Mark Everard

What is the job of a river?

The latest 'engaging people' column has just been published in the environmentalist, and it's about ecosystem services and stakeholder engagement. It was a lot of fun writing this article with the erudite and ebullient Mark Everard, who I first met when working with The Natural Step.  Mark is one of that rare - but thankfully increasing - breed of technical experts who really understand the importance and value of stakeholder engagement. 

The article explores engaging people in using an ecosystems services approach to understand places, problems and solutions.

It was great to compare experiences of running stakeholder workshops which are either centred on ecosystems services, or included a nod to that way of thinking.

Mark's experience has been more extensive than mine, and he seems to have witnessed more positive resolutions.  When a farmer asked "what is the job of a river" in the workshop I was running, he gave his own answer: it's to carry water away from farmland as fast as possible.  There wasn't the opportunity to enable a longer conversation which could acknowledge watery multi-tasking, and the benefits people from it.

We all rely on ecosystem services, whether we like it or not.  We all eat food.  We all drink water.  We all breathe air.  Mostly, in a country like the UK, we just don't realise that these are ecosystem services - carrots come from the supermarket, not an ecosystem. 

But it seems to me that some people feel threatened by the weight given to ecosystem services which seem - to them - to be more 'about birds than people'.  Dialogue which enables deeper understanding of our dependence on the natural world is enormously helpful, but in my experience it is hard to engage people in this kind of conversation when they are suspicious that the process it is part of is an excuse for stopping them meeting what they see as their more immediate and direct needs.

So I'm excited to hear about Mark's successes in moving beyond mistrust.