Original Article

Water Resources Management

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 111-128

Integration of the biophysical and social sciences using an indicator approach: Addressing water problems at different scales

  • Caroline A. SullivanAffiliated withCentre for Ecology and Hydrology Email author 
  • , Jeremy MeighAffiliated withCentre for Ecology and Hydrology

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To be operationally sustainable, any system of environmental management needs to be based on a truly holistic assessment of all of the relevant factors influencing it. This is of course a daunting task, demanding as it does detailed and reliable data, not only from both the physical and social sciences, but also incorporating some representation of that part of knowledge which could be described as non-scientific. This could be said to include the uncertainties of market forces and political will, as well as traditional knowledge systems, and artistic representation. Recognising the limitations of our own knowledge system is important if we are to make progress in the achievement of sustainability. The development of less deterministic models is a step forward in that direction.

This paper provides some discussion on the challenges associated with the integration of data from different disciplines, and the application of that data at different scales. Alternative approaches to the assessment of water resources for policy making are highlighted, and the validity of using such assessments at different scales is discussed. Using the Water Poverty Index as illustration, examples are provided of how an integrated assessment framework can be used to provide consistency and transparency in decision-making, and how this can, in practice, be applied at a variety of scales.


Integration Indicators Water resources Water Poverty Index (WPI) Water management Spatial scale Poverty