Incorporating ecosystem services into decision making can expand the stakeholder pool and the types of ecological outcomes that are important to discuss. Many existing forms of stakeholder engagement can be adapted or expanded to accommodate these and other changes suggested by an ecosystem services approach. This section discusses how stakeholder engagement processes may differ when ecosystem services considerations are incorporated into the decision process. It identifies discussion topics, communication tools, and the information to be gathered from stakeholders in each phase of the decision-making process.
- An ecosystem services perspective can result in engagement of stakeholders who care less about traditionally recognized services (e.g., harvests, recreation) and more about less recognized services (e.g., maintaining species habitat for future generations) as well as stakeholders who are located outside traditional jurisdictional (i.e., geographic), legislative (i.e., mandates), or temporal (i.e., present versus future) management boundaries.
- Ideally, ecosystem services enter the conversation when managers, communities, and experts begin to assess problems and objectives.
- Engagement of stakeholders can vary in intensity throughout an ecosystem services assessment.
- The level of technical expertise needed to effectively communicate with stakeholders may increase as an ecosystem services assessment progresses.
Stakeholder engagement is not new to agency planning processes and is required by various laws, rules, and policies (e.g., 2012 Forest Service Planning Rule, National Environmental Protection Act). In the federal agency context, Congress, the Office of Management and Budget, and departmental and agency policy generally set the sideboards for stakeholder engagement. Although in some cases such engagement might be limited or considered infeasible, unnecessary, or undesirable (e.g., because an agency has a well-defined mission goal in the federal interest and does not require public input), in most cases it is important to planning processes.
Stakeholder engagement can take many forms, including face-to-face meetings or presentations, web-based materials, radio/TV/newspaper coverage, or written materials sent with surveys. An ecosystem services approach to planning does not require adoption of new forms of engagement. It does suggest ways to adapt or extend these forms to capture the diverse stakeholder pool made apparent by that approach.
Within this guidebook, the term stakeholder refers to any person or party interested in or affected by a decision process. Stakeholders can include those who will be materially affected by a decision, those who need or want to take action to secure a flow of ecosystem services, those who might take action that would impede the flow of ecosystem services, and those who are not aware they are benefiting from or impeding flows.Ideally, all of these parties will be engaged as stakeholders.
Ecosystem services assessments expand or refine the breadth of stakeholders typically included in a decision process for two reasons.First, they reveal benefits (and thus beneficiaries)that are underappreciated within traditional decision processes—benefits like the existence of and maintenance for future generations of viewsheds, sacred places, old-growth redwood forests, or endangered species. By focusing on services that can be directly used (e.g. harvests, recreation), past decision processes may have unintentionally left out people who highly valued the less tangible cultural, spiritual, and existence values of ecosystems and species.
Second, ecosystem services assessments help define potential locations and numbers of positively and potentially negatively affected parties by extending traditional jurisdictional (i.e., geographic), legislative (i.e., mandates), or even temporal (i.e., present versus future) management boundaries. Ecosystem services assessments encourage managers to broaden how they define stakeholders, capturing not only local affected beneficiaries of services, but also non-local and even future beneficiaries.They would, for example, take into account that habitat restoration targeted to benefit a particular species at a national wildlife refuge might also affect services such as water quantity, water quality, flood risk, and fire risk for both current and future affected parties outside the refuge’s geographic and legislative boundaries. This consideration could improve engagement strategies associated with the restoration effort.
Determining How Stakeholders Should Be Engaged
Although ecosystem services assessments enable managers to identify all stakeholder groups that may be affected by a decision,not all groups will require engagement in the same manner or with the same level of intensity. Some groups may need only to be informed of an assessment; others may need to participate in it. Whatever the case, managers will have to design an engagement process that meets laws and regulations regarding engagement and that realistically reflects time and funds constraints,but also sufficiently includes all interested or significantly affected parties.1 An effective and efficient engagement strategy hinges on identifying the type of engagement (e.g., participatory discussions, online forums, formal surveys) and timing of engagement needed to obtain the desired information—whether general information about important services or the values that each stakeholder group attaches to those services.
