Decision-making, now in 3D: Exploring three dimensions of decision-making processes and their consequences for biodiversity research

Yann Laurans, Xavier Leflaive & Aleksandar Rankovic (2020)

Environmental Science and Policy, 113, pp. 31-38.

Abstract. Science and knowledge are called to participate in the institutional, political and behavioral changes that are necessary to address biodiversity loss. Knowledge however does not possess direct performative powers, and the relationships between knowledge production and use are complex, as has been documented for multiple issues and by different fields of research. This paper proposes to unpack three dimensions of “decision-making”. By taking the field of ecosystem service assessment and valuation as its main example, the paper discusses and illustrates how this unpacking can help researchers situate themselves in the diversity of decision-making contexts that can exist, and how this can influence the contributions they can make to try and solve biodiversity issues they are involved in. After describing some key characteristics of the “rationalist” vision of decision, it suggests that looking at the temporal continuity of decision-making processes (e.g., a one-time moment versus a continuous and diffuse process), the degree of conflict in a process, and the range of actors involved and their modes of interaction, widely expands the variety of ways that ecosystem service assessment and valuation can be involved in decision-making. The paper uses three case studies to illustrate this variety, and discusses some implications for researchers, both in terms of acknowledging their situatedness and of future research prospects.

Extract. “It is only in the second half of the last decade that the question of how ecosystem service assessment and valuation are actually used in real-life decision-making has progressively been empirically studied, in various environmental contexts (Guerry et al., 2015; Kilham and Reinecke, 2015; Lautenbach et al., 2015; McKenzie et al., 2014; Ruckelshaus et al., 2015) or more specifically for tropical coastal management contexts (Laurans et al., 2013; Marre et al., 2015, 2016; Waite et al., 2015). This – rather new – research field is congruent with mounting evidence that ecosystem services assessments and valuations are not commonly used as assumed by textbooks and mainstream theoretical frameworks (Laurans et al., 2013b). It is also congruent with the diverse body of work mentioned above, and reflects the results of diverse works rooted in sociology and economics, especially convention theory, that shows how groups use varied tests and proofs in their disputes, putting the question of modes of commensurability at the centre of their observation (Boltanski and Thévenot, 1991; Centemeri, 2015; Fourcade, 2011; Hertin et al., 2009). […]  Conventions that frame a particular decision (or account of a decision) can be challenged from another perspective, which embodies a competing convention. There is no rational way competition or tensions across conventions can be addressed and mitigated (Boltanski and Chiapello, 2007; Boltanski and Thévenot, 1991). In that context, knowledge and science can be used to fuel the critique of a prevailing convention. A requisite is to demonstrate the very possibility of a critique and alternative worldviews. In such contexts, information does not focus so much on facts, but on the assumptions that frame the narratives used to account for facts. Literary critique can be a resource.” (p. 32/38)

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