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The Ecosystem Approach Advanced User Guide


1. Introduction

Explanation
Management which is decentralised to the lowest appropriate level may lead to greater efficiency, effectiveness and equity.  Management should involve all stakeholders and balance local interests with the wider public interest. The closer management is to the ecosystem, the greater the responsibility, ownership, accountability, participation, and use of local knowledge.

Guidelines for answering this question
The multiple communities of interest should be identified, and decisions about particular aspects of management assigned to the body that represents the most appropriate community of interest.  If necessary, management functions/decisions should be subdivided.  For example, strategic decisions might be taken by central government, operational decisions by local government or a local management agency, and decisions about allocation of benefits between members of a community by the community itself.

The potential adverse effects of fragmented decision-making and management responsibilities should be compensated for by:
ensuring that decisions are appropriately nested and linked
sharing information and expertise
ensuring good communication between the different management bodies
presentation of the overall combination of decisions/management to the community in an understandable and consolidated form so its members can effectively interact with the overall system
supportive relationships between the levels

Good governance arrangements are essential, particularly clear accountabilities of the necessary authorities, and accountabilities of competent bodies or persons

Achieving an appropriate level of decentralisation requires taking decisions at a higher level to create an enabling and supportive environment, as well as a commitment to devolve those decision-making responsibilities that are currently situated at too high a level. 

In choosing the appropriate level of decentralisation, the following are relevant factors that should be taken into account in choosing the appropriate body.  .
whether the body represents the appropriate community of interest
whether the body has a commitment to the intent of the function
whether the body has the necessary capacity for management efficiency (e.g. moving a function to a higher level may allow maintenance of the necessary level of expertise to do the function efficiently and effectively)
whether the body has other functions which represent a conflict of interest the effect on marginalised members of society (e.g. women, marginalised tribal groups)

In some cases problems could be corrected through capacity-building. If no appropriate body is available at the level of engagement (eg local, regional or national), a new body might need to be created, or an existing body modified, or a other methods of engagement sought.

Where functions are to be created or given to an existing body, it is necessary to ensure that the body receiving the responsibility has sufficient capacity to fulfil that responsibility (e.g. resources, systems, authority), and that any risks arising from the transition can be managed.  This might require further capacity-building if the decentralisation to occur. 

Institutional arrangements are the key.  If the institutional structure that supports and co-ordinates the decision-making authorities is missing, then their work may be worthless.


Tools
Tools that can be used to ensure management is decentralised to the lowest appropriate level include:
Workshop based methods
Community based methods
Methods for stakeholder consultation
Local community approaches
Social analysis
Conflict management methods
Tools for decentralising money and staff resources
Mechanisms for identifying the appropriate community of interest
Tools for building institutional capacity

Further Explanation
Decisions should be made by those who represent the appropriate communities of interest, while management should be undertaken by those with the capacity to implement the decisions. In this regard it should be noted that:

There are usually many communities who have an interest in the management of an ecosystem. These interests can be compatible, complimentary, or contradictory. It is important to ensure that the level of decision-making and management selected maintains an appropriate balance among the interests.  

Often, but not always, the closer the decision-making and management are to the ecosystem, the greater the participation, responsibility, ownership, accountability and use of local knowledge will be, all of which are critical to the success of management. 

Because there are several levels of interests with people who have varying capacities to address different aspects of ecosystem management, there are often multiple decision-makers and managers with different roles for any individual place or resource. 

Decisions made by local resource managers are often affected by, or even subordinate to, environmental, social, economic and political processes that lie outside their sphere of influence, at higher levels of organisation. Therefore there is a need for mechanisms to coordinate decisions and management actions at a number of different organisational levels (ie between national, regional and local).

  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme