The sustainable management of natural resources largely depends on people’s conceptions of environmental systems
and how they function. The mental model construct provides an appropriate means to explore the cognitive dimension of people’s
interactions with such systems. Mental models are cognitive representations of external reality that people use as the basis for acting
with and within the world around them. We aimed to improve the application of the mental model construct to the field of natural
resource management, with an emphasis on creek, i.e., stream, systems, by exploring how certain elicitation procedures may affect the
mental models expressed. One of the initial hurdles that must be overcome is to work out how to effectively elicit people’s mental models
of complex, dynamic phenomena. By improving their understanding of mental model elicitation procedures, researchers can make
better use of the mental model construct to further explore the cognitive and social dimensions of human–environment interactions.
The procedures compared were oral interviews and a drawing task with oral commentary, conducted at either a creek location, where
visual cues were available, or in the interviewee’s home. We found that the location of the interview had a greater effect on the expressed
mental models than the interview task. The locations also evoked different emphases in the mental models: those elicited by a creek
featured more concepts and were more specific, whereas those elicited at home were typically more generic and dense. The interview
task was found to have minimal effect on the mental models expressed.