Communicating about Ecosystem Services
Understanding how to communicate about ecosystem services to stakeholders is a critical element of an ecosystem services assessment. Successful public engagement, particularly at the outset of an ecosystem services assessment,will often feature intuitive, commonly used, and concrete language about specific resources, such as “abundant fish populations,” “water suitable for swimming,” “viewpoints over undeveloped landscapes,” or “reduced flood risks.”2
Resource managers can tailor the information provided to stakeholders to the task at hand.The amount of technical terminology, level of detail, and number of experts needed to facilitate conversations with stakeholders will likely increase as the assessment progresses from defining values during the scoping phase to ranking or prioritizing outcomes that will affect those values during the assessment and analysis phase.
Stakeholder Engagement within the Ecosystem Services Assessment Framework
In the assessment framework outlined in this guidebook, stakeholders are engaged at the start of and, to the extent possible, throughout the planning process.The following sections present some of the key elements of stakeholder engagement that are particular to ecosystem services assessments. Because these assessments are unlikely to be truly linear in practice, there may be considerable overlap of key elements between steps.
Engagement during Scoping
In the ecosystem services assessment framework proposed in the guidebook, scoping involves two parallel and interactive processes: an ecological scoping process to identify status and trends in the condition of resources and a social scoping process to identify how stakeholders use the resources and what they value about them.
During scoping, stakeholder engagement activities may include
- Identifying beneficiaries and stakeholders to engage in the assessment,
- Determining effective ways to communicate about ecosystem services with stakeholders,
- Identifying key services for analysis (in particular, identifying the services that are important to stakeholders), and
- Clarifying the role stakeholders will play in the decision process.
Initially, agencies may rely on a pre-process assessment (either through internal means or through a facilitator) to identify stakeholders, taking care to comply with public comment and regulatory requirements for engagement.3 The person conducting the pre-process assessment should not rely solely on historical key contacts, but instead should fully explore the universe of individuals and groups potentially affected by activities related to the decision process. This task can be facilitated by linking desired ecological conditions to possible beneficiaries and services. Understanding the demographic and cultural characteristics (socio-cultural context) of the affected area and how people are using the affected services may also help to ensure that all relevant stakeholder groups are identified. Importantly, additional stakeholders may be identified as the assessment progresses.
Tools for Communicating with Stakeholders
One suite of tools that may help facilitate discussions about nature’s value to people is human ecology mapping (HEM). HEM is becoming increasingly popular as a tool to show the complex connections between humans and landscapes,answering questions such as “Where do conflicts arise over land rights, uses, and access?” “How and why does the spatial distribution of human activity vary temporally (seasonally, annually)?” and “What values or meanings are associated with sites within the project area?”4
Narrative mapping tools may also be helpful in communicating connections between ecology and ecosystem services, which stakeholders may find less obvious than resource managers.These types of tools can visually show how ecosystems contribute to the services that stakeholders value.
Topics of Discussion
To identify what people care about and why, managers may focus discussions with stakeholders on the idea of value. What do people value about a particular ecosystem or resource? Who is benefiting from this resource? What benefits are they afraid of losing? These conversations can rely on non-technical language.
A key piece of information to communicate at the outset of an ecosystem services assessment is the role of stakeholders in the decision process. This information will help stakeholders set reasonable expectations about how their values and opinions will be incorporated into the final decision.
Information Gathered from Stakeholders
Conversations with stakeholders during scoping provide important context for the actual ecosystem services assessment and analysis. Stakeholders will help to identify the desired outcomes, described here in terms of the ecosystem services or benefits of nature that are important to them. These desired outcomes imply a suite of management, project, or policy alternatives. These alternatives become the starting point and the services become the endpoint of ecological assessment, which indicates how different alternatives will change the production of services. Understanding which benefits of nature people consider important is also critical information for benefits assessments.
