Getting started

Ecosystem assessments are integrated assessments which look at processes leading to change, impacts of and responses to change. They focus on the concept of ecosystem services and therefore provide the connection between environmental issues and people, considering both the ecosystems from which services are derived and the people who depend on and are affected by changes in the supply of services.

When planning an assessment, it is useful to focus and contextualise the entire process from the outset so that you can carefully plan and set out a practical framework that is right for your specific assessment. Download the diagram of the assessment process below to see the different steps to consider from planning, to implementation, to communication. A how-to manual can also be downloaded which provides a detailed exploration of the various steps in the assessment process. This manual is designed for assessment practitioners and follows the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

In 2011, over 70 Network members offered their lessons learned from undertaking assessments at sub-national scales. Their experiences were consolidated into a document containing eight lessons, which aims to help assessment practitioners design assessments that result in policy impact.

Policy impact

For an ecosystem assessment to achieve policy impact, three attributes are key to increasing the likelihood that the knowledge contained in an assessment will have influence. These are relevance, credibility, and legitimacy. Relevance refers to the ability of an assessment and its findings to address the particular concerns of a user. Legitimacy refers to the degree of political acceptability or perceived fairness of an assessment. Credibility refers to the perceived scientific and technical soundness of an assessment.

Initial question

One of the first questions to consider is – What is the need for an ecosystem assessment? It may be that undertaking an ecosystem assessment is not actually the most appropriate policy support tool to answer the policy question. Determining the need for an assessment is part of the initial stage of the assessment process – known as the Scoping StageAn ecosystem assessment is a social process and its success is dependent on stakeholder engagement from the outset. Consultation with all stakeholders and users of the assessment when determining the need of the assessment will help to secure their buy-in.

Case Study

Following the release of the findings of the global Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) in 2005 The House of Commons Environmental Audit responded by recommending that the Government should conduct a full MA-type assessment for the UK to enable the identification and development of effective policy responses to ecosystem service degradation.  The need for an ecosystem assessment of the UK was ascertained following a scoping study commissioned to identify and examine the potential benefits of undertaking an ecosystem assessment for England only. The scoping study highlighted the need for a broader geographic scope for the assessment, one which recognised that many ecosystem services cross political boundaries. This resulted in a full national-scale ecosystem assessment of the UK , which was published in 2011.

UK National Ecosystem Assessment

First steps

Contact Us

Our global Secretariat, based at UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge can help to guide you through the initial steps and put you in touch with assessments in your region.


Online Resources

This website provides a series of different resources that can help throughout the ecosystem assessment process and even to consider the next steps. See our resources or training events.

Resources Training