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Mainstreaming the Environment Exploring pathways and narratives to improve policy and decisionmaking

18 Nov 2021

Mainstreaming the Environment: Exploring pathways and narratives to improve policy and decision-making

Alister Scott, Rachel Holtby, Holly East, Aisling Lannin

  1. Mainstreaming is an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary endeavour of normalising an idea from one policy domain into the decision-making and routine activities of other policy domains necessary for effective delivery over the long term.
  2. The desire to mainstream springs from an increasing acceptance of the need for interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches to tackle key societal challenges such as climate change and biodiversity decline. Here, traditional policy and disciplinary silos are broken down to pursue and deliver more holistic interventions.
  3. This paper offers an additionality perspective to mainstreaming based on four questions. What is mainstreaming and what additionality does it offer for environmental policy and practice? What theoretical insights emerge from the mainstreaming and associated literatures? How can mainstreaming processes and outcomes be conceptualised and assessed? How can we improve future environmental mainstreaming pathways?
  4. Building from literatures focussed on mainstreaming and policy integration, we construct a framework and supporting narrative focussing on the lifecycle dynamics of mainstreaming pathways; a significant research gap. Their nonlinear progress is captured using theoretical adaptations of diffusion of innovation and sustainability, moving from initial innovation through to persuasion and to acceptance pathways, with progress dependent on the interplay and impacts of hooks and barriers and the degree of collaboration and system change pursued.
  5. Our narrative is further illuminated using natural capital and ecosystem services which reveal that while some progress has been made primarily through weaker mainstreaming pathways, current efforts are still focussed on ‘persuading’ stakeholders of the environment's value, rather than on initial framing and governance arrangements to maximise future impact.
  6. We conclude that the framing and development of natural capital and ecosystem services primarily in the environment and economic sectors has limited mainstreaming activity to wider audiences due to the lack of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches being pursued from the outset, including a more publicly and professionally accessible vocabulary and collaborative governance and decision-making structures.
  7. We contend that our lifecycle narrative, with a focus on multiple pathways, hooks, barriers and collaboration makes a useful contribution to understanding mainstreaming dynamics and characteristics from which improved interventions can be developed.

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