On the promise and impossibility of a ‘best’ valuation framework for marine management

Dr Marc Tadaki1, Mr Jim Sinner1, Dr Charlotte Šunde1, Dr Shaun Awatere2, Dr Bruce Glavovic3, Dr Nick Lewis4, Dr Janet Stephenson5

1Cawthron Institute, Nelson, New Zealand

2Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, Hamilton, New Zealand

3Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand

4University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand

5University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand


Environmental valuation is widely promoted as a technology for marine governance. As standardized techniques for comparing social and ecological ‘values’, valuation methods (it is hoped) provide a logic for rendering decisions that transparently and legitimately balance economic and ecological concerns. Scholars have debated the theoretical and democratic premises of different valuation methods, and much has been learned about how valuation might be useful. Despite the hopes of practitioners, however, there will not – and cannot – be a ‘best’ valuation method that can overcome the messy problems of place, power, and ecological contingency. This paper draws on interviews and engagements with community leaders in New Zealand’s Marlborough Sounds to show how and why a ‘best’ valuation framework is impossible. By conceptualising the moment of ‘valuation’ within its broader context, we show how valuation is inherently constrained by contestable choices about the bounding of the decision context, the pathways for community participation, and the vesting of decision making authority. Recognizing the impossibility of a ‘best’ valuation framework does not shackle the project of environmental valuation research so much as liberate it to enable practitioners to identify and rethink the often-invisible boundaries and effects of decision making frames.


Marc Tadaki is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Cawthron Institute in Aotearoa New Zealand. His research examines the relationships between environmental decision making, scientific expertise, and democracy.

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