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Novel methods for valuing ecosystem services as boundary objects for sustainability transformation

   School of Geosciences

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  Prof Marc Metzger, Dr Jasper Kenter  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

We invite applications for the following project from which the two best candidates will be selected for interview. The deadline for applications is 5pm on Friday 10th February 2017. Interviews will be held in Edinburgh between 21st - 24th February 2017. When submitting their application, applicants MUST also submit a copy of the CV.

Project summary

This project will develop and test novel deliberative ecosystem services valuation techniques to improve sustainable land management.

Project background

Over the past two decades, ecosystem services have become an increasingly prominent approach in nature conservation and sustainability research to demonstrate the dependence of human wellbeing on natural systems and promote nature conservation. On an international level, efforts are underway (in the shape of the Intergovernmental Panel of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, IPBES, amongst other initiatives) to take stock of and valuate ecosystem services, and use the framework in high-level policy regarding the environment and biodiversity, for example to realise the 2020 Aichi targets in the Convention of Biological Diversity and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The Scottish Government is also committed to using an ecosystems approach, of which ecosystem services valuation is an important part.

From its inception, one of the key assets of the framework was its potential to put environmental research at the heart of policymaking by acting as a boundary object that facilitates collaboration and common understandings across stakeholder groups, disciplinary barriers and different areas of policy. Boundary objects are concepts, information or artefacts that are flexible enough to be adapted to the local needs and knowledge of the parties using them, but still robust enough to retain a common identity or meaning across all sites.

Whilst the framework itself is increasingly referred to and used in different policymaking contexts, traditional assessment and valuation methods associated with ecosystem services have not acted as much as boundary objects as was hoped (1), because researchers have depended on outdated, linear rational models of knowledge utilisation (2) and because conventional economic valuation methodologies are ill-suited for stakeholder engagement and knowledge co-production (3). This raises the question whether new approaches are needed, and if for example developing and using more deliberative, socio-cultural valuation tools and methods based on stakeholder engagement and involving decision-makers directly can enhance this boundary object function (4).

Research question and objectives

This project will explore how can deliberative tools for valuing ecosystem services be used as boundary objects for sustainability transformation. Building on existing networks and partnerships from SAMS and UEDIN with stakeholders in the area this studentship will:

1. Select a suite of deliberative tools, to
2. Tailor and test with a variety of stakeholder groups and issues along the Forth, and
3. Monitor their impact on policy decisions and local governance arrangements.


The proposed studentship will examine the potential of a suite of deliberative methods, including innovative tools for socio-cultural valuation, to enhance this boundary object function of ecosystem services, and help realise the transformative potential for ecosystem services to promote conservation and sustainable development across different levels of policy and governance.

The project will take as a case-study the Forth Estuary, stretching from Stirling in the east to Fifeness in the North and Dunbar in the South. This is an area rich in both cultural and ecological diversity, including saltmarshes and intertidal habitats, urban shorelines like Edinburgh and Grangemouth, open sea, rural and peri-urban coastal communities. This diversity of both ecosystems and stakeholder groups will prove a rich testing ground to examine the boundary object functions of deliberative socio-cultural valuation methods.

Research training

A comprehensive training programme will be provided comprising of both specialist training and generic transferable and professional skills. Depending on the student background the student will be trained in deliberative valuation methods, interviewing techniques, content analysis. More generic research skills will be provided for presentation, report/paper writing and project management. The student will also be part of the SAGES graduate school. The successful candidate will spend at least one year at both institutes to maximise interdisciplinary learning and knowledge exchange.


This project would suit a student from an interdisciplinary or social science background with an interest in sustainable land management, participatory research, and social cultural ecosystem services valuation.


(1) Turnpenny, J., et al., 2014. The challenge of embedding an ecosystem services approach: Patterns of knowledge utilisation in public policy appraisal. Environ Plann C 32, 247–262. doi:10.1068/c1317j
(2) Haines-Young, R., Potschin, M., 2014. The ecosystem approach as a framework for understanding knowledge utilisation. Environ Plann C 32, 301–319. doi:10.1068/c1329j
(3) Kenter, J.O., et al., 2015. What are shared and social values of ecosystems? Ecol Econ 111, 86–99. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2015.01.006
(4) Kenter, J.O. 2016. Shared, plural and cultural values. Ecosyst Serv. In press. Http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoser.2016.10.010
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