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Improving ecosystem service frameworks to address wicked problems

Kathryn K. Davies, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research
Karen T. Fisher, The University of Auckland
Mark E. Dickson, The University of Auckland
Simon F. Thrush, Institute of Marine Science; The University of Auckland
Richard Le Heron, The University of Auckland


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Complex problems often result from the multiple interactions between human activities and ecosystems. The interconnected nature of ecological and social systems should be considered if these “wicked problems” are to be addressed. Ecosystem service approaches provide an opportunity to link ecosystem function with social values, but in practice the essential role that social dynamics play in the delivery of outcomes remains largely unexplored. Social factors such as management regimes, power relationships, skills, and values, can dramatically affect the definition and delivery of ecosystem services. Input from a diverse group of stakeholders improves the capacity of ecosystem service approaches to address wicked problems by acknowledging diverse sets of values and accounting for conflicting world views. Participatory modeling can incorporate both social and ecological dynamics into decision making that involves stakeholders, but is itself a complex social undertaking that may not yield precise or predictable outcomes. We explore the efficacy of different types of participatory modeling in relation to the integration of social values into ecosystem services frameworks and the generation of four important elements of social capital needed to address wicked problems: enhancing social learning and capacity building; increasing transparency; mediating power; and building trust. Our findings indicate that mediated modeling, group mapping, and mental/conceptual modeling are likely to generate elements of social capital that can improve ecosystem service frameworks. Participatory simulation, system dynamic modeling, and Bayesian belief networks, if utilized in isolation, were found to have a low likelihood of generating the social capital needed to improve ecosystem services frameworks. Scenario planning, companion modeling, group model building, and participatory mapping all generate a moderate to high level of social capital elements that improve the capacity of ecosystem service frameworks to address wicked problems.

Key words

ecosystem services; participatory modeling; social capital; social values; wicked problems

Copyright © 2015 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087