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Whole-of-System, Values-Based Framework

Understanding the parts of a system (e.g. the components), how it works (e.g. the processes), how it integrates with the landscape at multiple scales, and the services and values it provides, are critical to developing appropriate management activities.


Wetlands have a range of values Photo by Queensland Government

Quick facts

Management does not always
use a Whole-of-System, Values-Based approach, instead parts of the system are managed individually or for specific needs, which can lead to mismanagement of an ecosystem or undesired outcomes from management interventions[5][2].

What is whole-of-system, values-based management?

Whole-of-system, values-based management, involves:

  • identifying and understanding a system of interest from a biophysical, social, cultural and economic perspectives, at multiple temporal and spatial scales
  • understanding the full range of direct and indirect drivers on the system
  • understanding how the components and processes of the system interact, within the broader landscape and at multiple temporal and spatial scales, to create intrinsic and existence values and ecosystem services
  • identifying and understanding the stakeholders and beneficiaries of the system and how services are valued (biophysical, social, cultural, economic, intrinsic)
  • identifying the current and potential pressures on the components and processes that support the values and identifying opportunities for better management
  • defining objectives and identifying the best mix of management interventions to maximise outcomes under the six themes of: (i) Best management practices and pressure reduction, (ii) Engagement, extension and education, (iii) Systems repair, (iv) Applied research and monitoring, (v) Engineered solutions and (vi) Planning and institutional arrangements,
  • undertaking the detailed design of a program of work, its implementation, maintenance, monitoring, evaluation and adaptive management.

Whole-of-system management is supported by critical underlying considerations, including:

  1. Inventory, science synthesis and research for knowledge gaps
  2. Maintenance, monitoring evaluation, adaptation and sharing
  3. Communication, capacity building, education, participation, and awareness.

What is values-based management?

Values-based management is a management approach that is adaptive (e.g. informed by “learning-by-doing”), based on the intrinsic and existence values and services provided by a system, and accounts for the different values, management needs, and priorities of stakeholders and beneficiaries. Values-based management ensures that biophysical, social, cultural, and economic values inform management priorities and are the basis for ongoing monitoring and evaluation of management performance.

What is the Whole-of-System, Values-Based Framework?

The Whole-of-System, Values-Based Framework (the Framework) draws explicit connections between the biophysical environment, the beneficiaries of the services provided by that ecosystem and their values. The Framework uses a holistic management approach to achieve outcomes that consider the biophysical environment alongside social, economic and cultural outcomes[2]. For example, coastal sand dunes (components) provide the service of protection from storms (process) for people living on the coast (beneficiaries) who may value the coastline for its aesthetic view.

The Framework has been developed through the synthesis of other frameworks and tools and extensive stakeholder consultation and is underpinned by underlying considerations.

An illustration of the relationship between the ecological and the social parts of an ecosystem that underpin the Whole-of-System, Values-based framework. Image by Queensland Government

Why is the Whole-of-System, Values-Based Framework necessary?

Humans are impacting ecosystems globally, including wetlands, through a range of activities such as development, changes in land use, and climate change[3]. Pressures on these ecosystems are not limited to those occurring within the ecosystem itself. They can also include pressures from the broader catchment and landscape[3]. Humans also highly value these same systems for the biophysical, social, economic and cultural services they provide.

The Framework is necessary to ensure that appropriate outcomes are achieved for the entire social-ecological system. For example, for a fishways project, there are multiple interests that need to be considered, such as current uses for water infrastructure (e.g. water supply) and social and economic interests (e.g. preserving fish populations for fisheries), in addition to improving fish passage and preserving/improving key habitat areas for fish life history events. Using the Framework ensures that these varying interests are considered when building fishways/removing barriers.

Many management frameworks focus on managing the parts of the ecosystem individually (e.g. economic, biophysical, etc.), rather than using an integrated approach that incorporates all parts of a social-ecological system[2]. Most existing management frameworks focus on biophysical/ecohydrological processes and do not adequately consider the social and cultural aspects of the environment[4]. Failure to use an integrated, whole-of-system, values-based approach can lead to poorly designed management interventions that generate biophysically or socially inappropriate outcomes[2][4] or have low buy-in from beneficiaries and other stakeholders because their values were not considered when the management interventions were developed[1].

The Framework forms the logic and underpins the Queensland Aquatic Ecosystem Rehabilitation Process and the Queensland River Rehabilitation Management Guideline.

Pages under this section


  1. ^ Benham, CF & Daniell, KA (August 2016), 'Putting transdisciplinary research into practice: A participatory approach to understanding change in coastal social-ecological systems', Ocean & Coastal Management. [online], vol. 128, pp. 29-39. Available at: [Accessed 20 October 2021].
  2. ^ a b c d Creighton, C, Waterhouse, J, Day, JC & Brodie, J (December 2021), 'Criteria for effective regional scale catchment to reef management: A case study of Australia's Great Barrier Reef', Marine Pollution Bulletin. [online], vol. 173, p. 112882. Available at: [Accessed 28 September 2021].
  3. ^ a b Gilby, BL, Weinstein, MP, Baker, R, Cebrian, J, Alford, SB, Chelsky, A, Colombano, D, Connolly, RM, Currin, CA, Feller, IC, Frank, A, Goeke, JA, Goodridge Gaines, LA, Hardcastle, FE, Henderson, CJ, Martin, CW, McDonald, AE, Morrison, BH, Olds, AD, Rehage, JS, Waltham, NJ & Ziegler, SL (10 September 2020), 'Human Actions Alter Tidal Marsh Seascapes and the Provision of Ecosystem Services', Estuaries and Coasts. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 October 2020].
  4. ^ a b Gurney, GG, Darling, ES, Jupiter, SD, Mangubhai, S, McClanahan, TR, Lestari, P, Pardede, S, Campbell, SJ, Fox, M, Naisilisili, W, Muthiga, NA, D’agata, S, Holmes, KE & Rossi, NA (December 2019), 'Implementing a social-ecological systems framework for conservation monitoring: lessons from a multi-country coral reef program', Biological Conservation. [online], vol. 240, p. 108298. Available at: [Accessed 12 October 2021].
  5. ^ Jupiter, SD, Wenger, A, Klein, CJ, Albert, S, Mangubhai, S, Nelson, J, Teneva, L, Tulloch, VJ, White, AT & Watson, JEM (September 2017), 'Opportunities and constraints for implementing integrated land–sea management on islands', Environmental Conservation. [online], vol. 44, no. 3, pp. 254-266. Available at: [Accessed 11 October 2021].

Last updated: 7 June 2022

This page should be cited as:

Department of Environment and Science, Queensland (2022) Whole-of-System, Values-Based Framework, WetlandInfo website, accessed 1 July 2022. Available at:

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment and Science