‘Mind the Gap’ between ecosystem services classification and strategic decision making

Alexander P.E. van Oudenhoven* (Corresponding Author), Ewert Aukes, Lotte E. Bontje, Vera Vikolainen, Peter M. van Bodegom, Jill H. Slinger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)
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Ecosystem services (ES) are increasingly embedded in policy agendas, but if and how policy actors are considering them is not often reported. This study assesses the extent to which ES were considered by key policy actors involved in the strategic decision-making process leading to an innovative large-scale Dutch coastal management project. We analysed retrospective interviews to ascertain which ES were considered and how they were described by policy actors. Over half of the quotes (118/228) and 16 out of the 17 interviewees referred to three broad ES categories, with high degrees of adoption: coastal safety, recreation and cognitive development (learning by doing). The broad terms ‘nature’ and ‘spatial quality’ were also referenced often (36 times). Our findings suggest that broad, unspecified ecosystem services were adopted highly by the policy actors, while specific ecosystem service categories were rarely considered. Relatable and comprehensible cultural ecosystem services also constituted critical arguments for policy actors in their strategic decision making. We reflect that ambiguous, broad terms can help to garner support and unite efforts across disciplinary and institutional boundaries. For ES to align with relevant aspects of decision making, a ‘translation step’ between ES research and decision making might be required and ambiguity should be acknowledged.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-88
Number of pages12
JournalEcosystem services
Issue numberPart A
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2018


  • Boundary object
  • Coastal management
  • Ecological engineering
  • Nature-based solutions
  • Science-policy interface
  • Ambiguity
  • 22/3 OA procedure


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