Environmental Monitoring and Assessment

, Volume 183, Issue 1–4, pp 465–483 | Cite as

Deliberative assessment in complex socioecological systems: recommendations for environmental assessment in drylands

  • Stephen Whitfield
  • Helmut J. Geist
  • Antonio A. R. Ioris


Desertification is a complex process, characterised not only by a damaged ecology but also by conflict over access to scarce resources and trade-offs between the needs of multiple stakeholders at multiple scales. As such, orthodox approaches to environmental assessment in drylands, which rely solely on ecological expertise, are gradually losing legitimacy and greater attention is being given to integrated and participatory assessment approaches, which draw on multiple sources of knowledge in order to accurately describe complex socioecological processes. Moreover, there is growing recognition that successful management of desertification requires a strategy that can accommodate the multiple and often competing needs of contemporary and future stakeholders. In light of these conceptual advances, this paper highlights seven key criteria that dryland environmental assessments must meet: (1) accurately understand complex socioecological system processes, (2) focus on slow variables, (3) integrate multiple scales of analysis, (4) integrate multiple stakeholder perspectives and values, (5) ensure that future generations are fairly represented, (6) ensure that less powerful stakeholders are fairly represented and (7) integrate local and scientific knowledge. The virtues and challenges of deliberative environmental assessments, a novel subset of participatory environmental assessment approaches which places emphasis on social learning, argumentation and critical reflection, are considered in relation to each of these requirements. We argue that deliberative approaches have the potential to achieve accurate, progressive and integrated assessment of dryland environments.


Deliberation Integrated assessment Participation Local ecological knowledge Desertification 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen Whitfield
    • 1
  • Helmut J. Geist
    • 1
    • 2
  • Antonio A. R. Ioris
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.School of GeosciencesUniversity of AberdeenAberdeenUK
  2. 2.Centre for Sustainable International DevelopmentAberdeenUK
  3. 3.Aberdeen Centre for Environmental SustainabilityUniversity of AberdeenAberdeenUK

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