Capturing differentiated experience of change to ensure pro-poor ecosystem service interventions are fit for purpose

Date:February to December 2012


Funder: UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) through the Valuing Nature Network (VNN)

Assessing interactions between ecosystem service interventions and individual wellbeing      

Researchers: Team leader is E.J. Milner-Gulland (Imperial College London); core team members are Katherine Homewood and Jerome Lewis (University College London), Susana Mourato and Giles Atkinson (London School of Economics), Marcus Rowcliffe (ZSL Institute of Zoology), Tom Clements (Wildlife Conservation Society), Edward Watkiss (FARM-Africa), Noelle Kumpel (Zoological Society of London), Matthew Agarwala (London School of Econonomics and Ben Palmer Fry and Graham Wallace (Imperial College London).


Project Rationale and Objectives External and policy-driven change in social-ecological systems affects individual wellbeing (IWB), determining the impact of policy interventions. If interveners are to implement robust policies driving sustainable pro-poor change, they need to understand the consequences and heterogeneities of IWB. This requires a more differentiated approach to societal wellbeing that better reflects the position of the poorest as those most at risk from the consequences of mis-measurement and loss of ecosystem services (ES). Interventions aimed at improving the sustainability of natural resource use take place within a complex and dynamic ecological, economic, and social landscape.

Complexities include: the institutional setting within which policies are implemented, at various interacting scales (from international multilateral agreements to household level); uncertainty and instability faced by vulnerable groups that policies are targeting; variation within communities and households in dependence on ES and share of  costs and benefits of policy interventions; and the dynamic nature of the system, including external drivers of change as well as changes brought by the policy intervention. Interveners must therefore determine the probable social, economic, and ecological consequences of their actions, and use this understanding to design and implement policies that reverse declines in biodiversity and ES without further disadvantaging vulnerable people, and ideally empowering them to catalyse sustainable change.

Central to challenges in predicting intervention outcomes is the difficulty of predicting and measuring differentiated experiences of change. The project aims to make a substantial contribution to the field of valuation by exploring the potential for developing conceptual and practical tools to capture differentiated experience of change, ensuring the diverse voices of the poor are heard directly and their wellbeing is at the forefront of ES interventions.

masaiTo achieve this, the project has three objectives:

 1. Developing locally-meaningful definitions, measurements, and real-time communication of ecological, wellbeing, and behavioural change using innovative methods, before and during policy interventions.

This will incorporate drawing on citizen science approaches and novel methods permitting real-time monitoring and communication of changes. Local people will be engaged in defining, monitoring, and measuring changes in wellbeing, and also assessing interactions between ES and IWB.

2. Developing a research agenda for real-time comparison of anticipated and actual change in environmental resources and wellbeing due to externally imposed change, across different social, economic, ecological, institutional, and political contexts. This includes planning a research programme to empirically explore differentiated experiences of change.

3. Ensuring differentiated experience of change is integrated into the wider research agenda, leading to more sustainable pro-poor interventions. This incorporates building a platform through which researchers and practitioners can design and implement effective pro-poor policies and research programmes, learn lessons, and share results.


Project Themes and Work Plan:

The project has three themes. First, developing a new agenda for citizen-focused monitoring of wellbeing will review tools and approaches for working with local people to monitor anticipated and experienced change in their environment and wellbeing, as well as interactions.

The team has substantial experience in implementing and evaluating participatory monitoring (PM) in different circumstances, as well as in developing experimental and locally-grounded methods such as early warning systems and citizen science. These approaches give vulnerable people a voice in driving interventions, by reporting ecological, wellbeing, institutional, and social changes in real time.

The review will inform a workshop where core team members will be joined by researchers and implementers working on locally-based monitoring in case study regions, to exchange ideas and experiences and facilitate application of insights to real situations.

Second, planning empirical exploration of differentiated experience of change will build on the first theme and develop a research agenda for case study areas, monitoring in real time the impacts of externally imposed change in complex institutional, environmental, and socio-economic landscapes.

Third, building differentiated experiences of change into ecosystem services research programmes extends to the wider VNN community, and focuses on the research questions to be addressed to engage with the issues and opportunities identified in the first and second themes. This will include an open workshop to disseminate project results, while sharing insights and experiences among an interdisciplinary range of participants. The project’s work plan includes targeted reviews, intensive workshops to formulate research plans and deepen understanding, and an extensive dissemination stream to engage researchers, policy-makers, and intervention implementers.

Research and action on links between ecosystem loss and wellbeing typically take place in challenging locations, with high cultural and linguistic diversity, inequality, poverty and vulnerability, and highly uncertain political and environmental contexts. Our workshop programme will focus on novel techniques to improve ES interventions within these difficult systems, facilitating tangible impacts on development in these systems and for ES interventions generally.


Rationale and Aims of the Valuing Nature Network:

cartTo inform ecosystem-service policy decisions, it is essential to understand the complexity of how the natural environment underpins human wellbeing. Additionally, economic, social, and political scientists need a better appreciation of the biological, chemical, and physical interactions driving ecosystem processes in order to determine spatial or temporal variation in the delivery and value of ecosystem services.

Knowledge arising from interdisciplinary frameworks will help to reduce confusion over terminology and, with involvement of stakeholders, ensure approaches are fit for purpose. Shared understanding across disciplines and stakeholders is vital for sustainable natural resource use.

The mission of the Valuing Nature Network is to support interdisciplinary partnerships to scope, develop, and promote research capacity in the valuation of biodiversity, ecosystem services, and natural resources while facilitating the integration of such approaches into policy and practice in the public and private sectors.

Aims are (a) articulating the challenge of valuing the contribution of natural capital stocks and the flow of ecosystem services to human wellbeing, and developing meaningful methods of valuation, and (b) identifying and developing the socio-ecological system knowledge necessary to enable robust monetary and non-monetary valuation. Two major themes are developing trans-disciplinary frameworks for valuation of stocks of natural capital and flows of ecosystem services, and characterising the socio-ecological knowledge required to capture the value of biodiversity, ecosystem services, and natural resources.

For further information see the VNN website.  

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