Natural resource and biodiversity management increasingly seeks to embrace the relationship between nature and people. Human uses of the marine environment often create pressures that drive overall condition, but it is also these uses that create ‘benefits’ or ‘values’ in the marine environment.

Frameworks that integrate social, economic and ecological concerns on an equal footing are gaining popularity as part of the process of embracing coupled human-nature systems. Identifying the assets, variables, indicators and data relevant to specific frameworks is essential to cost-effective environmental research, planning and action.

This project reviewed common frameworks that conceptualise the relationship between people and nature to identify which parts of the system influence environmental outcomes, and factors relevant to designing policy or influencing behaviours. A review of available data determined that insufficient data are available to adequately describe the integrated socio-ecological systems that support us. Because data collection is prohibitively expensive, it is important to think strategically about how to use existing information and prioritise the collection of new data.

Approach and findings

Insights from a broad range of disciplines and literatures were used to identify and describe the ‘ideal’ information set required to adequately support natural resource managers in different situations (the ‘wish list’). The wish list guided a search and compilation of relevant Australian data, the identification of knowledge gaps, and a discussion of how the existing compilation could best support decision makers.

To provide timely advice to decision makers, in consultation with a range of research users, the project team identified three common decision contexts or questions they faced:

  • I need to implement a social and economic monitoring program for an area of marine estate;
  • I need to make a choice between potential management actions; and
  • I need to shift to more pro-environmental behaviours.

Responding to these common problems, the team drew upon the larger review of commonly applied frameworks (summarised in the project report) to match appropriate frameworks to the decision-making context. Advice was given on the available data aligned with these frameworks, and the need for specific research. In reviewing the available data, the team categorised datasets against the types of data required for the System of Environmental Economic Accounts – Ecosystem Accounting, given this framework is widely used by research users.

Project location