Community Modelling in a First Nation Canadian context-testing the robustness of hydrological models to account for diversity in epistemologies

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Geography - SoGE


This project will be split into two main research phases to complete the research. The first phase will use ethnographic methods including interviews and focus groups to understand and gather qualitative data regarding the environmental and socio-cultural context of the case-study location. Interviews and focus groups help "understand how events, practises or knowledge are constructed and enacted within particular contexts" (Secor, 200;199), and will therefore be used to define the priorities and aspirations of the local community with regards to a community-defined water controversy. Establishing the community's focus will be critical in my decision of what hydrological (or hydraulic) modelling course to enrol in. This ethnographic stage will be important in mapping the varieties of knowledge and understandings of a given water controversy within an indigenous community, and compare this to assumptions and knowledges presented by Western academic, scientific or institutional communities. The ontological elements of research question 1 are therefore supported by this stage of the methodology (Myers, 2008). It is important to recognise that in order to allow such research to be undertaken, familiarity with the community must be achieved in order to build trust to carry out interviews and focus groups. According to a review of indigenous participant research methods in Canada by Castleden et al (2012), obtaining such trust may take many months3. This element of the research will also be important in communicating the scope and purpose of the DPhil project to the community, so that expectations of what can be delivered by me are realistic and appropriate. Such transparency from the outset will be crucial in maintaining trust and ensuring the legitimacy and longevity of the research methodology and project outcomes. The second phase will use an experimental participatory methodology to apply a Community Modelling-style research technique. Community Modelling (a project currently in progress in the School of Geography and Environment) is a time-compressed evolution of the
acclaimed Environmental Competency Group (ECG) methodology used by Landstrom et al (2011) in Pickering, Yorkshire for a RELU project4. Based on the idea that non-experts can contribute vital information to scientific endeavours such as computer modelling, Community Modelling builds on the ECG methodology that locally sourced data can enhance the applicability of a computer model or allow for an impasse surrounding an environmental controversy to be overcome by reimagining or changing the perspective of analysis (Landstrom et al, 2011). Community Modelling has developed away from the ECG methodology by not only trying to represent an environmental controversy, but by creating a platform for non-scientists to communicate with institutions and organisations who normally only recognise quantified information. Community Modelling achieves this by ensuring the focus community is able to understand, use and adapt the computer model used to represent a phenomenon. In order to support the Community Modelling technique, the second phase will build on data collected in interviews and focus groups during the first phase of research. The second phase involves co-production during which myself and members of the First Nation community will work together to adapt a computer model which adequately reflects their priorities. Therefore, it will be necessary for me to attend a modelling course to learn to use non-proprietary software which adequately allows for their concerns to be represented. As with the current Community Modelling project, the host community will also need to learn to use the modelling software, and to be sufficiently confident to input locally-gathered information into the modelling system. This is necessary in order to allow the community to use the model after my involvement. There is significant overlap between the first and second phases.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509711/1 01/10/2016 30/09/2021
1926783 Studentship EP/N509711/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2020 Matilda Becker