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The Whole-of-System, Values-Based Framework can be used to trace how values are formed in a particular system. The components (parts) and processes interact to generate the intrinsic values and services that beneficiaries and stakeholders value[22][23][21].

Butterfly, Photo by SEQ Catchments

Quick facts

Social-ecological systems

are systems categorised by interactions between human (social) and biophysical (ecological) subsystems[6][9]. The term ‘social-ecological’ recognises that social and ecological subsystems are equally important (rather than using “socio” as a modifier) to the health of a system[2][4].

Why are values important?

Beneficiaries and stakeholders can value services for their economic, social, and cultural importance[22][10][19]. An ecosystem’s components and processes can also have intrinsic value for non-human beneficiaries[3][14][22]. Identifying what beneficiaries and stakeholders value and also including intrinsic values can help decision-makers understand what is important to those who rely on the environment. These values can also be used to measure and evaluate the effectiveness of rehabilitation activities[19][7][10].

Historically, management interventions have considered a narrow set of values and primarily focused on market values, either omitting or poorly considering the diverse values held by beneficiaries and stakeholders, that cannot be monetised[3][11][10]. However, because a wetland can be valued for many reasons, policies that favour a specific value type can lead to conflicts between beneficiaries and stakeholders who hold differing values[27][12][10]. Conflicts may also arise between beneficiaries and stakeholders who hold the same values for an ecosystem, but assign those values to a different part of an ecosystem (e.g. different components, locations within an ecosystem) or if those beneficiaries and stakeholders have different viewpoints on how to manage the ecosystem that they value[12]. On-ground managers and decision-makers should consider the biophysical, social, economic, and cultural values of an aquatic ecosystem when designing management interventions[18][12][13]. Active participation from beneficiaries and stakeholders in the planning, design, and implementation of a project using the Whole-of-System, Values-Based Framework can lead to the development of alternative management strategies that achieve outcomes that meet the biophysical needs of an environment and the values of a broad range of beneficiaries and stakeholders[29][19].


How are values formed?

The formation of social, cultural and economic values can be traced from the biophysical components and processes interacting to generate a supply of services that stakeholders interact with[21][23][22] (see also the Whole-of-System, Values-Based Framework). These interactions generate a benefit (e.g. through labour and/or capital goods) that is then valued (individually or collectively) by beneficiaries or stakeholders[17][22][14][8].


A simplified diagram of how social, cultural and economic values are formed in social-ecological systems. Adapted from Landers and Nahlik (2013), Scholte et al. (2015) and Haines-Young and Potschin (2018). [17][22][8]


Understanding exactly how and why beneficiaries and stakeholders value an ecosystem is complex[16][26]. For simplicity, the values that beneficiaries and stakeholders hold can be influenced by their worldviews, cultures, knowledge systems (e.g. Traditional Ecological Knowledge, academic, local), personal characteristics (e.g. age, income, gender, etc.) and connection to nature[22][5][19][12][22][20][10][24]. For example, some beneficiaries and stakeholders see people and nature as intertwined systems of life, while others view people and nature as distinctly separate[10]. A person’s values may influence their attitudes, management aspirations and behaviours within a social-ecological system[12][1].


A description of the worldviews that can influence the values that stakeholders and beneficiaries hold for a social-ecological system. Adapted from Jones et al. (2016)[12], O’Connor and Kenter (2019)[19] and Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)(2022)[10].

Worldview Emphasis
Anthropocentric Human-centred
Ecocentric Nature-centred
Pluricentric Centres the relationship between humans and non-human entities, including a system’s components and processes
Cosmocentric Centres the relationship between pluricentric and ecocentric worldviews and lives in harmony with all forms of existence, where both biotic and abiotic elements of nature are considered alive (e.g. kinship with the environment)


Beneficiaries and stakeholders interact with the biophysical environment in different ways and can view the world through different “Life Frames”[15][19][10]. People can view themselves as “living from”, “living in”, “living with” and “living as” nature[19][10]. These different Life Frames can influence the values held by beneficiaries and stakeholders and be used to better identify, understand and categorise those values[15][19][10]. The Life Frames in which beneficiaries and stakeholders view the world are not mutually exclusive and a beneficiary or stakeholder could view the environment through multiple Life Frames depending on how they are interacting with the environment[10].


A description of the different Life Frames for identifying and understanding the values that beneficiaries and stakeholders assign to services, including their emphasis (e.g. anthropocentric vs. ecocentric). Adapted from O’Connor and Kenter (2019)[19]and IPBES (2022)[10].

Life Frame Description Emphasis
Living from Nature is viewed as a resource for sustaining livelihoods, needs, wants, and providing sustenance (e.g. extractive use of an ecosystem) Anthropocentric
Living in Nature is viewed as a place for life events, including where social, cultural and recreational values are formed Anthropocentric
Living with Nature is viewed as providing essential life-supporting processes for non-human entities to co-exist alongside humans Ecocentric (can also be viewed as cosmocentric)
Living as Nature is viewed as being an essential part of oneself and comprising the physical, mental and spiritual part of self (e.g. kinship) Pluricentric (can also be viewed as cosmocentric)


How are values categorised?

There are several different ways that can be used to categorise the values assigned to ecosystem services[25]. One method identifies how values are influenced by worldviews and knowledge systems[10]. Values can then be categorised into broad values (i.e. guiding principles and life goals, such as livelihood or stewardship) or specific values (i.e. the importance of nature in particular situations, such as cultural meanings of fishing or fish as part of kinship)[10].


An example of a values typology that can be used to categorise the values of beneficiaries and stakeholders. Adapted from IPBES (2022)[10]


Specific values can be broadly categorised into instrumental, intrinsic, or relational under the different Life Frames and broad values[19][10][16]. These values are also sometimes categorised into “use” (i.e. values derived from interaction or use of the resource, either directly or indirectly) vs. “non-use” (i.e. values not associated with use of the environment or a tangible benefit). Values can be measured using indicators and metrics[10][28].


A description of categories for classifying the values, including their emphasis (e.g. anthropocentric vs. ecocentric). Adapted from O’Connor and Kenter (2019)[19], Kenter and O’Connor (2022)[16] and IPBES (2022)[10].

Specific value Definition Use type Emphasis
Instrumental Assigned to parts of nature that are used as a means to a desired end (e.g. as capital, a resource, etc.) and valued for its contributions to people Use Anthropocentric
Intrinsic See Wetland services and values Non-use Ecocentric
Relational Assigned to the parts of nature where people meaningfully engage with nature (e.g. through swimming, boating, hiking) and with other people through nature (e.g. sense of place, spirituality, care, reciprocity, sense of well-being) Non-use Anthropocentric



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Last updated: 24 March 2023

This page should be cited as:

Department of Environment and Science, Queensland (2023) Values, WetlandInfo website, accessed 13 April 2023. Available at:

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment and Science