Cognitive mapping : A method to elucidate and present farmers ’ risk perception

Frankwin van Winsen, Yann de Mey, Ludwig Lauwers, Steven Van Passel, Mark Vancauteren, Erwin Wauters

Research output: Contribution to journalA1: Web of Science-articlepeer-review


Assumptions on the perceptions of risks, made in agricultural economics literature, are recognized to be over-simplistic. For example most studies assume that risks are independent and static, while in reality most risks are interlinked and dynamic. We propose an alternative method to identify and present risk perception, closer to the actual comprehension of risk by farmers. Grounded theory is used to investigate the perceptions of risk by farmers while avoiding prior assumptions. Main findings are: (i) farmers have difficulty to rank or score probability and impact of risks in a (semi)quantitative manner; (ii) farmers attach different meanings to risk, when the focus shifts between, uncertain event, probability or value at stake and; (iii) farmers perceive risks as being interrelated. Based on these findings, we propose that farmers’ risk perception can be best understood as a network of interrelated notions of uncertain events, their effects and uncertain outcomes. Furthermore, cognitive mapping is suggested to elucidate and present these networks. We test cognitive mapping, exploring dairy farmers’ risk perception, and demonstrate
the appropriateness of this methodology for capturing the complexity and context of perceived risk. Advantages are: (i) the qualitative approach, (ii) the focus on interrelations and context, (iii) the applicability at farm level, (iv) the farmer-driven rather than researcher-driven perspective, and (v) the elucidation of the polyvalent use of the risk concept. Cognitive maps can be used as a communication tool, a risk management tool, and a tool to stimulate bi-directional learning amongst farmers, policy makers,
researchers and extension agents.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAgricultural Systems
Pages (from-to)42-52
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 12-Sep-2013


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