When beginning an Ecosystem Services (ES) project, the first question that tends to come up is, “how do we choose what are we going to measure?” This usually results in looking at what previous studies have done and what data is already available locally. While these considerations will remain important in an ES selection process, the approach can be ad-hoc and usually misses a key input – the stakeholders. ES are the benefits derived by people from nature; so, why are stakeholders usually on the sidelines for projects that focus on measuring these benefits? They are, of course, the end user so it’s safe to assume they should be involved in a decision that is important to them.

Far too many ES programs miss the boat by not properly identifying the appropriate services before the assessment begins. Although most assessments emphasize the need to engage stakeholders throughout the process, their choice in the ES to be assessed doesn’t necessarily depend on what stakeholders deem important. To ensure the success of future ES assessment projects in Alberta, stakeholders should be engaged in this choice as much as possible.

The Ecosystem Services Assessment project partners (Silvacom, Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI), Alberta Innovates Technology Futures (AITF) and Alberta Environment and Parks) have launched Phase 2 of the ‘Assessing the ES Benefits of the Algar LEAP Project’, and part of this phase was the development of an ES 7 Step Selection Criteria Process. This process outlines the steps for identifying and choosing ES for assessment. The goal of the project was to create a repeatable, transparent process that can be applied to multiple research sites across Alberta. The hope is that by adding extra considerations to an ES selection process, it will increase the likelihood of adoption from decision makers and stakeholders.

Why Did We Do This?

A review of past ES literature highlighted a key gap in the assessment process; many studies choose ES based on any of the three following criteria:

  • Having available data,
  • Having the ability to develop biophysical and economic models, and
  • Looking at what has been done in the past.

Although most studies highlight the need to engage stakeholders throughout the ES assessment, they tend to ignore ES that are highly valuable to stakeholders if the data or models needed are not available.

An important part of a project’s success is how it is perceived by stakeholders. By engaging stakeholders throughout the entire ES assessment process, including how ES are selected, stakeholders will feel they’ve added value to the project and their concerns have been addressed.

Bridging the Gap

Stakeholder engagement is emphasized throughout the entire ES 7 Step Selection Criteria Process. We recommend stakeholders be engaged from the beginning stages of an ES assessment in order to identify high-level values for their areas of interest. These values can range from sustainable wildlife populations to employment opportunities, and many others in between.

Once stakeholder values are identified, a link between stakeholder values and the ES is made. Those ES are in turn linked to indicators (e.g. carbon storage as an indicator for climate regulation) that can show a measurable change following project activity (restoration or development). The goal is to address whether or not the chosen indicator is relevant to the selected area by examining criteria such as who the stakeholders of the region are, scale of the human interaction with the ES, and if there is accessible data or models to measure the indicator. Also, final approval of the ES indicator for assessment will go through the relevant stakeholders. This bridges the gap between stakeholder values and the science behind those values.

An All-Inclusive Process

The ES 7 Step Selection Criteria Process will allow decision makers to follow the process back to the beginning of the ES assessment to understand why or why not an indicator was chosen for their area of interest. This brings a whole new level of transparency to ES selection and ensures stakeholders feel that they have been engaged from the beginning to the very end of the process.

See the ES 7 Step Selection Criteria Process here: 2015 Ecosystem Services Process

Read previous ES blogs here:

For more information on what ES are and why they’re important, watch our award winning video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Jw9dPYVT_Y