Management of the sea is increasingly complex, riddled with uncertainty and necessitates involvement from researchers across disciplines and stakeholders from multiple policy and practice sectors. This article discusses “The Cooperative Participatory Evaluation of Renewable Technologies on Ecosystem Services” (CORPORATES) research project, which developed an innovative and practical method of linking ecological processes, ecosystem services and benefits. The research was conducted in the context of licensing decisions for offshore wind farms in the North Sea (Scotland, UK).
A set of linked, modular participatory processes were developed to foster cross-sector stakeholder engagement. It employed an exchange of ecological, legal, social, economic and cultural knowledge around marine ecosystem services. Workshop exercises included participatory mapping, benefit identification, and developing an understanding of linkages between ecosystem services, benefits, stakeholders’ activities and policy drivers through co-development of conceptual systems maps of the study area.
The participatory exercises fostered meaningful dialogue across sectors and an ability to participate equally, despite initial differences in knowledge about ecosystem services. The development of conceptual systems maps facilitated productive discussion about trade-offs in relation to different policies. Reflective discussion identifies ways in which the developed processes could be integrated into future decision making.
An assessment of the approach revealed that it operationalised a post normal science framework in terms of process oversight, multiple knowledge claims, and managing uncertainty. It developed a process that linked understanding of ecosystem functioning with the creation and implementation of policy thereby creating an ecosystem approach to marine spatial planning and licensing decisions, as required by law.
This approach has extensive transferability to situations where stakeholder engagement is required to develop policy and provide feedback as part of a decision-making process. It is an engagement, outreach tool for communities and can help teach methods and processes for stakeholder engagement which enable new insights.