Engagement during Assessment and Analysis
The goal of ecosystem services assessment is to evaluate management, project, or policy alternatives in terms of their capacity to yield the desired outcomes (both ecological conditions and ecosystem services) identified during scoping. This assessment includes an ecological analysis and may include a social impact analysis.
Stakeholder engagement activities may include
- Refining the ecological analysis and identifying additional stakeholders,
- Clarifying characteristics of ecosystem services that make them more or less valuable to stakeholders (these benefit-relevant indicators may also be discussed during the scoping step), and
- Prioritizing stakeholder preferences for outcomes.
Topics of Discussion
The ecological analysis (charted in means-ends diagrams) can be shared with stakeholders to ensure that results resonate with them and that no critical values and concerns have been overlooked. This analysis may identify additional stakeholders, resulting in an increasingly iterative process. For example, if an analysis of the ecological impacts of tree thinning in a national forest finds that the thinning will increase sedimentation in a stream, affecting its water quality beyond the forest’s boundaries, resource managers may need to consider who uses the stream outside those boundaries, when they use the stream, and for what purpose. These people should be considered stakeholders because they will be affected by a decision to thin trees.
In addition to identifying any new stakeholders, discussions may also explore clarifying information about changes in services that will make those changes more or less valuable to stakeholders. These benefit-relevant factors, possibly identified during scoping,can be explored in greater depth. Stakeholders may be asked to provide information that can help to assess factors such as accessibility or substitutability of resources. For example, a management option that increases fish populations in a pond may not have much value to local fishermen if fishing opportunities in the area are already plentiful. However, birdwatchers may highly value opportunities to view the bird species that feed on those fish, especially if those opportunities do not already exist.
Discussions may involve the following considerations:
- How the benefits of particular services vary by user group (the benefits and key features of a water source for irrigation to a farmer are different than the benefits and key features of that same water sources for a recreational fisherman),
- How different alternatives may involve tradeoffs among services (increasing fishing opportunities may also increase the number of boats on a lake, a development that lakeside homeowners who value lack of noise may view negatively),
- How easily substitutes for lost services might be found (if bird watching decreases at one site, do nearby sites provide the same experience?),
- How services can be delivered over varying temporal and spatial scales (the amount of water available and needed for irrigation may vary seasonally or annually), and
- How uncertain delivery of ecosystem services may be(a severe drought may stress the system, or extreme amounts of rain may overcome the benefits of a reconnected floodplain).
Another possible topic for discussion is stakeholder preferences for the outcomes generated by each management, project, or policy alternative. These preferences can be formally incorporated into monetary or non-monetary valuation methods. Preferences can be elicited through paper surveys or online questionnaires as well as through one-on-one conversations and focus groups in which stakeholders can assign weights or values to various outcomes, which help resource managers to assess tradeoffs.
For most contentious decisions, the fundamental disagreements among stakeholder or user groups are about the priorities placed on different alternatives as expressed by assigned weights. Capturing these differences by eliciting separate sets of weights for different users is helpful to both decision makers and user groups. The results show why different groups prefer different alternatives and sometimes suggest where compromises that satisfy some of the needs of each group can be found. Attempting to gloss over differences in priorities by eliciting weights from only one or a few perspectives, or by averaging weights across user groups, is unhelpful. More information about weighting preferences can be found in Non-Monetary Methods: Multi-criteria Evaluation for Ecosystem Services.
Communicating with Stakeholders
Assessment and analysis will likely involve more in-depth and potentially, more technical discussions than those occurring during scoping. Experts may be needed to help convey the expected outcomes of different management, project, or policy alternatives on the production of services and the ecosystem service benefits received by various groups. They can share means-ends diagrams generated by the ecological analysis. These diagrams visually map how alternatives may affect the services identified as important by stakeholders and thus help stakeholders understand those relationships and clearly see where tradeoffs occur. Experts can also be particularly helpful in explaining the ranking, weighting, or prioritizing of values or outcomes.
