Introduction to the SAF Glossary

The SAF glossary has been developed to assist users of the SAF products, in particular the Systems Approach Framework Handbook (SAF) and the various case studies. The SAF makes use of wide variety of terms. The aim of the glossary is to provide clear and unambiguous definitions of terms that might be unfamiliar to users.

The SAF provides a way to understand and model problems in ecological, social and economic systems. It draws heavily on General System Theory, largely the work of Ludwig von Bertalanffy, on the Soft Systems Methodology of Peter Checkland, as well as on social-ecological concepts and approaches from such sources as Eugene and Howard Odum, C.S. (Buzz) Holling, Niklas Luhmann, Jürgen Habermas, Robert Costanza, Elinor Ostrom, Herman Daly, and Karl Popper. The mix of disciplines, and particularly of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ perspectives on systems, poses challenges for language and communication. As has been discovered in countless other cross-disciplinary efforts, different disciplines can have different perspectives on, and definitions of, the same words. Existing definitions did not always adequately encompass the way some terms were used in the SAF, and so these terms have come to have their own, unique, SAF nuance.

The SAF glossary serves as a reference point for standardising language when applying the SAF. It comprises more than 230 terms and definitions, of which about 150 are derived from or based on existing definitions. Sources are provided and range from scientific literature, to glossaries constructed by such organisations as UNDP, OECD and EEA, to internet sources (Wikipedia, on-line dictionaries, etc.). Its focus on the coastal zone means that the glossary augments the coastal wikipedia (

Construction of the glossary confronted the editorial team with the multitude of terms and the diversity of meanings, and so facilitated rationalisation, consistency and clarity of language in the generation of the SAF, the handbook, and related products. By streamlining language and by encouraging discussions directed towards streamlining language, the glossary also makes an important contribution to multi-/inter-/transdisciplinary science.

Please cite the SAF glossary as follows:
Gilbert, A. et al (2011), Coastal SAF Glossary, URL: (access date)

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