Valuing Nature & Participatory Decision Making Conference

Participatory Decision Making

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Full programme available here

Date: 19 & 20 July 2016

Venue: University of Kent, Canterbury  

Organisers: Dr Robert Fish, Professor Douglas Macmillan, Dr Joseph Tzanopoulos

School of Anthropology and Conservation & Kent’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Spatial Studies 

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About this event

The developing interdisciplinary field of valuing nature for natural resource management is often set within wider commitments to strengthen and deepen stakeholder and public engagement in decision making. In principle, participatory approaches offer a socially extended, pluralistic and deliberative context in which to explore, debate, clarify and capture the many and diverse values that cohere around the natural environment to inform decisions and priorities. 

This conference, co-sponsored by the University of Kent and the Valuing Nature Programme, explored the critical, creative and practical challenges that arise when interests in valuing nature are extended into the participatory realm. It asked: how might a participatory approach transform the way valuation analyses are carried out within research and practice? And, how might valuing nature agendas affect the way researchers and practitioners think and go about participation?  


The conference involved researchers from the UK and beyond who are active in the area of valuing nature and/or participatory research, as well as those wishing to learn more about the general case for participatory approaches to valuation, their contexts and dynamics of use, as well as their implications for approaches to evidence gathering and decision making. This included researchers at all career stages from across the natural and social sciences and arts and humanities. More generally, the conference included policy makers and practitioners seeking to contribute to emerging research debates regarding participation from an applied starting point. 

Scope of contributions

Contributions covered a range of themes, including the following: 

  • Contexts and rationales for participatory valuation. Putting valuing nature agendas on a participatory footing challenges the conventional starting point and methods of much valuation research.  How then, do the ethical, practical and procedural grounds for participation in decision making translate into a case for participatory approaches to valuing nature? For example, in what sense does participation make valuation analysis more responsive to questions of environmental justice, fairness and equity in decision making, and thus further build social-ecological resilience? Are there circumstances and contexts of decision making (such as high uncertainty, complexity, and controversy) where valuation analysis lends itself especially to a participatory approach, or should participation be a foundational characteristic of all valuation practice? 
  • Innovations in analytic-deliberative approaches to valuation. Valuation increasingly meets participation in the form of hybrid analytical-deliberative research techniques, often straddling monetary and/or non-monetary assessments of environmental change. What major innovations and step changes are now occurring at the intersection of deliberation and valuation, such as in the practice of Deliberative Monetary Valuation (DMV) and Deliberative multi-criteria analysis (DMCA)? What challenges and opportunities arise for scaling up and embedding these techniques within decision-making?
  • Doing science in a participatory valuation context. Valuation has entered the fray of natural science as a method to understand and manage change in the natural environment. What are the consequences for the way natural scientists construct and procure valuation data and information when participatory techniques are embedded into research practice? How does a participatory approach change the way natural scientists do their work?
  • Stakeholder and public affiliation with valuing nature concepts. Agendas for valuing nature have proliferated a new and diverse set of languages and concepts that structure and frame the methods and mindsets of evidence gathering and decision making. How does the language and philosophy of valuing nature (and collateral concepts such as ‘natural capital’ and ‘ecosystem services’) affect and relate to willingness and inclination to engage in participatory processes? To what extent are these agendas driving research and policy variously absorbed, reconstructed and challenged in the context of participatory and deliberative practice?  
  • Re-thinking the ‘participant’ in valuing nature based decision making. Participatory approaches are often associated with more localised and situated forms of decision making. Yet concepts such as ecosystem services and the valuation of nature imply beneficiaries and stakeholders at multiple scales. Who, then, is the ‘participant’ in valuation based decision making? How can we mobilise and set boundaries around participation when values and decisions moves across scales?

Planned Output

  • Special edition of Environmental Values: The organisers of this event have secured agreement in principle for this event to lead to a special edition of the international peer-reviewed journal Environmental Values.