Agronomy for Sustainable Development

, Volume 33, Issue 2, pp 413–424 | Cite as

Participatory modelling with farmer groups to help them redesign their livestock farming systems

  • Lucie Gouttenoire
  • Sylvie Cournut
  • Stéphane Ingrand
Research Article


To improve sustainability, farmers may want to redesign their livestock farming systems in depth. Systemic modelling has proved an efficient tool to study complex issues regarding farming systems, but it remains inefficient to support farmers in their system redesign processes. This paper describes and discusses a novel method to model livestock farming systems with groups of farmers to help them redesign their own systems. Modelling livestock farming systems at the farm scale with farmer groups is an original approach in livestock farming system modelling. Following a constructivist approach, our method involves working with farmers already involved in redesign processes and building causal maps according to their own representations, without using models previously created by scientists. Applying the method, we built two causal maps of livestock farming system operation, each one built with a group of five farmers including both those converting and converted to organic farming. Converting to organic farming was considered as one example of a redesign process. On the basis of a subjective assessment by both the participating farmers and researchers, and an analysis of map structures, we assessed the method’s strengths and weaknesses. We considered that one of its main advantages lay in its collective dimension: sharing, comparing and questioning interested the participating farmers greatly; however, it requires good facilitation skills and suitable group composition. Furthermore, the formalising process identified, for example, vicious circles in system operation, which made the farmers think about solutions for breaking them. Finally, analysis of map structures identified similarities and differences between the two groups that were discussed with both of them during a final workshop; this activity continued farmers’ self-reflection about their systems, which may help lead to innovative and more sustainable livestock farming systems.


Livestock farming systems Modelling Participation Redesign Support tools Causal mapping 



The authors wish to thank all the farmers, agricultural advisors and representatives of the milk plant who participated in the programme. This work was funded by the SAD (Science for Action and Development) department of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) and by the Education and Research Directorate (DGER) of the French Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.


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Copyright information

© INRA and Springer-Verlag, France 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lucie Gouttenoire
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  • Sylvie Cournut
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  • Stéphane Ingrand
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.INRA, UMR1273 MétafortSaint-Genes ChampanelleFrance
  2. 2.Clermont Université, VetAgro Sup, UMR MétafortLempdesFrance
  3. 3.AgroParisTech, UMR MétafortAubièreFrance
  4. 4.Irstea, UMR MétafortAubièreFrance

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