Designed by a partnership of UN agencies, international scientific organizations, and development agencies, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) is the most extensive study ever of the linkages between the world’s ecosystems and human well-being. The goal of the MA is to establish the scientific basis for actions needed to enhance the contribution of ecosystems to human well-being without undermining their long-term productivity. With contributions by more than 500 scientists from 70 countries, the MA has proven to be one of the most important conservation initiatives ever undertaken, and the ecosystem services paradigm on which it is based provides the standard for practice. This manual supplies the specific tools that practitioners of the paradigm need in order to extend their work into the future. The manual is a stand-alone “how to” guide to conducting assessments of the impacts on humans of ecosystem changes. In addition, assessment practitioners who are looking for guidance on particular aspects of the assessment process will find individual chapters of this manual to be useful in advancing their understanding of best practices in ecosystem assessment. The manual builds on the experiences and lessons learned from the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment global and sub-global assessment initiatives, with chapters written by well-known participants in those initiatives. It also includes insights and experiences gained from a wider range of ecosystem service-focused assessment activities since the completion of the MA in 2005.
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About the Author
The World Conservation Monitoring Centre is the biodiversity information and assessment collaboration between the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the world’s foremost intergovernmental environmental organization, and WCMC, a U.K.-based charity.
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Ecosystems and Human Well-Being
A Manual for Assessment Practitioners
By Neville Ash, Hernán Blanco, Claire Brown, Keisha Garcia, Thomas Henrichs, Nicolas Lucas, Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne, R. David Simpson, Robert Scholes, Thomas P. Tomich, Bhaskar Vira, Monika Zurek
ISLAND PRESSCopyright © 2010 Neville Ash, Hernán Blanco, Claire Brown, Keisha Garcia, Thomas Henrichs, Nicolas Lucas, Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne, R. David Simpson, Robert Scholes, Thomas P. Tomich, Bhaskar Vira, and Monika Zurek
All rights reserved.
Assessing Ecosystems, Ecosystem Services, and Human Well-being
Neville Ash, Karen Bennett, Walter Reid, Frances Irwin, Janet Ranganathan, Robert Scholes, Thomas P. Tomich, Claire Brown, Habiba Gitay, Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne, and Marcus Lee
This manual is a stand-alone "how-to" guide about conducting an assessment of the consequences of ecosystem change for people. However, the manual also relates closely to other recent publications, particularly Ecosystem Services: A Guide for Decision Makers (WRI 2008), which presents methods for public-sector decision makers to use information on ecosystem services to strengthen economic and social development policies and strategies. This manual can be used as a whole document, or individual chapters can help assessment practitioners who are looking for guidance on particular aspects of the process. The manual builds on the experiences and lessons learned from the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) global assessment and from over 30 ongoing or completed sub-global assessment initiatives at a range of scales, including local, national, and regional assessments. (See www.MAweb.org for further details on the MA and the various follow-up activities currently under way.) It also includes insight and experiences gained from a wider range of assessment activities focused on ecosystem services.
The chapter begins with an overview of such assessments—what they are and why they are useful—and then provides a summary of the step-by-step process for conducting an assessment. Drawing on both theory and best practice from the field and on a range of global and sub-global assessments, the chapter highlights the importance not just of the findings of an assessment but also of the process itself. Getting the process right, from the early stages of design through to the communication of findings, is essential in order to have an impact on the intended audience.
This manual has been written to support integrated ecosystem assessment practitioners. However, it is essential that the assessment practitioner also understand the decision-making context in which the study is being conducted and into which the findings may be taken on board. As such, the chapter concludes with a short section on how assessments can be considered in the context of the decision-making process and how the focus and impact of an assessment will depend on what stage an issue is in its policy life cycle.
Subsequent chapters in the manual elaborate on the material presented here and address key aspects of the assessment process: engaging stakeholders; developing and using a conceptual framework; conducting assessments of conditions and trends in ecosystems, their services, and human well-being; developing scenarios of change for ecosystems, their services, and human well-being; and assessing responses or interventions that aim to improve the management of ecosystems for people. Figure 1.1 outlines the main contents and layout of this manual, and shows how key sections of the manual relate.
1.2 How to improve decision making using ecosystem assessments
People everywhere depend on ecosystems for their well-being. Ecosystems are the source of obvious necessities such as food and fresh water, but they also provide less obvious services such as flood protection, pollination, and the decomposition of organic waste. The natural world provides spiritual and recreational benefits as well. These and other benefits of the world's ecosystems have supported the extraordinary growth and progress of human societies. Yet the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment found that the majority of ecosystem services are in a state of decline and can no longer be taken for granted. Ignoring the links between ecosystems and human well-being in public and private decision making puts at risk our ability to achieve long-term development goals. An assessment of ecosystem services provides the connection between environmental issues and people. Thus, decision makers—including those whose goals and actions are focused on people, society, and economics—can benefit from examining the extent to which achieving their goals depends on ecosystem services (see Table 1.1).
