ARTICLE: A BC Strategy for Community Investment in the Natural Commons: Why Terminology and Bias Matter (Asset Management BC Newsletter, Winter 2020)

Note to Reader:

The Winter 2020 issue of the Asset Management BC Newsletter includes an article co-written by Kim Stephens and Tim Pringle, Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC. In the article, they describe where we have landed in crystallizing a way of thinking about ecological systems and services in an asset management context.

The point of departure for the article is this BIG IDEA: “The sustainability of core service delivery is a concern for local governments across Canada. Rather than continuing to attempt to do more with less, local governments have an opportunity to do things differently – and achieve better results – by including natural assets in asset management processes.”[1]

[1] Extracted from the introduction to Integrating Natural Assets into Asset Management, A Sustainable Service Delivery Primer, 2019, a companion document to Asset Management for Sustainable Service Delivery: A BC Framework.

How Communities Decide How Much to Invest in Creekshed Restoration

“Many local governments do seem willing to take a leap of faith and venture into uncharted territory to expand the scope of asset management to encompass ecological assets,” states Kim Stephens, Partnership Executive Director.

“Putting this big idea into practice, however, requires an understanding and a re-think of terminology that is currently in use for valuation of ecological systems and services. It also requires that asset management professionals understand what such terms mean, and are aware of the bias that may be implicit in traditional terminology.

“In other words, clear and effective communication of basic concepts is a foundation piece for ultimately changing the way local governments do business.”

Terminology and Bias Matter

“Bias comes into play in one or more of three ways,” continues Tim Pringle, Chair of the Ecological Accounting Process (EAP) initiative. “First, whether one breaks the ecological system into its parts, or looks at the system as a whole. Secondly, whether the analytical focus is solely on financial values, or also takes into account social values. Finally, whether the guiding philosophy for valuation primarily is influenced by academia and scientific arguments, or by how the community uses the natural commons (stream corridor). These biases seem to persist.”

“Through a series of demonstration applications, the EAP initiative is helping to change the language that we use in the local government and stewardship sectors to describe and value ecological systems and services they provided. In particular, EAP has introduced three types of ‘commons’ – natural, constructed and institutional.”

An Eco-Terminology Framework

“Along the way, and as our understanding has grown, the terminology that describes the EAP methodology and metrics has evolved. First of all, some concepts and terms are missing from the ecological systems and services lexicon. Secondly, we all benefit by using a common language to communicate among local government departments and within our communities.

“Thus, an outcome of EAP evolution is the identification of an eco-terminology framework that is appropriate and relevant to municipal asset management.”

To Learn More:

Download a copy A BC Strategy for Community Investment in the Natural Commons: Why Terminology and Bias Matter to read the complete article and gain an understanding of the concepts and definitions that have evolved through the EAP experience.

After that, read this article posted on the Green Infrastructure community-of-interest: A PROPERLY FUNCTIONING ‘NATURAL COMMONS’ SUPPORTS A PACKAGE OF ECOLOGICAL SERVICES: Ecological Accounting Process, EAP, is a pragmatic ‘made in British Columbia’ approach to financial valuation of the ecological services supplied by a stream

The parallel concepts of the NATURAL COMMONS and the CONSTRUCTED COMMONS enable residents, elected persons, and practitioners to consider ecological services and use of land (development) as equally important.