Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research and the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency have designed an interactive web application for documenting the IMAGE model for sustainability and environmental analyses. The new website is a semantic wiki, which does not only support and expand IMAGE, but also gives an interactive demonstration of what the model is and what it can do. IMAGE provides information about the development of environmental and sustainability problems caused by human activity, both at the national and international level.
The PBL brought out a new version on 7 July 2014; IMAGE 3.0. The interactive website is part of this new version, along with a revised documentation model in book form.
IMAGE stands for Integrated Model to Assess the Global Environment. It comprises around 20 or more linked components, each of which defines a part of the problem; examples include flooding risks, forest management and climate policy. The documentation for each component comprises a description, a summary of policy questions and an overview of the variables and parameters used.
Researchers from Food & Biobased Research worked closely with researchers from the PBL to turn the model documentation into an interactive entity. They used semantic web technology and wiki software.
On the Semantic Web, text is converted into data. This enables the computer to ‘understand’ words and make its own links. In other words, it unlocks textual information. To do this, however, terms must first be defined and links between these terms created. Food & Biobased Research and PBL implemented a logical classification and structure of the information about IMAGE.
The new site sets out the various components that make up IMAGE 3.0, for example nutrients, emissions and aquatic biodiversity. This is accomplished using clickable and dynamic elements, such as word clouds based on underlying publications and model diagrams. The integrated wiki software facilitates version management, maintenance and expansion of the model.
Better communication about model findings
The website is intended for scientists on the one hand, and policy-makers and other interested parties on the other. “The aim is to enable people to understand the models better and to improve communication about model findings”, explains Prof. Jan Top, Senior Scientist Intelligent Systems. “Policy-makers want simple answers; scientists can add all kinds of subtle distinctions to a model by making particular assumptions. This new presentation method closes the gap between policy-makers and researchers by showing what IMAGE is made of, where the various models come from, who made them and on which assumptions they are based. We’ve turned a black box into a white box.”