Improving problem definition and project planning in complex natural resource management problem situations

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Collaborative adaptive management (CAM) has proved difficult to implement successfully. Insufficient attention to the problem definition process contributes to disappointing outcomes because that step sets the problem-solving approach and the attitudes of key partners. The exploratory problem assessment (EA) approach is a practical and cost-effective way for CAM project managers to learn enough about a problem situation quickly enough to identify critical partners and incorporate their input into problem definition and project planning. EA is a facilitated conceptual modeling approach built around two basic ideas: knowledge-focused facilitation can improve the problem definition process, and information design concepts can assist in building common understandings of complex situations. A facilitator with knowledge-brokering skills gathers and integrates information from people with diverse experiential and technical knowledge of the problem situation. The results are presented as information-rich and readily understandable diagrammatic conceptual models that can function as change theories for project planning. The EA approach and visual design strategy are described, with two illustrative cases showing how the approach can be applied in practice.

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