NCEAS Product 25545

Sterling, Eleanor J.; Filardi, Chris; Toomey, Anne; Sigouin, Amanda; Betley, Erin; Gazit, Nadav; Newell, Jennifer; Albert, Simon; Alvira, Diana; Bergamini, Nadia; Blair, Mary; Boseto, David; Burrows, Kate; Bynum, Nora; Caillon, Sophie; Caselle, Jennifer E.; Claudet, Joachim; Cullman, Georgina; Dacks, Rachel; Eyzaguirre, Pablo; Gray, Steven A.; Herrera, James; Kenilorea, Peter; Kinney, Kealohanuiopuna; Kurashima, Natalie; Macey, Suzanne; Malone, Cynthia; Mauli, Senoveva; McCarter, Joe; McMillen, Heather; Pascua, Puaʻala; Pikacha, Patrick; Porzecanski, Ana L.; de Robert, Pascale; Salpeteur, Matthieu; Sirikolo, Myknee Q.; Stege, Mark H.; Stege, Kristina; Ticktin, Tamara; Vave, Ron; Wali, Alaka; West, Paige; Winter, Kawika B.; Jupiter, Stacy D. 2017. Biocultural approaches to well-being and sustainability indicators across scales. Nature Ecology & Evolution. (Abstract) (Online version)


Monitoring and evaluation are central to ensuring that innovative, multi-scale, and interdisciplinary approaches to sustainability are effective. The development of relevant indicators for local sustainable management outcomes, and the ability to link these to broader national and international policy targets, are key challenges for resource managers, policymakers, and scientists. Sets of indicators that capture both ecological and social-cultural factors, and the feedbacks between them, can underpin cross-scale linkages that help bridge local and global scale initiatives to increase resilience of both humans and ecosystems. Here we argue that biocultural approaches, in combination with methods for synthesizing across evidence from multiple sources, are critical to developing metrics that facilitate linkages across scales and dimensions. Biocultural approaches explicitly start with and build on local cultural perspectives — encompassing values, knowledges, and needs — and recognize feedbacks between ecosystems and human well-being. Adoption of these approaches can encourage exchange between local and global actors, and facilitate identification of crucial problems and solutions that are missing from many regional and international framings of sustainability. Resource managers, scientists, and policymakers need to be thoughtful about not only what kinds of indicators are measured, but also how indicators are designed, implemented, measured, and ultimately combined to evaluate resource use and well-being. We conclude by providing suggestions for translating between local and global indicator efforts. Complex global environmental challenges call for innovative, multi-scale, and interdisciplinary approaches to research-based policy and action1,2. Monitoring and evaluation are central to ensuring these approaches are effective3,4,5. Developing accurate indicators and relevant success criteria to assess the local outcomes of sustainability management actions, and linking them to broader national and international policy targets, remains a key challenge for resource managers, policymakers, and scientists2. What indicators we decide to measure and how we measure them impact the people and activities that are included in or affected by a given initiative. Efforts to evaluate well-being or resource use that are developed solely on regional or global scales may leave out indicators critical for local systems. They may discount, mischaracterize, or ignore place-based values, worldviews, and knowledge systems6,7,8. Culturally grounded perspectives are missing from many medium- and large-scale efforts developed by governments and other institutions that aim to implement sustainable resource management and monitor goals and targets9,10. Disconnects can result in miscommunication, misdirected resources, and policies that fail to inspire appropriate action11. More worryingly, assessments that lack a place-based cultural context can be harmful to communities, leading to loss of control over place, knowledge, or resources12,13. Many types of knowledge and knowledge system — from ways of knowing that reflect in situ, local, place-based cultural values (recognizing that ‘culture’ is dynamic8) to externally derived information from ex situ researchers or policymakers — can contribute to understanding and managing systems sustainably14,15,16 (Fig. 1). We use local, place-based, and in situ interchangeably to represent culturally grounded actors such as local or Indigenous peoples who manage cultural and biological resources and to differentiate from actors — be they local or external to a community — who are not familiar with the cultural practices of a place. We recognize individuals can be local in some contexts and external in others, and in a particular location people self-define with different ‘communities’ at different times.