How do we deliver the results of ecosystem services analysis to encourage their use?

Friday, 8th April 2016

Tom Hartley, Atmos Consulting

The ecosystem services community is almost spoiled for choice when it comes to GIS tools for creating ecosystem services maps. But once you have draped your landscape in colour coded layers, how do you deliver this to the people who will use it? Often these layers are generated to help aid decision makers to plan development responsibly and to target conservation and restoration efforts, but there is not yet definitive evidence that they are being used in such a way. Output maps are created, GIS files are delivered. How can we make this information accessible and useable to incentivise its absorption into everyday practices? Tom Hartley, Principal GIS Consultant at Atmos Consulting will be hosting a workshop session to discuss this topic at the upcoming ESCom Scotland conference on 20th April.

Atmos recently worked on a project to deliver an ecosystem services mapping tool for the Northumberland Lowland and Coast Local Nature Partnership (NLCLNP) area in partnership with EcoNorth. With a limited budget and short time frame we had to deliver ecosystem services layers created through spatial modelling for display alongside layers both requested and sourced through consultation with members of the partnership. A simple, interactive workspace was created in ArcGIS Explorer, ESRI’s free GIS viewer, allows users to add their own data and apply the ecosystem services perspective to their workflows.

This is one of many ways in which these data can be delivered, but we need to consider what is most appropriate in different situations. What are the time and budget constraints of the project? Who is the information being supplied to? What are they intending to do with it and how can it augment their existing workflows? Are there IT constraints within their organisation? Our experience has taught us these questions are all key to the final outcome and should be considered early in the project to ensure delivery of an output which benefits the end user.

For example, in trying to integrate ecosystem service information into the planning system we can assume that most intended users are likely to be in central and local government, national parks and other public sector environments where there may be restrictive IT systems or time constraints on training, so a web map may be the most accessible solution. Organisations with GIS capability may be able to work with the raw GIS files, but how often are they made readily available to the decision makers themselves?

We feel there is a need, in addition to supplying outputs to these authorities, to engage stakeholders in conversation about how best their data can be used and how it can enhance their understanding and streamline work processes. We also need to consider follow-up measures to check whether  tools and data are being used, and how we might be able to help facilitate their use if not. While we might, as GIS professionals, be excited about the benefits that assessment and identification of ecosystem services can bring to stakeholders, we also need to ensure that those stakeholders are getting practical tools which assist them, not burden them. For this reason, we would welcome your thoughts and input to the workshop session at the upcoming ESCom Scotland conference.