Several points of view in the firma project


J. Rouchier - Centre for Policy Modelling


The applications presented for the firma project all deal with the issue of water management in Europe. Taken together, they question the way the different stakeholders could be influenced by the use of multi-agent simulation all along the decision making process while managing a river basin. The examples that are taken are presented by teams that have different research histories on that subject, and the example from the ''regional applications'' are very different from one another, going from the Thames Valley to Barcelona, where climate and social behaviours are very different.  

This is the reason why the links among the issues are not always easy to catch. The teams can be divided in several groups, regarding the approach and the issues that are pointed out. Two points seem of importance: the fact that the word ''stakeholders'' does not designate the same category of people for all the teams, and the fact that some teams already want to prove something whereas the others don’t.



            In all the cases that have been described during the week, the word “stakeholders” has been used in several ways by different teams: sometimes they were all the people and institutions that were involved in decision processes, and sometimes it represented any person who would benefit or suffer from the evolution of the water system, be they consciously acting or not. The difference seemed to be due to the system itself and to the observation by the team undertaking the regional case. Apparently there are different ways of defining who deserves to be designated as stakeholder and for that it seems possible to distinguish two main groups.

            In the first of these groups the issue seems to turn entirely on political choice. The “stakeholders” are all aware of their actions and their abilities to influence the choices to be made. They are all eager to participate in the process. It can be:


-         the realisation of the project in Holland, where the widening of the river depends on several people acting for or against it. For that application, it is important to consider that the process depends on the agreement of all the actors and that it requires the explicit knowledge of their choices an expectation.

-         the Orb river basin: the people who act on the basin will have to follow to the policies that will promulgate themselves, either by being present during the talks or are directly represented by someone they know (syndicate). They thus try to put direct pressure on the discussions: all those who have an important impact on the basin are present in the meetings and decide of the rules. The knowledge of their interest and perception of the policies are very important, as well as an understanding of the negotiation processes and wish to obey the newly decided rules.


In some cases, the idea of the ''consumer'' is central: it is important since its behaviour is regarded as a source of feedback in the system. The opinion and the behaviour of these people who are not involved in the decision-making process are to be an element that has to be treated specifically here.

-         Barcelona: the consumers will have to pay more or less depending on where they live, and they are not taken into account directly into the process of decision (they do not designate the deputy only for the task of defending the price of water that is good for them). The way people migrate have an impact on the system, the use, the potential shortage, although they would certainly not change place because of the price of water or the shortages (which are the element of the ''water system'' presented here).

-         Thames: the consumers are really central in the model, since the objective is to model means and consequences of changing their behaviour. The assumption is that people react mostly to the price of water and to public explicit incitations. The decisions of concern here are the maintenance of “headroom” while reducing water consumption over time and reducing the effects of drought.

-         Zurich: the consumers are put in the system but with an action that is not in the decision process but just through there action in the use. In that case they are described as being highly aware of their actions and to take care of their consumption. From that point of view they are assumed to be conscious enough to be touched by some direct speech that would be directed at them. Considering their habits in voting, it might be assumed that they take into account the way the decision making has been processed as well as the reasons for the decisions, even if they are not personally among the people taking the decision. The decision is otherwise taken under the influence of firms and politicians (NGOS?).



Hence there are two applications where the model is supposed to be more integrated in negotiation process, whereas for three applications, it is to be integrated in a decision process where part of the identified actors of the system are not involved as such in the decision making.


Which intention for the researchers?

            From what could be heard during the week, there were two different attitudes ''hiding'' behind the explanation given by the scientists. Some had the intention to build the methodology by taking a very concrete case that shows a pattern of decision process, but without being really involved before in the case study; whereas some others have a underlying idea of the influence they would like to have on the system.


The teams that did not display any wish to see any preferred option:

-         the French team on the Orb basin, who is not involved subjectively since they choose recently the precise place to be studied, and since they accepted - for the moment - that they cannot talk directly to the stakeholders but mainly observe the processes. The research wants to be carried out at a very theoretical level from an external point of view.

-         the English team on the Thames valley has apparently no pre-conceived ideas of the kind of political results they would like to see result.


The teams that already have a few elements on what kind of result they would like to see:

-         the Spanish team made it quite clear that the question of equity would have to be put forward in their work, and that they want that question to turn out to be important, so that the stakeholders have to take a clear position with it.

-         the Dutch team seems to want the project to be over as well as have the people be aware of the meaning of a huge project of that kind transforming nature. This aim comes second after the main idea that is to succeed in having everyone agree on one point of view, but it is present anyway. Of course, the way a project can be conducted in Holland puts the agreement between all stakeholders at the centre of the research, since it is the only case (maybe with Zurich) where citizenry have the ability to block the process.

-         the Swiss team takes as a first assumption that the demand must be taken more into account and want the water industries to reduce their capacity (the argument for that being based mostly on ecological and economical evidences). They want to convince the people who produce drinking water to understand that point and not to increase their capacity further.


These remarks are not meant to accuse or point out a lack, neither do I want to say that one should or should not have a message to display while working with the stakeholders. I just want to show that the intentions and the ability to act upon choices are not the same in all teams, and that this will necessarily have an impact on the way each one sees the project and interact with the stakeholders.


Why was I interested in these elements in the meeting?

            What I understand of the project is that it is an attempt to synthesize the two questions of ''how to conduct a participatory process?'' and ''is multi-agent simulation a good tool for social analysis?'' by combining the two. We will thus try to see if our assumption/postulate is good: using multi-agent models is a good frame to build an understanding for the stakeholders and for the scientists from different disciplines (and countries): we want them to communicate and build a common view point that leads to the choice of a political option.

            The point is to build multi-agent models and organise simulations thanks to the information gathered from the people involved. It is then relevant to make sure that we really thought about:

-         Who are the stakeholders, and more precisely which agents are going to be relevantly described in the models of each regional application. This point is interesting first for the field study in the regional applications, to decide if all the relevant people have been included in the already existing discursive model. It is then interesting for the multi-agent model building, since the modellers will need to know what different kind of agents they will try to coordinate, at what scale, and with which power (institutions, emerging groups, individuals, ...). Should we be more interested in an implicit coordination with fixed rules where the agents' impact is regarded as emergent, or in explicit coordination where all agents are consciously and rationally trying to change their own and others’ rules of behaviour. This is not clear for the moment, and might imply different choices for different examples.

-         How are the scientists going to use the model during the negotiations they will observe: if they are very involved in it and have an underlying objective, this might have an impact on (roughly):

o       how the tool influences the way people are going to act

o       how the decision process is going to be transformed

o       and how information will be gathered later on.

This point is neither positive nor negative, but the diversity of approaches that seemed to exist in the different teams showed that this issue has to be addressed (even informally) or at least remembered all along, as an element of the process, by the scientists that will go on the field.


I want to point out the fact that these observations are very rough, and definitely subjective, and I could understand that anyone could feel like her/his words have been misinterpreted. This short text is aimed at discussion, and in the process in building the famous ''core model'', for which the identification of any common point and differences between the different field studies (and the approaches) will be important. I would be very delighted if anyone could answer to be either by approving or denying some of the elements pointed out.