Exploring the potential of participatory systems thinking techniques in progressing SLCA

  • Annie McCabe
  • Anthony Halog



There are a range of systems thinking-based methods well established for participatory actions that allow for greater integration of various mental models and understanding of systems that should be considered in advancing engagement methods in SLCA. This paper highlights the potential application of participatory modelling approaches based in systems thinking theory as a potential entry point in stakeholder inclusion and understanding impact pathways and system behaviour in social life cycle assessment (SLCA).


We discuss the application of various systems thinking methodologies to SLCA, along with pertinent examples from literature, and develop a framework that integrates both methodologies.

Results and discussion

Here we propose three distinct benefits of group modelling approaches; (1) procedural benefits through the ability to be inclusive of mental models, various perspectives and enhance stakeholder conceptualisation of a system; and the ability to combine both (2) qualitative and (3) quantitative analysis techniques under a cohesive framework. We propose the specific merits of combining the use of agent-based (AB) and system dynamic (SD) modelling in SLCA due to the emphasis upon consumer decisions and behaviour and the inherently dynamic non-linear cause-effect chains that are common in social systems.


We conclude that many facets of participatory modelling techniques can align with SLCA across the methodology, particularly if enhanced consideration of stakeholders and their various values is desired. We recommend the further development and inclusion of participatory systems thinking-based frameworks to advance the SLCA methodology with specific reference to the ability to enhance interpretation through the analysis of feedbacks that may not be addressed in current approaches.


Group modelling Mental models Participatory modelling Social life cycle assessment System dynamics Systems thinking 



The authors would like to extend their gratitude to the anonymous review panel for their invaluable and constructive comments. We would also like to thank Amy Quinton for the integral insight and guidance that led to the enhancement of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Geography, Planning and Environmental ManagementThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

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