Co-creating evidence-based business roadmaps and policy solutions for enhancing coastal-rural collaboration and synergies

COASTAL: Evidence-based co-creation towards land-sea synergy

Why do certain businesses fail and others not under similar circumstances?  Why do some management strategies work in the short term, but not in the long term?  Although the human brain can provide part of the answer, digging deeper into the “why?” of these questions becomes more difficult when multiple factors play a role.

This is where System Dynamics, or SD modelling, can help people better understand complicated problems and enable them to make more informed decisions. 

COASTAL is using an interactive Systems Dynamics approach to support business decisions that foster rural and coastal development and job potential while preserving the environment. The project is organized around six complementary Multi-Actor Labs across Europe, where participants share tools and expertise in areas like tourism, spatial planning, agriculture, blue industry, environment, and fisheries/aquaculture. 

System Dynamics Modelling has been widely used since the 1950s to analyse problems in a variety of fields, from logistics and engineering to financial management and public policy. In the COASTAL project, stakeholders, administrations and entrepreneurs are collaboratively developing Causal Loop Diagrams, which are  graphic models that help visualize how different variables in a system are interrelated.  

This results from the combination of reinforcing and balancing feedback mechanisms. Quantifying the resulting information enables further analysis, which can pinpoint ‘tipping points', or specific conditions or time periods in which something happens (or does not happen). SD modelling enables complex social-environmental systems - like coastal regions, which are intensively used and rapidly developing - with economic activities competing for resources such land, water, and skilled labour to be comprehensively analysed.

During the first year of the COASTAL project, each Multi-Actor Lab organized thematic and combined co-creation sessions to prioritize opportunities and challenges observed in the field and identify the underlying land-sea interactions.  Soon, these interactions will be quantified using readily-available data to develop an evidence-based understanding of the mid- and long-term impacts of alternative policy options and business investments.  

The complexity of the models is not so much in the mathematics as in the feedback structure of the system, which is the result of a co-creation process with the stakeholders.  Practical business roadmaps and policy solutions will be developed from the findings, which can be easily updated using the models developed during the project.  The true strength of SD modelling is the transparency of the graphical models, which allows interactive design and use of the models, have limited data requirements, and can produce results very quickly.