Information Gathered from Stakeholders
Analysts can use the information gained through stakeholder engagement during assessment and analysis to understand how people use and benefit from ecosystem services. With that information, they can refine estimates of changes in the provision of ecosystem services and benefits. If stakeholder preferences for management, project, or policy alternatives are obtained, analysts can conduct a monetary or non-monetary evaluation to assess the social welfare effects of different alternatives. Both refined estimates of changes in the provision of ecosystem services and benefits and understanding of social welfare effects will add valuable information to the decision process.
Engagement during Decision Making
Once analysts compile all information pertaining to the decision (e.g., estimated ecosystem services outcomes for each alternative, stakeholder preferences, institutional mandates or priorities, financial constraints), managers are in a position to make the decision. If appropriate, stakeholders may participate in the decision process; however, responsibility for final decisions involving federally managed lands often rests with the administrative federal agency. Information gleaned from stakeholder engagement does not supersede other constraints on the decision process (e.g., institutional mandates, financial resources). Ultimately, managers will determine the level of priority given to stakeholder preferences for ecosystem services outcomes in the final decision.
Managers may be interested in engaging stakeholders or beneficiaries in the decision and implementation process if beneficial opportunities to partner with these parties arise from the assessment of services. For example, they may realize that external beneficiaries are willing to help support restoration on federal lands if it provides important benefits to their communities. Or perhaps agencies will find opportunities to solve management challenges by partnering with neighboring landowners (public or private). In those cases, stakeholders should be part of the decision process and the decision’s implementation.
A key element of stakeholder engagement at this stage is communication of the decision process. Managers should clearly indicate what information contributed to the final decision, what did not contribute, and why. An alternatives matrix can be a helpful tool for such communication, but it should be presented alongside additional information about the decision process.
Engagement following Decision Implementation (Evaluation and Reaction)
Following implementation of a decision, managers can obtain stakeholder’s perspectives on how well the desired outcomes were achieved or collaborate with stakeholders on the development and implementation of monitoring plans, data from which will inform future planning processes.
In an ecosystem services assessment, stakeholder engagement seeks to identify what people value about an ecosystem and to what extent. Early engagement ensures that relevant ecosystem services are included in the assessment, particularly services that fall outside the agency’s normal management boundaries. Sustained engagement provides valuable information about stakeholder preferences for different outcomes. Incorporating information about values and preferences into the decision process may lead to decisions supported by stakeholders.
Bright, A. D., H. K. Cordell, A. P. Hoover, and M. A. Tarrant. 2003. A Human Dimensions Framework: Guidelines for Conducting Social Assessments. General Technical Report SRS-65. USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station, Asheville NC. http://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/gtr/gtr_srs065.pdf.
This Forest Service Technical report provides a framework and guidelines for incorporating human dimension information into forest planning.
McLain, R., M. Poe, K. Biedenweg, L. Cerveny, D. Bessert, and D. Blahna. 2013. “Making Sense of Human Ecology Mapping: An Overview of Approaches to Integrating Socio-Spatial Data into Environmental Planning.” Human Ecology 41: 651-665. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10745-013-9573-0.
This synthesis paper describes several human ecology mapping techniques.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 2007. Introduction to Stakeholder Participation. NOAA Coastal Services, Charleston SC. http://coast.noaa.gov/digitalcoast/sites/default/files/files/1366311008/stakeholder_participation.pdf.
This agency document provides technical guidance on stakeholder engagement.
Reed, M. S. 2008. “Stakeholder Participation for Environmental Management: A Literature Review.” Biological Conservation 141:2417–2431. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320708002693.
This paper summarizes the development of participatory approaches in environmental management and discusses the potential benefits, limitations, and drawbacks of derived from such participation.
U.S. Bureau of Land Management. 2009. “Collaborative Stakeholder Engagement and Appropriate Dispute Resolution.” Collaborative Stakeholder Engagement and Appropriate Dispute Resolution Program. U.S. Bureau of Land Management. http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/wo/Planning_and_Renewable_Resources/adr_conflict_prevention.Par.44228.File.dat/ADR.pdf.
This agency document provides guidance, suggested strategies, and best practices for stakeholder engagement and dispute resolution processes.
Continue to Next Section