Prediction Tool Puts Development in Hands of Locals

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For example, a local group in Bangladesh wanted to limit education to only men. So, using Threshold 21, they theoretically took women out of the schools and ran the computer program to find out what would happen.

Shilling said that some things, like a reduction in gross domestic product and higher fertility rates, were predictable outcomes. But the local group was surprised to learn that by taking women out of the schools, male life expectancy went down. Since the model is transparent, they tracked back to find out why.

"It turns out that women are significant health care providers," Shilling said. "If they are not educated, the health of the whole family declines."

Model Customization

Use of Threshold 21 begins with a vision. In the case of the model being developed for Papua, CI has a vision of poverty reduction and economic development for the local people. At the same time, they want to protect the environment, a goal the organization says is consistent with the challenges faced by the province's decentralized government.

With a vision set, the modelers solicit information from as many local everyday people and decision-makers as possible—specific data on the economy, social structure, and the environment. With the data, the modelers prep the computer program to model the impact of strategies for future development.

"It is using the best information available," Shilling said. "It lays out a range of plausible scenarios and their implications so decision-makers have the best estimates on which to make their decisions. And it is transparent about the assumptions and the positive and negative outcomes."

The transparency of the model, added Shilling, makes it difficult for stakeholders to hide their biases, opening up an honest dialogue about the various options.

CI chose four widely discussed development strategies for Papua to run through the model as a means to demonstrate the model's effectiveness: keeping the status quo, a major roadbuilding and logging initiative, a major dambuilding and mining initiative, and a locally focused urban development initiative.

According to CI's analysis of the outcomes, the urban development initiative proved the best at providing poverty alleviation as well as protecting the environment, whereas the other scenarios led to greater environmental degradation with most of the money from resource extraction going to foreign investors and foreign workers.

Anggraeni said the goal of running the scenarios was not meant to dictate specific development paths. The goal was to impart this approach and method to local planners and other residents. Then they could use the approach to analyze the effects of several widely discussed scenarios and come up with their own agreed strategy. Feedback from the two workshops held so far suggests CI's plan is working.

"Indeed, most of the participants are really enthusiastic to discuss the results of the model and the model itself," Anggraeni said.

For more conservation news, scroll down for related stories and links.

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