Reconciling economic development and nature is challenging because they have traditionally been viewed in isolation or even in opposition, and the full extent of humanity's dependence on nature's benefits, or ecosystem services, is seldom taken into account by development or environmental communities. An ecosystem services assessment can help build a bridge between the development and environmental communities by providing credible and robust information on the links between ecosystem management and the attainment of economic and social goals. This can mean the difference between a successful strategy and one that fails because of an unexamined consequence, for example for a freshwater supply, an agricultural product, a sacred site, or another ecosystem service (see Box 1.1).
Undertaking an ecosystem services assessment and taking the findings into account in policies and action can improve the long-term outcome of decisions. As improvements are made in describing and valuing the benefits of ecosystem services, decision makers can better understand how their actions might change these services, consider the trade-offs among options, and choose policies that sustain the appropriate mix of services. A range of assessment initiatives in recent years have focused on various aspects of ecosystem services. Box 1.2 provides an overview of the main recent and ongoing global assessment initiatives; further resources and background information on ecosystem services can be found in the "Additional Resources" section at the end of this chapter.
An assessment of ecosystem services needs to consider both the ecosystems from which the services are derived and also the people who depend on and are affected by changes in the supply of services, thereby connecting environmental and development sectors. Assessments play numerous roles in the decision-making process, including responding to decision makers' needs for information, highlighting trade-offs between decision options, and analyzing ecosystems to avoid unforeseen long-term consequences. They inform decisions through providing critical judgment of options and uncertainty and through synthesizing and communicating complex information on relevant issues. They are also of value through the process they involve, which engages and informs decision makers long before final assessment products are available.
Successful assessments share three basic features:
First, they are credible. Involving eminent and numerous scientists as authors and expert reviewers and ensuring that all reports undergo expert peer review will help to ensure credibility. Assessments should focus not only on what is known with certainty by the scientific community but also on what remains uncertain. The clarity that assessments have given to areas of real scientific uncertainty (such as climate change in the 1990s) has been just as important in guiding policy as the clarity they have provided where there is broad scientific agreement. Moreover, by identifying areas of scientific uncertainty that matter for policy decisions (e.g., the ability to predict thresholds of change in socioecological systems), assessments can also help stimulate more support for scientific research.
Second, they are legitimate. It is relatively easy for the administration of one province or country to ignore an assessment and report done by experts in another province or country, or for the CEO of a private company to ignore the findings of a report by a nongovernmental organization (NGO). What possible leverage would such a report have, no matter how thorough the science in it? Thousands of assessments and studies are published every year; what gives an assessment more weight with decision makers than others? Partly it is the authoritative status and credibility of the assessment through the organizations and individuals involved. But, equally important, the involvement of users of the assessment in the process itself ensures greater impact with decision makers through instilling a sense of "ownership" of the findings. A successful assessment is one that is legitimate in the eyes of the users, where decision makers use it as their own product.
Third, they are relevant (or salient) to decision makers' needs. This is not to say that scientists do not have an opportunity to introduce new issues and findings that decision makers need to be aware of. They certainly do. But the priority for the assessment is to inform decisions that are being faced or soon will be faced by decision makers, at a particular scale, and in a particular context. (Section 1.4.2 provides further details on ensuring an assessment is policy relevant.)
Early on, assessments should evaluate whether they meet these three criteria and, if not, take the steps necessary to incorporate them. Chapter 2 explores in greater detail the various approaches to implementing these criteria and elaborates on the importance of stakeholder involvement at all stages in the assessment process.
1.3 How to conduct an ecosystem assessment—an overview
An assessment will have the greatest impact where consideration is given to both process and products, where stakeholders are fully engaged, and where assessment design follows scoping of user needs. The assessment process has three key stages that are generally sequential but usually overlapping and iterative: the exploratory stage, the design stage, and the implementation of the assessment workplan (see Figure 1.2). User engagement, communication, and capacity building occur throughout the entire assessment process. A review process is essential for the assessment and provides both credibility and an opportunity for further engagement of users. All assessments are likely to need to be flexible and adaptive—lto changing circumstances, user requirements, and process (and funding) constraints.
1.3.1 Exploratory stage
Determining the need for an assessment
The concept of an authorizing environment is a useful way to ensure that an assessment has the necessary level of buy in from key stakeholders. The authorizing environment is the set of institutions and individuals who see an assessment as being undertaken on their behalf and with their endorsement and engagement. Examples might be village elders, land managers, agricultural cooperatives, or local or national governments. In practice, whether or not the members of the authorizing environment have provided formal authorization, the true test of whether the authorizing environment was sufficient is whether those stakeholders have a substantial ownership in the final products and a commitment to take actions based on the findings.
