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The science and politics of human well-being: a case study in cocreating indicators for Puget Sound restoration

Kelly Biedenweg, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Oregon State University
Haley Harguth, Hood Canal Coordinating Council
Kari Stiles, Puget Sound Partnership


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Across scientific fields, there have been calls to improve the integration of scientific knowledge in policy making. Particularly since the publication of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, these calls increasingly refer to data on human well-being related to the natural environment. However, policy decisions involve selective uptake of information across communities with different preferences and decision-making processes. Additionally, researchers face the fact that there are important trade-offs in producing knowledge that is simultaneously credible, legitimate, socially relevant, and socially just. We present a study that developed human well-being indicators for Washington State’s Puget Sound ecosystem recovery agency over 3 years. Stakeholders, decision makers, and social scientists were engaged in the identification, modification, and prioritization of well-being indicators that were adopted by the agency for tracking progress toward ecosystem recovery and strategic planning. After substantial literature review, interviews, workshops, and indicator ranking exercises, 15 indicators were broadly accepted and important to all audiences. Although the scientists, decision makers, and stakeholders used different criteria to identify and prioritize indicators, they all agreed that indicators associated with each of 6 broad domains (social, cultural, psychological, physical, economic, and governance) were critical to assess the holistic concept of well-being related to ecosystem restoration. Decision makers preferred indicators that mirrored stakeholder preferences, whereas social scientists preferred only a subset. The Puget Sound indicator development process provides an example for identifying, selecting, and monitoring diverse concepts of well-being related to environmental restoration in a way that promotes recognition, participation, and a fair distribution of environmental benefits across the region.

Key words

decision-making criteria; indicators; integrating science and policy; justice

Copyright © 2017 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