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Building capacity in evaluating and communicating models

Kate O’Brien (UQ School of Chemical Engineering) and Matthew Adams (QUT School of Mathematical Sciences) ran three workshops to build capacity in evaluating and communicating models for both water sector professionals and students, providing concise, practical information in presentations and facilitating networking within the QWMN community.

Workshop 1 focused on evaluating model performance. The goal of the workshop was to provide participants with guidelines for best practice, and opportunities to connect with, and learn from, each other. Kate O’Brien presented overarching principles for evaluating model performance; Barbara Robson (Principal Research Scientist at AIMS) gave an example of a systematic process for assessing performance based on model structure and behaviour, comparison with monitoring data and reproducing processes and system behaviour. James Weidmann (Senior Water Engineer at Water Technology) provided a framework for Quality Assurance as a key element in ensuring model performance. James pointed out that models handed over to clients need to be fit for not the purpose for which they were designed, and for future likely applications.

Model uncertainty was the topic of Workshop 2. Matthew Adams outlined strategies to deal with both the technical issue of quantifying uncertainty, and the human issue of appropriately communicating uncertainty.  Maria de la Paz Vilas (Senior Scientist, DNRME, Queensland Government) demonstrated how models can reduce uncertainty in data. Holger Maier (Professor of Environmental Engineering, The University of Adelaide) outlined a decision-centric bottom-up approach which uses models to understand water security risks when it’s very unclear what the future will look like.

Workshop 3 was a panel discussion on Communicating model performance, facilitated by Kate O’Brien. Three modellers (Tony Weber, Alluvium Consulting; David Hamilton, Deputy Director of the Australian Rivers Institute at Griffith University; and Mark Baird, Leader of the CSIRO Coastal Biogeochemical Modelling team) joined landscape scientist Jo Burton (Principal Scientist, Queensland Department of Environment and Science), environmental manager Paul Maxwell (Alluvium Consulting) and environmental social scientist Angela Dean (QUT) to engage with the audience through a Q&A discussion. The final consensus was clear: effective communication about models is not about what happens at the end of the project, but how to take the end-users and stakeholders on a journey from beginning to end. To sum it up in Angela Dean’s words: people don’t trust models, they trust people.

If you’d like to know more you can contact Kate here and Matthew here.

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