In some instances it may be appropriate to stimulate or encourage demand for an assessment. For example, in a situation where there is a lack of a consensus on aspects of the connection between ecosystems and people, an assessment might be proposed and communicated as being a useful tool for local decision makers to resolve particular issues, and thereby stimulate the demand for the assessment process and its outputs. In all cases, however, the decision to proceed with the assessment should be taken on the basis of actual rather than perceived demand, demonstrated through the recognition of, and approval as appropriate by, an authorizing environment. See Chapter 2 for further information on the importance and approaches for engaging users in the exploratory phase of the assessment.
Defining scope and boundaries
An assessment can be defined by its intended audience. If the primary users are national decision makers, then it will be a national assessment even though it might be examining ecological and economic processes from local to global scales (such as international trade in natural resources or climate change). If the primary users are international conventions, then the assessment is global. And if the primary users are a particular local community, then it is local.
The audience for an assessment is not the only factor involved in defining an assessment's scope. The scope ultimately depends on political, socioeconomic, and environmental circumstances that might constrain its boundaries. Even if the primary audience is a particular local community, ecological or social factors in the region might suggest that the scale should be larger than just one community. For example, if an issue of major concern to a community is water, then a river basin scale may ultimately be more appropriate since both ecological and social processes throughout that basin will strongly affect water availability in that community. The level of involvement of particular expertise or disciplines might constrain the themes addressed by an assessment; the level of involvement of users (or conflict between them) might also constrain the questions being asked. Constraints may arise as well from funding limitations, data shortages, or methodological constraints. In some cases these constraints can be overcome, such as through active recruitment of additional expertise. But in many cases the constraints will need to be acknowledged and considered during the design and process of the assessment.
1.3.2 Design stage
Once the needs and constraints have been identified, then the governance, content, and process for implementing the assessment can be determined. A thorough design phase, including consideration of funding and the ongoing engagement of users, is a key step in eventual success.
The governance (including leadership) of an assessment can be a critical factor in ensuring user engagement, raising funds, and overseeing progress in implementation of the assessment. It is also crucial to ensure legitimacy and credibility. A model that has been found to be effective in the MA and other assessments is having the assessment overseen by a technical Steering Committee or Assessment Panel and an associated "User" Advisory Committee or Assessment Board. In some cases, involving both the technical experts and users in a single committee might work well; in other instances, it may be more appropriate to establish a separate Advisory Group to represent the various users. The governance structure for the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment is provided in Figure 1.3.
Typical functions of a Steering Committee would be to:
Promote coordination among the institutions and individuals carrying out the assessment;
Develop the detailed assessment design (what information will be produced by which individuals and institutions);
Increase the legitimacy of the assessment, and guard against bias from particular interest groups;
Assure quality of assessment outputs;
Design the outreach and communication activities; and
Help to raise funds for the assessment.
The size and composition of the Steering Committee will of course vary, depending on the scope of an assessment. In the case of community efforts, it might consist of village leaders and researchers who will be involved in the assessment. In regional assessment activities, it is likely to include representatives of a number of different scientific networks and institutions within the region. Depending on the region or assessment, the Steering Committee could consist primarily of technical experts (in which case a separate advisory committee or Board should be established to ensure oversight of the process by users) or it could involve both a mix of technical experts and users. In either case, a small "executive" committee is likely to provide the most effective day-to-day oversight of activities.
Excerpted from Ecosystems and Human Well-Being by Neville Ash, Hernán Blanco, Claire Brown, Keisha Garcia, Thomas Henrichs, Nicolas Lucas, Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne, R. David Simpson, Robert Scholes, Thomas P. Tomich, Bhaskar Vira, Monika Zurek. Copyright © 2010 Neville Ash, Hernán Blanco, Claire Brown, Keisha Garcia, Thomas Henrichs, Nicolas Lucas, Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne, R. David Simpson, Robert Scholes, Thomas P. Tomich, Bhaskar Vira, and Monika Zurek. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
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Table of Contents
ContentsAbout Island Press,
Acronyms and Abbreviations,
1 - Assessing Ecosystems, Ecosystem Services, and Human Well-being,
2 - Stakeholder Participation, Governance, Communication, and Outreach,
3 - Conceptual Frameworks for Ecosystem Assessment: Their Development, Ownership, and Use,
4 - Assessing State and Trends in Ecosystem Services and Human Well-being,
5 - Scenario Development and Analysis for Forward-looking Ecosystem Assessments,
6 - Assessing Intervention Strategies,
Island Press | Board of Directors,