Valuation of Terrestrial Ecosystem Services in a Multifunctional Peri-Urban Space. Final Report

Corentin M. Fontaine, Rik De Vreese, Ingrid Jacquemin, Allyson Marek, Dieter Mortelmans, Nicolas Dendoncker, Guenaël Devillet, Louis Francois, Ann Van Herzele

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


In this project, we presented a conceptual framework developed for the valuation of ecosystem services (ES) in a tightly integrated manner, grounded in participatory modelling. After Costanza (2000), de Groot et al. (2002) and Nelson et al. (2009), we argue that valuation of ES must be applied equally to the three dimensions of sustainable development: people, nature and economics. In addition, we stress the importance of using the spatial and temporal dimensions of ES as well because the distribution of land uses (i.e. spatial patterns) affects the amount of ES available in a given area and at a given point in time. We use an integrated DVM-ABM to model the spatio-dynamic evolution of ES in case study in central Belgium.
Based on this unified - but not simplistic - representation of ES valueS, we aim to derive appropriate guidelines to include ES valuation in extant policy measures for our case study, such as into Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEA). SEA is a major tool for policy makers to promote sustainable development by integrating environmental considerations into strategic decision-making for a wide range of actions and development sectors (Treweek et al. 2005). Cases studied by Slootweg and van Beukering (2008) provide evidence that valuation tools of ES can be integrated in the SEA process, providing information much wanted by decision-makers. Moreover, in all cases studied, valuation of ES resulted in major policy changes or decision-making on strategic plans (Slootweg and van Beukering 2008). Integrating the VOTES methodology within SEA will increase the attention towards ES within development and planning discussions.

By making our valuation framework participatory and, although the main aim of this participatory approach was to improve the quality of the valuation, it could be a first step towards greater appropriation of the ES concept by the various stakeholders involved in the project, from citizens to local decision makers. Graphic tools if well-chosen and properly applied have the capacity to facilitate stakeholder interaction. But at the same time it should be recognised that the same tools influence the content of the interaction: the knowledge that stakeholders bring to the table (Van Herzele and van Woerkum 2008) and the type of arguments that are exchanged (Van Herzele and van Woerkum 2011). Thus the tool actively participates and shapes the social interaction.
Our framework is being initially implemented in a study area of 4 municipalities belonging to the peri-urban belt of Brussels (two on each side of the main regions border). Nonetheless, it should be generic enough to be implemented elsewhere.
Some authors argue that the uncertainties related to the concept of ES and their valuation are so large (e.g. different values for different actors, values may change through time ...) that there is a need for a change in scientific posture when studying ES (Barnaud and Antona 2011). For Funtowicz and Ravetz (1994), when societal and scientific uncertainties are strong, scientists need to give up their role of experts and rather elicit a phase of dialogue between researchers, decision-makers and citizens. In such a post-normal posture, the key point is the quality of the interaction leading to decision-making.
In the framework proposed in this paper, uncertainties are large and in many cases, impossible to quantify. This is especially due to the scenario-based approach taken. Such an approach prevents to account for potential changes in values that may arise from changes in the offer of ES in the future. Nonetheless, the approach has the merit to already provide indications on the directions of change in the provision of ES for the future of the studied area. This is a necessary step when one targets a sustainable management of the local landscape. Besides, vectors of change in the importance of ES were also derived from that point, although with caution since it is based on a strong assumption of stable human preferences, which is debated by, among others, Costanza (2000) or Hein et al. (2006).
Whilst our framework is indeed participatory, it does not always confront the point of views of actors. For example, in the social assessment, we interviewed each stakeholder separately. Barnaud and Antona (2011) argue that the point of views of all stakeholders should rather be confronted from the start of a project to build a collective consensus on what ES should be prioritized and favour the emergence of win-win solutions later on in the project by anticipating potential trade-offs and synergies collectively, as well as distributional issues. Likewise, stakeholders are only partly involved in the development of the scenarios (i.e. for the building of the normative storyline). Therefore, the coupled DVM/ABM model developed in this project, whilst very efficient at deriving precise indicators of ES and ES change, may perhaps appear as a black-box to some stakeholders. To prevent this, a companion modelling approach could be implemented (Bousquet et al. 1999). Such an approach assumes a completely transparent modelling process, in which stakeholders participate in every step of the development of the multi-agent systems. However, the development of biophysical indicators of ES and ES change alone require a quite complex modelling of vegetation processes and land use interactions (e.g. erosion occur because of a certain combination of land covers along a hill slope). The challenge is thus to make this calculation transparent enough for decision-makers without jeopardizing the scientific precision of the model. In addition, this approach requires being much more flexible on the timeframe than we were and is much more time demanding for stakeholders' contribution. In that sense, the interviews did not request too much of stakeholders' time. With this first positive contact, the door is open for further, deeper and longer collaborations and should help tightening the links between local practitioners and scientists.
Building on this mutual trust, we should be able to question the outcomes of the valuation with stakeholders, and suggest improvements to the methodology. Indeed, the framework proposed should not be seen as a one-off method but rather as the first step of an iterative process towards participatory valuation of ES, integrated with SEA, by taking into account the three pillars of sustainable development within their spatial, temporal, community and decisional context.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationBrussels
PublisherBelgian Science Policy
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2012

Publication series

NameResearch Programme: Science for a Sustainable Development)


  • ecosystem service valuation
  • ecosystem services
  • socio-ecological system
  • land use change
  • landscape dynamic modelling
  • participatory mapping
  • stakeholder interviews
  • sustainable development scenarios
  • policymaking
  • mainstreaming ecosystem services

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