Conceptual frameworks for ecosystem assessment: Their development, ownership, and use

Thomas P. Tomich, Alejandro Argumedo, Ivar Baste, Esther Camac, Colin Filer, Keisha Garcia, Kelly Garbach, Helmut J Geist, Anne-Marie Izac, Louis Lebel, Marcus Lee, Maiko Nishi, Lennart Olsson, Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne, Maurice Rawlins, Robert Scholes, Meine van Noordwijk

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter provides information on and lessons from experiences with conceptual frameworks that may help in adapting and developing a framework for an ecosystem assessment. The social process to create the conceptual framework is as important as the final product. This creative process requires interaction—and often involves tension—between users and the assessment team. The challenge of working together to create a shared conceptual framework can play an important role in creating ownership by the users of the assessment and in building an assessment team.

Recent experiences with global assessments, such as the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), show that conceptual frameworks can provide greater focus on key issues and relationships and serve a useful role in synthesis and cross-site comparisons. Although the MA framework has in some respects become a standard point of departure for ecosystem assessment, there is no unified theory on creating conceptual frameworks. Examples from MA subglobal assessments illustrate a range of pragmatic approaches, ranging from adaptation of the global conceptual framework to independence from it and including the use of multiple frameworks.

The people who are (or are not) informed about, consulted, and involved in creation of the conceptual framework and the ways in which their knowledge and expertise are valued (or not) will in many ways govern the entire assessment process. Both the groups consulted and the components that are valued by the assessment team as well as the quality of interaction between the assessment team and the stakeholders are important to developing a conceptual framework that effectively balances the principles of legitimacy, relevance, and credibility discussed in Chapter 2.

The chapter begins with a simple definition of a conceptual framework and then discusses some practical considerations of its meaning in ecosystem assessment. Section 3.2 explores the often intertwined challenges and opportunities involved in developing a conceptual framework. Sections 3.3 and 3.4 juxtapose the dual roles of conceptual frameworks in ecosystem assessments: as a means for clarity, credibility, and comparison and as a tool for engagement, usefulness, and legitimacy. Rather than adopting a conceptual framework entirely “off the shelf,” a pragmatic approach that blends various frameworks and methods to balance strengths and offset weaknesses seems to be the most appropriate method.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEcosystems and human well-being
Subtitle of host publicationA manual for assessment practitioners
EditorsNeville Ash, Hernan Blanco, Claire Brown, Keisha Garcia, Thomas Tomich, Bhaskar Vira, Monika Zurek
Place of PublicationWashington, DC, USA
PublisherIsland Press
Number of pages42
ISBN (Print)1597267112, 978-1597267113
Publication statusPublished - 5 Apr 2010

Publication series

NameWorld Conservation Monitoring
PublisherIsland Press


  • Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
  • Complexity
  • Driver
  • Uncertainty
  • User
  • Knowledge
  • Ecosystem change
  • Ecosystem service

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    Tomich, T. P., Argumedo, A., Baste, I., Camac, E., Filer, C., Garcia, K., Garbach, K., Geist, H. J., Izac, A-M., Lebel, L., Lee, M., Nishi, M., Olsson, L., Raudsepp-Hearne, C., Rawlins, M., Scholes, R., & van Noordwijk, M. (2010). Conceptual frameworks for ecosystem assessment: Their development, ownership, and use. In N. Ash, H. Blanco, C. Brown, K. Garcia, T. Tomich, B. Vira, & M. Zurek (Eds.), Ecosystems and human well-being : A manual for assessment practitioners (pp. 71-113). (World Conservation Monitoring). Island Press.