Tips on incorporating equity into decision-making
Improving social equity is important to good environmental outcomes
What constitutes equitable outcomes and processes is highly normative and subject to ethical deliberation
We encourage a more analytical incorporation of equity into conservation decision making (and provide a guide on how this might be done)
There are many reasons to consider social equity in conservation decisions. On the one hand, it’s a nice thing to strive for – we all would like to think we are being ‘fair’ in the decisions we are a part of (both as an individual and as a society). On the other, it can help build community support and participation (social capital) which is really valuable for successful conservation outcomes. But how do you integrate equity into conservation decisions? What does it even mean to be equitable? Understanding the multiple ways that equity can be perceived is key to answering these questions. Exploring different ethical frameworks can help us understand some fundamentally different perspectives of what is meant by ‘good’ or ‘right’. For example, three broad schools of ethical thought in Western philosophy include consequentialism, deontology, and virtue. Consequentialism focuses on the outcomes of actions, deontology on the actions themselves, and virtue on the inherent character of the decision-maker. These different philosophies then give rise to different motivations and objectives in how we incorporate equity in decision-making. Equity might implicate the process or procedure (eg, who gets to make the decisions and how), recognition (eg, what types of information are considered), distribution (eg, how are outcomes, rights, responsibilities, etc. allocated), and context (eg, what past injustices and historical legacies are considered).
But, as is common with complex problems, the multiple objectives can be in conflict. For example, equitable procedures may not lead to equitable distributions. And egalitarian distributions are rarely equitable in practice. Equity is a highly normative and multifaceted concept, where the objectives of equity may not be mutually achievable. So, as a policy goal, equity can be highly contested and problematic to implement. As such, we need to be really clear about what our motivations and objectives are for including equity. As researchers studying environmental decisions, how might we proceed in regards to equity? Many of the issues we deal with are controversial and politicised; and social equity is often a concern. We recently developed a framework to help deal with this challenge (Law et al, 2017). We identified motivations for considering equity (Fig 1), illustrated how alternative ethical frameworks can influence what is considered equitable, and demonstrated how alternative objectives might be in conflict. To help overcome the challenges associated with incorporating equity in conservation decision-making, here are ten tips for better integration.
Define motivations and objectives of equity within the context of the problem:
1. Clarify ethical motivations and how this may shape the way we identify the problem, the process and decision.
2. Identify the diversity of potential issues concerning equity at the outset, particularly the opportunities that might arise from instigating, exacerbating, or ameliorating conflict.
3. Determine which dimensions of equity are important given the objectives and the context. Given the tools and available data, which of these are tractable.
Plan for a diversity of stakeholders and objectives:
4. If stakeholders are involved in the decision process, be sensitive to potential conflict. Be aware of potential biases and limitations of the processes of elicitation and negotiation.
5. Determine the implications for equity of targets and objectives, and decide how to manage objectives that might be less measurable (though no less important).
6. Use informed and appropriate metrics of equity and efficiency carefully within planning and prioritisation (if this matches your objectives for equity).
7. Consider what you are asking stakeholders to do and whether this adequately compensates and incentivizes them for the duration of the intervention.
8. Consider decision models that allow a level of uncertainty due to self-determination.
Ensure equity is achieved during implementation:
9. Monitor and rigorously evaluate equity objectives during implementation, particularly when conservation actions rely on volunteer participation.
10. Expand, modify, or restrict the intervention as required.
We believe there is a big opportunity for conservation decision-making to be guided by these principles of ethical pluralism, particularly in the design of more holistic measures and methods for assessing equity. There is also scope for a better understanding of the preferences stakeholders hold for equity, as well as how policies achieve equity in practice (ie, applied ethics). Although incorporating equity into conservation decision-making adds a layer of complexity to an already challenging process, embracing this complexity will result in better more enduring conservation outcomes.
More info: Elizabeth Law firstname.lastname@example.org
Law EA, NJ Bennett, CD Ives, R Friedman, KJ Davis, C Archibald & KA Wilson (2017). Equity trade-offs in conservation decision making. Conservation Biology. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cobi.13008/abstract