Issue Identification

Issue Identification


The main aim of this step and task is to identify an 'Issue', which consists of:

The work of identifying this set is, logically, called Issue Identification. In earlier versions of the SAF guides, the task was called 'Issue Resolution', from the metaphor of bring the problem into focus by adjusting a telescope, but the name was changed on the grounds that this task is about defining the Issue, and not about solving the HA-impact problem, either now or later. A SAF application does not aim to solve problems, merely to give advice to stakeholders and environment managers, so that they can better deliberate about the options available to them. Sometimes solution will be achieved by the discussion that is part of 'Issue Identification'. The SAF application need continue with the work of making models only if there remain uncertainties or disagreements that can be reduced by further scientific work.


The SAF requires simulation and appraisal of social-ecological system state under several scenarios. Think of these as what-ifs? For example, what would happen to a fjord that was harmed by sewage discharge if sewage management option B were chosen instead of A? What might have been be the consequences across the EU if the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive had not been promulgated? A SAF application aims to compare consequences of these human choices in a safe 'virtual' world.

It will sometimes be necessary to take account of things outside local human control, such as the possibility of an earthquake (which might, for example damage a sewage treatment plant build according to conventional engineering principles), or the effects of global warming (rising sea-level might, for example, flood a treatment plant built too close to the sea-shore). These storylines of possible futures might be built into model simulations, or used in assessment of the socio-economic costs and benefits of different management or policy option scenarios.

The guide to Scenarios in System Design, available in pdf from this web-site, provides more detailed help.

Form the Reference Group

It is usually not feasible to engage with large groups of stakeholders during 'Issue Identification'. Instead, aim to work with a small group of environment managers and representatives of stakeholder concerns. We'll call this the Reference Group, because matters are referred to them. (In earlier drafts of these pages the term 'Stakeholder Participant Group' was used, but it is desirable to see 'stakeholding' and 'environment management' or 'policy making' as different roles, with both involved in the Reference Group.) If the scientists in the application team have already worked with industry, the public, or public officials, the initial Reference Group might be based on these contacts, but it is important that it becomes representative of all the types of actors and groups of stakeholders for whom the Issue is important. Alternatively, the group's members might come from a regional Environmental Forum, be elected or delegated at a larger public meeting, or already exist as a consequence of external identification of the Issue. It may be the scientists to take steps to form the Group, or this may already have been done by one of the other groups of actors when they initiated the Issue.

Agreeing the Issue

In some cases, the 'problem' and some of the management solutions may alreday have been identified when the SAF application is commissioned. Even in these cases it is worth proceeding through the relevant action points to agree the Issue package, because the new actors - be they scientists or stakeholders or public officials - may put up new points of view concerning the HA-to-Impact chain, or show that there are human activities and impacts, relevant to the problem, that have not yet been taken into account. Agreement about the Issue must include agreement on scenarios and on a set of social, economic and ecological indicators.

Background work

It will be useful for the natural scientists to begin studies of the HA-to-Impact chain in the ecosystem, to obtain information that can be taken back to the Reference Group to help in more clearly defining the Issue. Later, this information can also be used in the 'System Definition' task of the 'System Design' step.

Economic and social relevance of the Policy Issue

This sub-task concerns 'background' work by social and economic scientists to provide the context to the ecological cause-&-effect chain, and thus to understand the 'Issue' as a dysfunction in the social and ecological system. There are cross-links to action points in the previous task. Some of the results look forward to the definition of the Virtual System in the 'System Design' task, or to the evaluation of the model simulations in the 'System Appraisal' step.

The actions needed in relation to society include (if not already done as part of the Preliminary task) Policy-Stakeholder Mapping to identify the main groups of stakeholders in relation to the Issue. Guidance is given in the Stakeholder-Policy Mapping Users Manual, available in pdf from this web-site. A formal survey of stakeholder opinion may be useful if time, funds and skills permit.

The actions needed in relation to the local economy include listings or mappings of the main economic activities that involve a relevant Human Activity and Impact within the ecosystem; the main ecosystem Goods and Services that are relevant to the Issue; and the the main economic drivers of change within the Coastal Zone system (relevant to the Issue). Guidance is given in the document concerning Defining Economic Dimensions of Coastal Systems, available in pdf from this web-site.

Example Policy Issue

The Table shows (in very concise form) an example Issue, concerning eutrophication in a fjord in Sweden. Indicators of the state of the social-ecological system are included, with water transparency as an environmental indicator. It is easy to measure, widely understood, clearly relevant to the Issue of Eutrophication, and allows the success of management options to be assessed. The socio-economic indicator is the annual number of visitors to the fjord, considered as either an index of social satisfaction with water quality, or a proxy for money income from tourists.

Table 1: Example Policy Issue

Site: A fjord in Sweden, south of Stockholm
Reference group : About a dozen, including farmers, private citizens, elected representatives, officials from municipal authorities and the Environment Protection Agency
Human Activities: Discharges from Sewage Treatment Plants, agriculture, and private sewers
Forcing: Enrichment of the fjord with nutrients
Impact: Degradation of water quality which can deter tourists
(Policy) Issue: Eutrophication
Management options (scenarios): (i) increased stripping of nitrogen from STW discharge; (ii) connection of private sewers to public STW plant; (iii) change in farming practices so that small er amouts of nitrogen compounds enter the fjord
Social concerns: Desire for `clean' water in fjord, distribution of costs amongst stakeholder groups.
Economic aspects: Costs of sewage treatment, benefits of leisure visits
Provisional Indicators: Water transparency, number of visitors during year


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