This paper formulates a new strategy for participatory forest management consisting of encouraging public participation as long as it increases empathy among participants. The strategy requires the homogeneous representation of the opinion of a participant (i.e., to determine how they assess a forest plan and identify the best one). Utility assessments are prepared for participants through pair-comparisons between meaningful points in the territory and from value functions based on forest indicators. The best plan is designed by applying combinatorial optimization algorithms to the utility of a participant. The calculating of empathy—of one participant relative to another—is based on the equivalence of their respective utilities when the current forest plan is modified. This involves calculating the opinions that are due to systematic changes in the collective plan for those participants that each participant supposes will affect the utility of the other participants. Calculating empathy also requires knowing the interactions among participants, which have been incorporated through agent-based simulation models. Application of the above methodology has confirmed the association between increases in empathy and convergence of opinions in different scenarios: well and medium-informed participants and with and without interaction among them, which verifies the proposed strategy. In addition, this strategy is easily integrated into available information systems and its outcomes show advantages over current participatory applications.
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