Towards understanding and improving decision-making for the conservation and sustainable use of intertidal mudflats and saltmarshes

Foster, Natalie (2014). Towards understanding and improving decision-making for the conservation and sustainable use of intertidal mudflats and saltmarshes. PhD thesis University of Southampton.

URL: https://eprints.soton.ac.uk/365716/

Abstract

Evidence suggests that improvements in both knowledge and actions are required to realize the conservation and sustainable use of intertidal mudflats and saltmarshes, specifically in terms of decisionmaking. In the absence of known research in this field, this research aimed to understand and improve decision-making for the conservation and sustainable use of intertidal mudflats and saltmarshes, using a case study in the Solent, UK.

The study constructed a timeline of relevant events. It found that the majority of the events indirectly influenced the conservation and sustainable use of intertidal mudflats and saltmarshes, and were primarily concerned with some other purpose, such as coastal flooding and erosion risk management. Furthermore, that research, legislation and policy, and practice are interconnected in a complex web, with changes in one domain being reflected in another. Yet despite the significant investment in research and consultation processes by many people over numerous years, no clear end point appears to have been reached in terms of realizing intertidal mudflat and saltmarsh conservation and sustainable use.

Building on these findings, the study used multi-methodology systems intervention as a lens through which to view and make sense of what the existing decision-making process is, and how to intervene to change (improve) it. It found that the decision-making process fails to start out systemically, and that an emphasis on participation through consultation is perhaps not the best means of involving stakeholders. The gradual "closing down" of options as a result of the above means that there is often inaction or delays in taking actions due to multiple diverse perspectives regarding what action is required, how, why and by who. An "improved" decision-making process is suggested and trialled involving a social learning cycle based on systems thinking and practice, in which stakeholders engage in dialogue and work together to make decisions and take actions towards the conservation and sustainable use of intertidal mudflats and saltmarshes.

The outcomes from a pilot study workshop demonstrate that the "improved" decision-making process generally proved very successful for this group of stakeholders. It engaged them in dialogue and in working together using skills and techniques in systems thinking, modelling, negotiating and evaluating, leading to new insights and shared understandings about the problem situation, and concerted actions to improve it. Notwithstanding that there are some refinements that can be made to further improve the decision-making process as a result of "lessons learned" from the workshop, the participants' feedback confirms that it was appropriate in this context, and may also be useful in other complex situations, particularly those involving multiple stakeholders from diverse backgrounds. However, it is recognized that whilst the study has made significant progress towards understanding and improving decision-making for the conservation and sustainable use of intertidal mudflats and saltmarshes, there is still further work required before the improvements can be implemented on a local, national or global scale.

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