Reinterpreting ecosystem services : a governance perspective on what ’ecosystem services’ mean in practice for different socio-political actors

University essay from SLU/Dept. of Urban and Rural Development

Abstract: To govern ecosystem services encompasses interactions among many different sociopolitical actors, from local to international levels. The ecosystem services (ES) approach to biodiversity and ecosystem management intends to highlight human-environment interrelationships. To integrate the ES approach into organizational structures and working practices, various implementation pathways may appear. The aim of this study is to explore how different societal actors understand and operationalize the concept of ecosystem services. Choosing actors who operate in different practical settings could provide insights of the ways socio-political actors balance interests and perceived values on ES in the local social context. In addition, it may highlight forms ES take as a boundary object. A governance framework for empirical analysis was applied to qualitative material from five semi-structured interviews. Participants of this study were individual actors from two countries who worked in consultancies, NGOs and local authorities. Results showed that actions were oriented to knowledge production, communication with other actors and development of tools seeking to adapt the ES approach to the local context. However, adaptations to the context took differed in forms. The municipality and consultants were goal oriented, having established a set of procedures and tools to operate ES. In contrast, NGO practitioners’ actions and tools were rather oriented to stakeholder engagement and knowledge management. These results may be explained by organizational structures and dependencies influencing working practices. Limiting factors for interviewees were sometimes linked to time and economic resources. Similarities in arguments used among interviewees were the use of ES to communicate environemntal values to other actors, balance project alternatives and negotiate. In terms of communication with decision makers, NGOs and consultancy practitioners used economic framing in their results. These differences and similarities may respond to adaptations and identity the ES concept takes when operated by different actors.

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