Due to their vital roles in providing essential resources, goods, and services to society, there is great interest in the functioning and sustainability of the resources and systems that provide food, energy, and water (FEW). The “FEW nexus” includes the necessary natural resources and their systems, the associated physical infrastructure, the institutions, and socio-economic systems that develop, use, guide, benefit from, and impact conditions in FEW (Hoff, 2011). Understanding the linkages within dynamic, nested, hierarchical, and evolving systems that comprise the FEW nexus, and considering them in decision-making and appropriate policy, could increase the efficient use of scarce resources, improve the quality and security of food, energy, and water supplies, as well as provide opportunities to grow economies and provide support for livelihoods (Hoff, 2011; World Economic Forum, 2011; Tidwell et al., 2014; Biggs et al., 2015; Wang et al., 2017).
To investigate the relevance of science, data, and integrated policy to enhance the sustainability of FEW systems, we conducted a survey of select stakeholder groups who engage with the FEW nexus in different ways. Others have solicited perceptions that are pertinent to FEW systems from stakeholders in non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the U.S. government, relevant industry, academia, forest harvesting and management, environmental conservation, education and training, consulting, and others who focus on socio-economic conditions (e.g., Hickey et al., 2007; Dwivedi and Alavalapati, 2009). Here, we surveyed stakeholders from three major groups that tend to focus on research and the production of knowledge at a university, those whose role is to bridge the university with the people in the state, and those who are practitioners and engage with policy in numerous ways. These groups were chosen in part because of varying relationships with the production and use of data and of policy and to provide a diverse set of stakeholder groups, which is useful for communication (NAS, 2017). Section 2 provides information on the survey and the characteristics of the stakeholder groups who were surveyed. The results of that survey are presented in section 3. Section 4 contains a discussion of the relevance of stakeholder perceptions and involvement in the FEW nexus.
Of the respondents from the stakeholder groups that we surveyed, Academics were typically least involved in policy overall, and they were also the least likely to view FEW policies as integrated. The consistent assessment across the respondents of the disparity between actual and ideal levels of policy integration does not necessarily suggest that there should be more policy for FEW, but instead more integrated policy for FEW.
All of the stakeholder groups assessed that enhancing sustainability for the FEW nexus requires more science and data, and that doing so also requires more integrated policy. But when forced to choose between spending on creating more science and data or more integrated policy, the stakeholder group that uses more policy in their work (i.e., the RAC) preferred to spend more on policy, while the stakeholder groups that use more science and data in their work (i.e., Extension and Academia) preferred to spend more on science and data.
Stakeholders within the FEW nexus clearly have overlapping and nested interests and considerations in both science and data (Figure 5A) and integrated policy (Figure 5B). The scopes and scales in Figure 5 are not independent; smaller scopes and scales are nested within larger scopes and scales, and the boundaries that separate consideration by stakeholders may be artificial and not consistent with the physical extents
The depictions of the ranges of interests for stakeholders throughout the FEW nexus in Figure 5 could be used as a point of departure to discuss and further investigate how the joint outcomes of decision-making by multiple stakeholders depend on the relative importance of science and data vs. integrated policy promote decisions that induce better economic, environmental, or social outcomes. Such Pareto-improving goals should seek to yield benefits that do not decrease environmental, economic, and social conditions or the welfare of FEW stakeholders.
© The authors.