NESH Approach

Ecosystem Sustainability and Health

NESH brings the most recent developments in ecosystem thinking to bear on local projects and problem-solving processes in regard to issues of sustainability and health. Examples of different ways that this approach has been implemented can be found in thepublications section.

When NESH was founded in the 1990s, there was no accepted methodology for tackling the sorts of complex questions being asked of scientists studying sustainability. James Kay's "Diamond Diagram", both a heuristic diagram and a related set of activities that encapsulates our version of an adaptive ecosystem approach, provides the theoretical foundation for the Network. The diagram encapsulates the importance of linking social-cultural and ecological understanding to arrive at socially agreed-upon scenarios, which can then be used as a basis for public policy and action.

Using the diamond diagram as a base, and integrating insights from the IDRC-funded Eco-health projects in Kenya, Nepal, and Peru, NESH members have now developed and tested anAdaptive Methodology for Ecosystems Sustainability and Health (AMESH). Unlike many scholarly methods, which rely on using set techniques in a specific order, AMESH focuses on developing a set of guiding principles, guiding questions, associated activities, and measures of quality, for the application of complex systems thinking to community and regional sustainable development programmes.

Shedding light on integrated governance for water, health and social–ecological systems as learned through the Diamond Diagram and AMESH, the NESH team recently created the Prism Framework. The three-dimensional Prism Framework depicts four pillars (watersheds, ecosystems, social systems, health/well-being) and four governance perspectives from which to understand the links between watershed management and the determinants of health:

Water Governance for Sustainable Development

Water Governance for Ecosystems and Wellbeing

Water Governance for Social Determinants of Health

Water Governance for Socio-Ecological Health Promotion





Water Governance for Socio-Ecological Health Promotion



Source: Parkes et al. 2010 (Global Environmental Change)

Why Ecosystems?

All life on this planet is nurtured and sustained by nested biological and physical relationships and feedback loops. It is useful in problem-solving and decision-making to conceptualize these relationships in terms of ecosystems. Thinking about ecosystems must be the context for any vision of sustainable life on Earth.

Why Sustainability and Health?

Poverty and injustice are sustainable, yet these are not ideals to aspire to. Health offers an approach to assessing the multi-faceted well-being of organisms, populations, communities and ecosystems. The combination of health with sustainability brings together the notion of a currently desirable state with that of longevity. In this, the less focused notions of what has been called sustainable development are made clear.

Why an Adaptive Ecosystem Approach?

People are an integral component of the global ecosystem. Sustainability of humans is an ecosystem problem, and sustainability of ecosystems is a human problem. The ecosystem approach must, therefore, bring together the most current scientific understanding of ecosystems with community participatory approaches, to help people resolve situations in which problems and solutions interact in complex and often surprising ways. Our aim is to help communities to anticipate and adapt, rather than to predict and control. Fundamentally, this is what sustainable development is all about.