Eco-What?! The challenges of communication by Kerry Waylen, James Hutton Institute

Monday, 4th May 2015

At last year’s ESCom conference I delivered a presentation on some challenges in communication using ecosystem service concepts and terminology.  I observed that there is a lack of consistency and clarity in the use of Ecosystem service-related terminology: some individuals or groups use shared terms but with different meanings, whilst others use different terms but share a meaning.  I based this on the experiences of myself and my colleague Kirsty Blackstock, but it turned out that our ideas resonated with the audience – including other academics and people working in statutory agencies – and so we were inspired to write a brief on this subject titled “Eco-what?! The need for clarity and consistency in communication using ecosystem terminology”. 

We think this subject is impotant because if confusion is not acknowledged it risks individuals with different expectations and understandings working at cross-purposes, leading to inefficiency and frustrations.  However, we suggest that recognising this problem identifies the solution to achieving more clarity: when working together with others, whether for research, policy or practice, it is essential to begin work by discuss expectations and understandings.  It is easy to blame all problems on communication with specific or technical terminology, but really it is the concepts that matter: establishing shared understanding early on will allow us all to fufil the potential of different concepts, regardless of the words we use. 

For more information about some of the work that lead to our ideas on this subject, visit