The Collaborative Policy Modeling Paradox: Perceptions of water quality modeling in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed
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collaborative modelling
model governance
water quality

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Bitterman, P., & Webster, D. G. (2024). The Collaborative Policy Modeling Paradox: Perceptions of water quality modeling in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Socio-Environmental Systems Modelling, 6, 18677.


The Chesapeake Assessment Scenario Tool (CAST) serves multiple key functions in meeting nutrient reduction targets across the Chesapeake Bay Watershed (CBW) and is embedded in the water quality governance system. To investigate contested perspectives regarding the model, we interviewed 59 stakeholders engaged in model governance across the CBW. We recorded statements regarding the accuracy, legitimacy, and credibility of the model, influences on its use, and on challenges and opportunities. We found skepticism regarding the legitimacy of CAST, including suggestions its role facilitates a “paper process” of policy design and that past experience has greater influence on policy decisions than model predictions. However, despite its perceived shortcomings, CAST has been central in helping stakeholders in prioritizing mitigative activities. With respect to credibility, most respondents believe the model underestimates the effects of nutrient-reduction practices, thereby underestimating progress toward TMDL-related goals. Respondents also identified opportunities for model improvement, emphasizing co-benefits of conservation practices over and above nutrient reduction. Overall, our analysis demonstrates a Collaborative Policy Modeling Paradox: collaborative model development is necessary for effective policy modeling, but the political processes of collaborative model development can negatively impact perceptions of salience, credibility, and legitimacy. Although it is important to recognize this paradox, as it is linked to dissatisfaction with the models, our findings also point to areas where improvement has occurred and to future opportunities for development.

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