Using co-constructed mental models to understand stakeholder perspectives on agro-ecology

Freddy van Hulst*, Rowan Ellis, Katrin Prager, Joshua Msika

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)
9 Downloads (Pure)


Agro-ecology has been recognized as a potential route to realizing the multiple economic, social, and environmental benefits increasingly required of agricultural systems. However, views on what constitutes agro-ecology differ considerably between countries, and also between stakeholder groups such as natural scientists and farmers. To identify areas of convergence and divergence in understandings of agro-ecology in the Scottish context, we used a novel co-constructed mental modelling approach with a sample of 8 scientists and 7 farmers in the North East of Scotland. Results show that agro-ecology in Scotland is currently mainly understood as a scientific discipline applying ecological analysis to agricultural systems. Farmers’ mental models show a wider consideration of the food system, including consumer health, markets and sustainable energy. Precision farming featured prominently in farmers’ mental models but not in the scientists’ mental models. Our discussion therefore raises the question to what extent precision farming and agro-ecology support or contradict each other. We conclude that although farmers and scientists differ considerably, there are areas of shared understanding, such as the potential of novel crops and new crop rotations, which could be the starting point of working towards an agriculture that delivers multiple benefits.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)172-195
Number of pages24
JournalInternational Journal of Agricultural Sustainability
Issue number2
Early online date3 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

We thank the scientists and farmers who took time to share their thoughts on agro-ecology. The research time for all authors was funded by the Rural & Environment Science & Analytical Services Division of the Scottish Government, as part of the Strategic Research Programme 2016–2021.


  • Cognitive maps
  • precision farming
  • sustainability
  • organic
  • ecosystem services
  • transitions


Dive into the research topics of 'Using co-constructed mental models to understand stakeholder perspectives on agro-ecology'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this