Research Article: Developing an analytical framework for assessing progress toward ecosystem-based management

Date Published: May 28, 2015

Publisher: Springer Netherlands

Author(s): Sara Borgström, Örjan Bodin, Annica Sandström, Beatrice Crona.


Ecosystem-based management (EBM) has become a key instrument of contemporary environmental policy and practice. Given the increasingly important role of EBM, there is an urgent need for improved analytical approaches to assess if and to what extent EBM has been accomplished in any given case. Drawing on the vast literature on EBM, we identify five key ecosystem aspects for assessment. By linking these aspects to four phases of management, we develop an interdisciplinary, analytical framework that enables a high-resolution and systematic assessment of the degree of specificity and integration of ecosystem aspects in an EBM. We then apply the framework to evaluate five coastal EBM initiatives in Sweden, four on the Baltic coast and one on the west coast. Our results demonstrate our framework’s usefulness for in-depth and continuous assessments of processes aiming for EBM, and also provide an empirical basis for inferences about the key challenges for successful EBM.

Partial Text

Ecosystem-based management (EBM) can be seen as an overarching strategy to handle the complexity of environmental challenges, which has been developed from research into policy and practices since the 1990s. Today EBM is recognised at a global policy level through e.g., the Malawi principles, which guide the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity (UNEP 1998; CBD 2014) (Supplementary Material S1a; Supplementary Material is hereafter referred to as SM). It has also become one of the main guiding principles in environmental governance at national, regional, and local levels, such as Integrated Coastal Zone Management, ICZM (e.g., Belfiore 2003) and several European Union policies (Apitz et al. 2006), e.g., the Water Framework Directive (European Commission 2000), the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (European Council 2008), and the Landscape convention (Council of Europe 2000).

Our assessments of the five EBM plans highlight some general points that exemplify the use of the assessment framework. Our analysis suggests that achieving high scores for specificity and integration is the most difficult part of EBM. Without underestimating the challenge of reaching good understanding of the system to be managed, it seems even more challenging to turn those insights into coherent, integrated and well specified goals, strategies, measures, monitoring and evaluation activities. This indicates that the ability to deliver good results on this core feature of EBM is still underdeveloped despite several decades of scientific and policy-practice elaborations about EBM.