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available tous,includingagent-based models,contingent-valuation models,andothers.We
ran a series of pilot surveys in our study areas in Yunnan that included a contingent-valu-
ation question—sometimes called “willingness to pay”—aimed at understanding the trade-
offs between hydropower and coal-fired power plants, but the question proved too com-
plicated and unwieldy to include in the final version of the survey. Most villagers simply
did not conceptualize the trade-offs between dams and coal as an either-or proposition.
Likewise, agent-based models—which are designed to predict the actions and interactions
of multiple, autonomous agents in a complex system—proved inappropriate because de-
cisions about dams are driven more by powerful institutional players such as government
agencies and corporations than by individuals acting on various incentives. We ultimately
decided that the IDAM would be a computational model designed to support policy de-
cisions and that it would be interactive, allowing users to input data for magnitude and sa-
lience. 8
Selecting Impacts for Measurement
If a model is to be successful, it must capture a complex reality and convey it in relatively
simple terms. With this in mind, our team conducted an exhaustive survey of the literature
on dam impacts and held a series of expert panels in both China and the United States to
get input on precisely which impacts the model should measure. This process was fraught
with difficulty and sometimes outright conflict; in fact, the impacts that appear in tables
5.2 - 5.4 are the product of years of discussion, debate, and compromise. While convening
our expert panels, we routinely ran into the “Mrs. Wang phenomenon,” with each expert
suggesting that his or her own field was sufficiently important to warrant more compre-
hensive analysis within the model. To finalize the list of impacts we would focus on, we
had to make hard choices, sometimes sacrificing nuance for clarity and simplicity.
For example, we called the first socioeconomic indicator (SE1) “social networks.” It is
designed to measure how dam-induced displacement alters the quantity and quality of so-
cial ties, which, as I have suggested in earlier chapters, can provide villagers with a means
of adapting to displacement by relying on one another for financial resources or labor shar-
ing. In order to measure it, we collected survey data on villagers' borrowing and lending
networks, labor-sharing networks, participation in community activities, and subjective at-
titudes about the members of their community. Such choices inevitably involved a reduc-
tion of complex social realities down to a manageable set of indicators; in the process,
things got left out. As an anthropologist, I would have liked to include additional measures
such as psychological stress, loss of traditional ecological knowledge, and even the loss
of cultural and spiritual ties to a landscape, acquired and nurtured over many generations,
when communities are forced to resettle. However, facing an already large data-collection
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