By Ben Halpern

Editor's note: The goal of The EBM Toolbox is to promote awareness of tools for facilitating EBM and MSP processes. It is brought to you by the EBM Tools Network, a voluntary alliance of tool users, developers, and training providers.

The rising interest in addressing social issues within conservation planning has led to increasing awareness of the need to address equity, both for its own sake and for how it can affect conservation success. Below I describe a few key tools that can help incorporate equity concerns in resource management and conservation planning.

For setting clear objectives

Conservation planning requires clearly defined objectives. Traditionally such objectives have included things like maximizing species richness at minimum cost, building connectivity between patches, or protecting a minimum area of critical habitats. Equity concerns in conservation are no different. If equity is something you care about, make it an explicit objective. This requires planners to know: a) what type(s) of equity people in the planning area care about, and b) how to measure those types of equity (see Halpern et al. 2013 PNAS and Klein et al. 2015 GEC for further details).

To assess equity concerns: Survey your community, informally at a minimum but ideally more formally. Create a structured survey that asks key stakeholders and the broader community about their concerns related to each type of equity (procedural vs. distributive; gender, occupational, class, generational; etc.) and how important each is. If you want to know the relative importance of the different types of equity, use something like Analytical Hierarchy Process (AHP) to elicit relative weights.

To measure equity: Once you know which type(s) of equity are most important to people, make sure you know how to measure them correctly. Are people concerned about change in access to a resource, or financial benefit/cost under new management rules, or both? Do people care more about equality (everyone gets exactly the same amount) or equity (some proportional or relative distribution)? Make sure the management plan is set up to measure and monitor these aspects of the community once new management rules are in place.

For assessing equity tradeoffs

Whenever there are multiple objectives in conservation planning, tradeoffs between those objectives likely exist. Just as conservation outcomes and costs often have tradeoffs (e.g., achieving perfect conservation outcomes is generally really expensive, whereas one can achieve modest conservation outcomes with a smaller budget), equity and conservation can be at odds with each other (see Fig. 1). When developing and assessing spatially explicit plans, a number of potential tools can be used to evaluate the potential tradeoff between equity and conservation goals: Marxan, InVEST, or other ecosystem service modeling tools. In each case, you have to track the equity outcome of each possible spatial plan and then plot those outcomes (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Relationship between conservation and equity outcomes. Increasing how much one achieves of one outcome often requires reducing how much can be gained of the other outcome, and vice versa – a typical tradeoff in objectives. Top Panel: Simulated outcomes from a range of possible management scenarios (each point) show that different management actions can have very different consequences for one or both of the planning objectives (find additional examples here). Bottom Panel: Here the tradeoff emerges as concave (weak tradeoff), but there are many possible shapes to these tradeoffs (learn more here and here), including no tradeoff where the ‘curve’ would actually be a square.

[Editor’s note: Ben Halpern is a professor of marine biology and conservation science at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara; director of the National Center for Environmental Assessment and Synthesis; and director of the Center for Marine Assessment and Planning. His research focuses on issues and questions related to the effective and efficient protection and sustainable use of marine resources. Read more about his research. He can be reached at]