In the IIASA Strategic Initiative fairSTREAM, we create a toolkit of participatory methods that can be adapted to facilitate co-production of knowledge. Co-produced knowledge integrates diverse scientific and social discourses to create relevant and legitimate opportunities in the context of complex problems.  

Co-produced knowledge is particularly important in the face of complex and wicked problems involving high stakes, deep uncertainties, and where there is neither one single solution, nor one single expert. All of the tools presented are in use at IIASA in one or more research groups. Online, we introduce their essential features and applications.

In the associated working paper (coming soon), we provide additional information on their origin and discuss the extent to which they feature systems analytical elements, and are suited to enhance just participation and justice assessment.

Find out more about fairSTREAM.

river infrastructure

Plural Rationality Approaches

Plural Rationality Approaches (PRA) do not seek a consensus on a single best option, but rather a compromise solution reached through explicit elicitation of stakeholders’ perspectives on the nature and cause of the problem and its solution. In PRA, knowledge co-production plays a vital role because experts and stakeholders co-produce options keeping heterogeneous perspectives in mind.

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phusicos simulation

Serious games

Social and policy simulations, or serious games, are a participatory process where participants collectively explore a complex reality and complex challenges such as encountered in sustainable development and climate risk management (CRM). Social simulations fictionally recreate a specific governance setting representing several heterogeneous stakeholder groups. 

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design thinking

Design thinking

Design Thinking (DT) is a participatory approach that focuses on understanding user-design problems with a variety of “products” and to create and test innovative problem solutions - these may include physical goods but also non-physical products such as services, policy instruments etc. The steps taken within this approach thus require the participation of all user-groups as well as designers and implementers.

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Role play

In role plays participants take the role of a particular person in a particular situation and behave “as if” they were that person. By assuming the roles of other actors, players distance themselves from their own personal beliefs and develop an understanding of the interests and resources of their co-players. Temporarily freed from everyday limitations, players become more open and creative, often entering into meaningful discussions and coming up with innovative solutions.

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Participatory Scenario Planning

Scenarios should be co-produced with their users, such as planners and policymakers at different scales.  In a typical scenario building process, users together with researchers create alternative versions of future governance set-ups and respective socio-economic development with respect to a jointly framed problem. They have to navigate areas where they can effectively make decisions and develop policies, and areas where they need to agree on most important but uncertain drivers.

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Participatory systems dynamics

PSD is about participatory framing and visualizing dynamic problems in the form of systems diagrams, often Causal Loop Diagrams. Thus   elements of a system, their causal relationships, and dynamic behavior (feedback) are used to illustrate complex problems. PSD work from small to large group sizes (in the realm of small n), but are most productive in groups of 4-6 pax, where larger events can work with break out groups, but should consider prepare sufficient facilitation capacity. 

Participatory System Dynamics (SD) contains four sub-approaches: Group Model Building (GMB), Participatory System Dynamics Modelling (PSDM), and Community-based System Dynamics (CBSD); all of these approaches use Causal Loop or Stock and Flow Diagrams, and involve stakeholders, experts, or policy makers at various stages of a qualitative modelling process. They all need substantial facilitation, and experience. They encourage people to express and share their mental models. The critical examination of these mental models creates an effective team learning process, which allows for a shared and better understanding of the problem. The constant back and forth between the stages of model building highlights the considerable learning, which is involved. (Vennix 1996).


Participatory SD approaches have been applied across a wide variety of disciplines. Indeed, SD is a peculiar area of study whose are rather characterized by their common methodological commitment than a shared disciplinary background. (Királi and Miskolczki 2019)At IIASA, we have experts in several programs.  Sibel Eker at ASA, for example developed a simulation model, based on three GMB workshops on the challenges emerging at the intersection of housing, energy and wellbeing outcome (Eker et al. 2018),  Gerid Hager also from ASA, used a GMB process to engage with smallholder farmers to critically evaluate food security strategies (Kopainsky et al. 2017)

In POPJUS, Susanne Hanger-Kopp currently explores and integrates elements of participatory SD, in a tool for knowledge integration across a variety of data sources; supporting the TD research project WaterStressAT.

Rich Picture

The Rich Picture (RP) approach enables a comprehensive understanding of a problem situation. With a minimum amount of guidance, it invites a visualization – as little text as possible – of diverse and particularly including soft aspects of any problem situation, for example values and attitudes, hidden concerns. It can be executed in less than an hour and provides a great entry point for co-production workshops and baseline for further exercises.

The method is best suited for early stages of a TD process including problem definition, finding a joint language to describe issues, and invite the largest possible diversity of perspectives and views. However, RP can be used punctually also at different project stages, but always require a facilitated group set-up, and sufficient opportunity for discussion. It’s main strengths are ease of use, and effectiveness in generating a common entry point for heterogeneous stakeholders.

rich picture process © Susanne Hanger-Kopp
SAM rich picture exercise © Christian Folberth


RPs can be used as part of a comprehensive SSM, but also as standalone tools for communication and generating common understanding. This means they can be used as analytical tools, but also as co-production methods.

At IIASA, we have used RPs as the latter. More specifically as tools for problem definition, and creating a joint problem understanding early on in workshops. For example on indicators for sustainable agriculture (SAM project). In such a setting, not much time is available, but a minimum of one hour is required. In this time, participant briefing, drawing, and discussion are possible. The purpose in the SAM project was to create a joint understanding of what sustainable agriculture means for Austria, and which are relevant indicators. It set the stage for further targeted discussion in a fashion that participants saw most relevant. The post its were added at a later stage to identify indicators for sustainable agriculture.

Participatory (GIS) mapping

Participatory Geographical Information Systems (PGIS) - sometimes also only referred to as ‘participatory mapping’ - are a data gathering method in which local stakeholders locate features of interest on analog or digital maps. These spatial details may remain analog or can be digitized through geospatial information management tools. This means that PGIS can range from very simple mapping exercises, such as drawings on the ground, to very technologically advanced mapping, such as remote sensing.

PGIS process © Juliette Martin
landslide area in nepal © Shree Krishna Dhital CC BY-SA 3.0

The NERC-funded Landslide EVO Project focused on Nepal’s mountainous communities, which are vulnerable to multiple hazards including landslides and floods. In Nepal's rural areas, lack of geospatial data is hampering a better understanding of natural hazards and associated risks. Additionally, communities are mostly seen as knowledge receivers, undermining the possibility of co-creating knowledge in collaborative ways. This has created a gap between researchers and communities.

PGIS approaches were used to map resource, exposure, and vulnerabilities to natural hazards with local communities in Far-West Nepal (Parajuli et al., 2020). The collected data were made freely available to community members as well as government and humanitarian actors so that they can inform development and disaster risk reduction planning in the region. 

Read more on Landslide EVO.