Elevating local knowledge through participatory modeling: active community engagement in restoration planning in coastal Louisiana
Numerical modeling efforts in support of restoration and protection activities in coastal Louisiana have traditionally been conducted externally to any stakeholder engagement processes. This separation has resulted in planning- and project-level models built solely on technical observation and analysis of natural processes. Despite its scientific rigor, this process often fails to account for the knowledge, values, and experiences of local stakeholders that often contextualizes a modeled system. To bridge this gap, a team of natural and social scientists worked directly with local residents and resource users to develop a participatory modeling approach to collect and utilize local knowledge about the Breton Sound Estuary in southeast Louisiana, USA. Knowledge capture was facilitated through application of a local knowledge mapping methodology designed to catalog local understanding of current and historical conditions within the estuary and identify desired ecological and hydrologic end states. The results of the mapping endeavor informed modeling activities designed to assess the applicability of the identified restoration solutions. This effort was aimed at increasing stakeholder buy-in surrounding the utility of numerical models for planning and designing coastal protection and restoration projects and included an ancillary outcome aimed at elevating stakeholder empowerment regarding the design of nature-based restoration solutions and modeling scenarios. This intersection of traditional science and modeling activities with the collection and analysis of traditional ecological knowledge proved useful in elevating the confidence that community members had in modeled restoration outcomes.