Researchers at the University of East Anglia, Exeter University and James Hutton Institute have published a briefing note identifying a set of ‘sticking points’ that they believe inhibit the consideration of the natural environment in decision-making. The UK is seen as world-leading in synthesising our understanding of the pressures on, and benefits to business and society provided by, our natural environment. However, despite increasing interest in the concept of natural capital and ecosystem services across the public, private and third sector, this is not always reflected in decision-making. These sticking points may explain why more progress is not being made. They draw attention to the need to transform decision-making cultures.

Sticking points that constrain consideration of the natural environment in decision-making – and ‘enablers’ to overcome these – are found at three levels: individual; organisational: and the wider social and political context. The six page briefing by Kirsty Blackstock, Kerry Waylen, John Turnpenny and Duncan Russel also identifies ideas for ‘enablers’ to overcome these sticking points. These ideas were generated in discussion with Scottish stakeholders from Scottish Government and its agencies as well as Non-Governmental Organisations with an interest in environmental decision-making.

An example of a sticking point for individuals may be a lack of skills to move from single issue to system thinking; the corresponding enabler is the provision of Continued Professional Development (CPD) training in this area. An example of an organisational sticking point could be fragmented governance arrangements; the corresponding enabler would be to prioritise or build cross-cutting initiatives to link organisations together. Lastly, an example of a contextual sticking point is lack of clarity about the role of the environment in policy objectives; the enabler would be to identity acknowledge different perspectives on the environment and then to stimulate debate about how to find more consensus.

These generic examples are relevant across sectors, as they reflect the commonalities found across the experiences of individuals from different organisations, with a variety of roles, decision-making processes and levels, or decision support tools. For maximum practical applicability, these findings need to be interpreted and translated to particular organisations or contexts. For those interested, we suggest you discuss the following with those involved in your particular process:

  • How do the general sticking points appear (if at all) in your context?
  • Are there any other sticking points missed by the general findings?
  • What potential ‘enablers’ and practical actions might be taken, individually and together, to surmount the sticking points at different levels?

The work draws on findings from the UK National Ecosystem Assessment Follow On Project (2012-2014) and the Scottish Government Strategic Research Programme 2011-16 (Ecosystem Services Theme), as well as more recent research undertaken by the organisations involved. The NEAFO’s purpose was to provide new information and tools to help decision-makers, including how institutional context influences the ability to use the concept of ecosystem services in existing decision-making processes. These results were brought together with results from Scottish Government funded research that explored the opportunities and challenges for implementing the Ecosystem Approach. Ongoing work by the four researchers is developing further insights into the implications of these challenges for policy and practice.

Download Briefing:
Embedding the value of the natural environment in decision-making – overcoming barriers and encouraging enablers