The Integrated Ecosystem Assessment Approach

What is NOAA’s Integrated Ecosystem Assessment?

NOAA’s Integrated Ecosystem Assessment (IEA) is an approach that engages scientists, stakeholders, and managers to integrate all components of an ecosystem, including human needs and activities, into the decision-making process so that managers can balance trade-offs and determine what is more likely to achieve their desired goals. This approach provides the science necessary to carry out Ecosystem-Based Management and is a key part of NOAA’s ecosystem science enterprise.

IEA approach is scalable
The IEA approach is iterative and can be adapted to meet the goals of the ecosystem as the environment and human activities change. An IEA can be implemented at the scale of the management issue or scope of the management body of interest; from addressing more traditional single species, sector, or ecosystem service needs within a broader ecosystem context all the way to full multi-sector EBM.

IEA approach is collaborative
The IEA approach is implemented collaboratively with managers and stakeholders. The NOAA IEA program is currently implementing the approach in 5 of 8 NOAA regional ecosystems. We have built strong working relationships with local, state, and federal resource management entities in these regions, and are working collaboratively with a variety of partners like Fishery Management Councils, National Marine Sanctuaries, and state coastal management agencies to implement and support management needs in an ecosystem context.

IEA approach is adaptable
The approach is designed to receive regular feedback to enable adaptive management as human and environmental aspects of the system evolve.

IEA approach is flexible
As depicted in the IEA “loop” diagram, the approach provides a consistent national approach but is flexible to accommodate regional needs. While the approach is an established framework, it is not prescriptive about the tools that can be used to implement the process. There are many relevant quantitative and qualitative tools that can be applied. Selection of which tools are used is dependent on available science capacity and the management objectives.

NOAA's Integrated Ecosystem Assessment Approach:

The Integrated Ecosystem Assessment approach. The approach guides users to clearly defining the goals and system of interest, identify indicators, assess the status of the ecosystem, conduct a risk assessment, evaluate potential management strategies, monitor, and repeat.
Download a copy of the approach (aka "the loop") with a description of each step here

Learn more about each step of the process:

Define the System and Goals       Select Indicators and Assess Ecosystem      Assess Risk     Evaluate Management Strategies

Why use the NOAA Integrated Ecosystem Assessment approach?

The IEA approach provides managers with science on all components of an ecosystem including humans so managers can make fully informed decisions that are more likely to achieve desired outcomes. The IEA approach does this by:

  • Building consensus and more complete understanding of the ecosystem
  • Building a network of interdisciplinary scientists
  • Explicitly considering all components of the ecosystem including humans
  • Identifying trade-offs to make decisions that result in the most desired outcome
  • Supporting transition to ecosystem-based management

Building consensus and more complete understanding of the ecosystem
One of the first steps in the IEA approach is to develop a conceptual model of the ecosystem and this often happens by a group of interdisciplinary scientists hosting a workshop with stakeholders to develop an agreed upon and comprehensive picture of the ecosystem. Therefore using the IEA approach helps create consensus and a more complete understanding of the ecosystem.

Building a network of interdisciplinary science and management partners
The IEA approach provides a way to link multiple disciplines of science together to understand how management actions would impact all components of an ecosystem including humans. This allows scientists to leverage the great work already being done while building new approaches.

Explicitly considering all components of the ecosystem including humans
The IEA approach integrates the full coupled socio-ecological systems in which natural and human systems are inextricably linked. This results in managers making fully informed decisions and having outcomes closer to the desired goal.

Identifying trade-offs to make decisions that result in the most desired outcome
As part of the fifth step of the IEA approach scientists evaluate management strategies to predict likely outcomes. This facilitates understanding of trade-offs between different stakeholder priorities that may otherwise be ignored. This helps managers make more informed decisions that are more likely to achieve the desired outcomes. Thereby allowing for a better balance between social, cultural, economic, and ecological objectives in marine socio-ecological systems.

Supports transition to ecosystem-based management
Importantly NOAA IEA serves as the catalyst, and safe space, to support scientists and managers as they shift their thinking beyond single-species or sector science and management towards science and management at an ecosystem-wide level. Some managers and scientists have been cautious to embrace EBM. This may in part be due to perceptions that it is too complicated, has intense information and data needs, and in some cases concern that the approach will lead to decreased resource access or other negative consequences for users of marine resources. The IEA approach provides a clear path forward to ease this transition with a stepwise approach that is flexible and adaptable.



Example of IEA scientists building consensus and defining the ecosystem with local community members in Hawai‘i. 




EBM graphic
Continuum of transitioning from traditional single-species management to multisector comprehensive EBM.