Navigating pluralism: Understanding perceptions of the ecosystem services concept

Jacob Ainscough*, Aster de Vries Lentsch, Marc Metzger, Mark Rounsevell, Matthias Schröter, Ben Delbaere, Rudolf de Groot, Jan Staes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Being open to multiple interpretations allows the ecosystem services concept to operate as a boundary object, facilitating communication and cooperation between different user groups. Yet there is a risk the resultant pluralism limits the capacity of ecosystem services assessments to directly inform decision and policy making, and that the concept could be used to support environmentally or socially harmful activities. Here, we report results from a large mixed methods survey conducted among academics, policymakers and practitioners working in the field of ecosystem services across Europe. We use these results to explore the trade-off that exists between the role of ecosystem services as a boundary object and the needs of policy and decision makers of more standardisation. We conclude this can be done by working towards the standardisation of ecosystem service assessments within specific jurisdictions, whilst maintaining forums for debate, collaboration, and critical reflection within the broader ecosystem services community. We also aim to deduce guiding principles to ensure the ecosystem services concept is not used to support detrimental activities. The consideration of shared and cultural values, the expansion of inter- and transdisciplinary work and the integration of the concept of sustainability are identified as valuable guiding principles to this end.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100892
JournalEcosystem Services
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2019


  • Boundary object
  • Ecosystem services
  • Guided pluralism
  • Science-policy interface
  • Sustainability

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