’s so unique in mountains, but mountains are certainly places where this kind of approach is essential.

  • Mountains are a testing ground due to bio-physical, economic and social diversity.

Robin: –    This approach needs to be tested in very different environments, covering a much wider range of diversity. For example, varying urban environments don’t harbor the same levels of diversity as mountainous regions where cultures are also more isolated from power structures.

Jamila: –   A survey is a good idea because I can’t be sure if the work I do in the Pamirs is unique to that range or more general. Utilizing a survey would be a good way to know what’s unique to your particular site and what’s more general among mountainous areas.

Robin: Closing remarks:

  • I encourage you all to rely on the Mountain Sentinels Network if you aim to branch out to incorporate anthropological approaches. Reach out to the social science folks for feedback.

Discussion of Transdisiplinary Practices for Mountain Sustainability – Part I

(A list of participants is at the end of this document)

Summary of Comments:

CA: in practice, transdisciplinary projects are not linear like Robin’s figure. We need to recognize the complexities of reality. Has this figure been cross-referenced with literature on transdisciplinarity from TD net? The terminology of the figure resonates, but the linearity needs to be addressed. At the International Transdisciplinary Conference in Switzerland, they recognized a need for more diverse stakeholders.

AN: the steps in the figure are not the entire experience. Oregon is very developed, everyone speaks the same language, but communication is still a challenge. Different ontologies and epistemologies create challenges. Do we need a way to recognize errors and “have a do-over” or “course correct” during a transdisciplinary project?

CA: terminology of transdisciplinarity is very technical, and many projects don’t use “co-design” or “co-creation” terminology with stakeholders on the ground, they are really just a way to communicate back to scholars. Some practitioners really adverse to those words. As Anne mentioned, different world views can produce misunderstandings about collaboration. We need to recognize those ontologies and epistemologies at the beginning of a project, which many people do not do and which is not well described in the literature.

AN: during our project, economists and  hydrologists couldn’t agree on the meaning of water scarcity

AA: working with farmers in the Andes, came to wonder who does this knowledge production really benefit? How does it impact livelihoods? Researchers have assumptions and pick the research questions for the most part, but people on the ground see things differently

JK: that is similar to the question of who initiates the project? That might change the focus of the project, if the community initiates the project instead of the researcherEmily: We might need a pre-step 0 in the figure. We need to advocate for co-production of knowledge with stakeholders ahead of time so that everyone is comfortable with the process. We are trying to bring together people with histories, and they might not want to talk to one another, and some people might behave badly if they are not comfortable. We need to prepare people.

Jipan: citizen science is very similar. What are people really getting out of our research? We are in effect just knowledge brokers, and we need to increase our communication to stakeholders. Additionally, we need to engage policy makers from the very beginning of the project.

RM: There are many outputs/conduits/avenues for communication. Good journal articles are great, but we also need to up our game with regards to films and other accessible media that can be done in local languages for people. We need policy briefs in a language and structure that policy makers want and need, NOT what we THINK they want and need. Workshops and trainings in schools and community groups, community radio, are all good ways to communicate to a wide variety of people.

JK: the immediate outcomes we can get from this meeting are resources, tools, and examples from the Mountain Sentinels community. TD net is great. Other resources are also welcome, and we will make them available on our website.

RM: posted videos on our kite site at York. It will be good to bring this group together with those resources.

CA: database of community projects done without academia involved. They do want to collaborate with academia, but there is some benefit to the speed at which projects occur with only community involvement. The quick and dirty transdisciplinary approach – something academics can learn from?

JK: reminds me of up and coming scholars who are focusing their work on transdisciplinary projects that might not be seen as traditional science by others in academia. What is the responsibility of older scientists to these early career people? Do we need to advocate for their work in academic circles?

AA: research for development is very limited in academia. Everyone has an agenda. Where can I do the most good? Not sure it’s in academia and the race for publications. Do older scholars have any advice? It does seem that institutional networks are becoming  more complex – so perhaps we can be both academics AND development practitioners?

JK: It does seem that people later in their careers can take more risks.

AR: we sort of standardized the idea of the “stakeholder” during our workshop in France. But still, what is knowledge? Politicians and administrators have a different process for the production of knowledge, so they are a subset of stakeholder that needs to be considered separately from researchers and rural peoples. Does science inform the knowledge process for policy makers? We like to think so, but doubtful. What filters are they applying? We need to work more closely with them.

Michael: Need to improve synchrony between researchers and policy makers. We need to move forward together. Happy to put forward a draft of a policy brief that we can work on.

Karim’s note read by Julia: early career scientists need to take intellectual risks, but align yourselves with scholars who understand them.

CT: love Michael’s idea, we tried to put together a stakeholder brief at the France workshop, but this would be even more policy oriented. Happy to jump in on that.

RM: the “impact agenda” is strong in the UK. They have 2 postdocs that we should work with.

CA: FAO Mountain Partnership is a good organization to align with at the science-policy interface. COP, sustainable development goals, these are good places to engage. Can we contribute to evaluation of the SDGs?

JK: Summary. Please send feedback on the structure of the virtual coffee. Please send ideas for themes of future sessions!

Questions/Comments/Resources that People Provided during the webinar

CA: RE COP22, just wanted to mention that Mountain Partnerhsip is very active as a participant and advocate/rep for the mountain community, and also the UIAA has applied to be an observer at COP negotiations…will keep you posted on what we propose to do at COP22, if and when we get observer status.

MA: Very interested in Michael´s idea as well, model of communication and policy impacts at the micro/meso scale (??).

KK: Colleagues, I have to leave for the next commitment but here are examples of four films made from collaborative work with indigenous communities:  My suggestion to the younger scholars is to take intellectual risks but make sure you align yourself with scholars who understand them and will provide support during your review. Be well and thrive.

MK: Thank you to Aaron for acknowledgingminority rights and political marginalization of rural peoples as one obstacle in all of this, and need to connect with policymakers. This will be key if knowledge generated is going to be more systematically incorporated into practice at local level (though MP was noted as a venue…) Thanks again. Cheers,

MKMM: I hope we can keep the conversations going between these monthly webinars via a Google Doc, etc…  I agree this was a good first conversation, look forward to ongoing participation.

RM: As mentioned much of the work we do we put up on the KITE site

Also plenty of information here CHIESA has now been funded for another 3 years and we have quite details adapation plans for a number of African mountains that have been co-designed from the startAs mentioned Suzi Richer as out science to impact person would be someone who could be a valuable addtion to this group

AR: I have a comment to make regarding how different types of knowledge are legitimized, and recognition of a third tier of knowledge makers/holders: policy makers, administrators, resource managers

June 2016 Virtual Coffee Participants

Adler, Carolina
Apple, Martha
Arce, Alejandra
Crouzat, Emilie
Dong, Shikui
Dorji, Tsechoe
Grant, Gordon
Gunya, Alexey
Hopping, Kelly
Kambo, Dasvinder
Kassam, Karim-Aly
Klein, Julia
Klick, Matthew
Kreuer, David
Minch, Michael
Marchant, Rob
Nolin, Anne
Panthi, Jeeban
Reid, Robin
Russell, Aaron
Smid Hribar, Mateja
Steger, Cara
Tucker, Catherine

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