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Can Fuzzy Cognitive Mapping Help in Agricultural policy design and communication?

Research Funding Body

Danish Council for Strategic Research and the Aarhus University Research Foundation


Benjamin Christena, Chris Kjeldsena, Tommy Dalgaarda and Julia Martin-Ortega

Project Objectives

This research has two main questions:

  1. Can Fuzzy Cognitive Mapping (FCM) help to diagnose and disentangle the (lack of) alignment of perceptions between the different groups (i.e. and therefore help corroborating or rejecting the hypothesis)?
  2. Can the insights gained from the use of FCM be used to provide input to how improving policy design and communication?

Why relevant to improve implementation and uptake of water quality measures?

Breeches of General Binding Rules (GBR) could be framed as an issue of failure with regards to communicating landscape stewardship issues among Scottish farmers who either aren’t aware of regulations or actually choose to ignore them. But it might also be interpreted as a case of institutional failure on behalf of the government. Instead of trying to point out responsibility to each of the two actors, government or farmers, this paper considers that it may be more fruitful to frame the issue as a matter of (not) reaching an alignment on what constitutes proper agricultural and landscape management between the perspectives of farmers and non-farmers (process professionals).


A combination of interviews and a workshops nine non-farmers representing different institutional affiliations and regions in Scotland were interviewed and asked to create an FCM around the question ‘How do environmental regulations affect farmers and farming practice and what is important for compliance/non-compliance with General Binding Rules (GBRs)?’ The focus in both activities was on three Diffuse Pollution General Binding Rules. The data were analysed to make FCMs. There were 8 FCMs created by farmers with a total of 89 concepts.

Key Results

The farmers perceive bureaucracy and costs as being a major concern, coupled with concerns about maintaining business viability. The FCM approach reveals that biodiversity [which has a less clearly defined meaning] was perceived as being a mostly negative factor, as it was perceived to lead to an increase in bureaucracy and thus also an increase in time requirement. The non-farmers perceive compliance, or rather the lack of compliance, as the most central concept. They also emphasize education as an important factor, in the sense that improving farmer education would lead to improvements regarding achieving a higher degree of compliance. The overall picture is that perceptions are heterogeneous across the two groups, which supports the assumption that the issue is a ‘wicked’ problem. The FCM approach helps to disentangle this finding by pinning it down to the actual different perceptions.



Contact Person

Ben Christian

More Information


Project Information
Project Type: 
Active Project


Areas of Interest

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.