Ecosystem Approach

Download the Advanced Guide

The Ecosystem Approach Advanced User Guide

1. Introduction

Different sectors of society view ecosystems in terms of their own economic, cultural and societal needs. Indigenous peoples and other local communities living on the land are important stakeholders and their rights and interests should be recognized. Both cultural and biological diversity are central components of the ecosystem approach, and management should take this into account.  Societal choices should be expressed as clearly as possible. Ecosystems should be managed for their intrinsic values and for the tangible or intangible benefits for humans, in a fair and equitable way.

Guidelines for meeting this task
Involve all stakeholders (interested parties) (including indigenous and local communities) in:
clearly articulating, defining and agreeing upon the goals of management
defining problems
making choices (see Task 12).

There need to be clearly defined boundaries (in time and space, see Task 7) for the area being managed so that those involved are fully aware of the range/limitation of the management processes. 

Ensure that those stakeholders that cannot directly represent themselves (e.g. future generations, the natural world) are adequately represented by someone else. 

Ensure that all stakeholders have an equitable capacity to be effectively involved, including equitable access to information, ability to participate in the processes, etc.  

Ensure that the decision-making process compensates for any inequities of power in society, so that those who are normally marginalized (e.g. women, the poor, indigenous people) are not excluded or stifled in their participation. 

Make sure all actions are transparent to everyone concerned. This includes identifying who the decision-makers are for each decision, how the decisions will be taken (what process will be used), and what are the limits on the discretion of the decision-maker (e.g. what are the criteria for the decision in law, and where applicable what is the overall policy guidance within which the decision must fit).  

Ensure that the recognition of stakeholder interests occurs within the full range of decisions over time and space and across the different levels (eg local and national government). In doing so, however, ensure that “stakeholder fatigue” does not develop, by incorporating known stakeholder views into future decisions, and allowing efficient stakeholder input.  

Where possible, use existing societal mechanisms (eg existing local groups), or build new mechanisms that are compatible with existing or desired societal conditions. Ensure that decision-makers are accountable to the appropriate communities of interest. 

Develop within the project team the capacity to broker negotiations and trade-offs, and manage conflicts among relevant stakeholder groups in reaching decisions about management, use and conservation of biological resources.

There need to be mechanisms in place to ensure that, once an appropriate societal choice has been made, the decision can be implemented over the long term, (eg policy, legislative and control structures need to be in place).

Tools that can be used to ensure all members of society are involved in decisions associated with the management of land, water and living resources include:
Workshop based methods
Community based methods
Methods for stakeholder consultation
Local community approaches
Social analysis
Conflict management methods

Further explanation
The objectives for managing land, water, and living resources are a matter of societal choice, determined through negotiations and trade-offs among stakeholders who have different perceptions, interests, and intentions.  In this regard it should be noted that:

Human society is diverse in the kind and manner of relationships that different groups have with the natural world, each viewing the world around them in different ways and emphasizing their own economic, cultural, and societal interests and needs. All relevant sectors of society need to have their interests equitably treated, which may involve providing for different outcomes in separate locations or at different times. It is also necessary to ensure that the needs of future generations and the natural world are adequately represented. Given this diversity, good decision-making processes that provide for negotiations and trade-offs are necessary to establish broadly acceptable objectives for the management of particular areas and their living resources.

Good decision-making processes incorporate the following characteristics:
All interested parties (particularly including indigenous and local communities) should be involved in the process,
It needs to be clear how decisions are reached and who the decision-maker(s) is (are),
The decision-makers should be accountable to the appropriate communities of interest,
The criteria for decisions should be appropriate and transparent, and
Decisions should be based on, and contribute to, inter-sectoral communication and co-ordination.
Good decisions depend on those involved having access to accurate and timely information and the capacity to apply this knowledge.

Information from all sources is critical for arriving at effective ecosystem management strategies.  Much better knowledge of ecosystem functions and the impact of human use is needed to inform decisions.  All relevant information from any area under consideration should be shared with all stakeholders and actors, taking into account, inter alia, any decision to be taken under Article 8(j) of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Assumptions behind proposed management decisions should be made explicit and checked against available knowledge and views of stakeholders.

Guidelines for answering this question
Relevant information should be shared with other stakeholders and actors and technical and scientific information be made available in an accessible way (indigenous and local knowledge should be treated with full respect of Article 8(j) and further decisions of the CBD). 

Assumptions behind proposed management decisions should be made explicit based on the best available expertise, scenarios of future change and the knowledge and views of stakeholders.  

Appropriate mechanisms should be developed to document and made more widely available the information from all relevant disciplines (including natural and social sciences) and from relevant knowledge systems, particularly those based on local and traditional practices. This guidance should be implemented consistent with any decision to be taken under Article 8(j) of the CBD.   

The implications for ecosystem management of different ”world views” based on different knowledge systems should be evaluated.

Public participation and knowledge sharing
Education and awareness campaigns
Adaptive management methods

Further Explanation
Ecosystems can be viewed at various scales and from different perspectives, each yielding unique information and insights. Good management should therefore consider all relevant information. In this regard it should be noted that:
The ecosystem approach is designed to accommodate a range of values and associated goals, and the information and perspectives of the communities that hold those values are therefore important in designing and implementing management.
There is no single level of organisation at which one can understand and optimize management of ecosystem functioning. Different information sources will address issues at different levels, providing complementary perspectives to support integrated management.
Good management therefore depends on maximising the information inputs, carefully assessing their accuracy and relevance, and integrating the information into decision-making and management.
Ongoing support for understanding and information (e.g. research, monitoring, indicators, assessments, etc) is required.