Ecological indicators: between the two fires of science & policy

E. Turnhout, M. Hisschemöller, H.J.P. Eijsackers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

244 Citations (Scopus)


This article approaches the concept of ecological indicators from a social science perspective. By applying theoretical concepts from policy analysis and social studies of science about knowledge utilization, problem structuring and the boundaries between science and policy to the issue of ecological indicators, we aim to contribute to our understanding not only of the development but more importantly of the actual use of ecological indicators in policy processes and the importance of political context. Our interest is in those ecological indicators that attempt to measure the ecological quality of ecosystems and that can be or are specifically developed to be used as instruments to evaluate the effects of policies on nature. We claim that these indicators, although they are highly dependent on scientific knowledge, cannot be solely science-based, due to the complexity of ecosystems and the normative aspects involved in assessing ecosystem quality. As a result, we situate ecological indicators in a fuzzy area between science and policy and between the production and the use of scientific knowledge. We will argue that ecological indicators can be expected to be used or rejected strategically, dependent on policy context. Furthermore we will argue that ecological indicators cannot be evaluated with traditional scientific quality criteria alone. The article concludes with some lessons for future indicator development one of them being the inclusion of stakeholder perspectives
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-228
JournalEcological Indicators
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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