InVEST in Practice

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InVEST in Practice is a series of introductory guides on applying InVEST models in planning processes and policy development. Each brochure presents a general protocol for applying InVEST, defines key issues for a specific planning context, and reviews examples of NatCap's previous applications of the software to real decisions.

InVEST models are designed to be adaptable to the resource-use choices of a range of actors (e.g., public agencies, the private sector, NGOs, community groups) and the different environmental contexts in which they operate. NatCap scientists have used InVEST in over twenty places around the world to support major resource-use and spatial planning decisions. The processes outlined in the sections below draw from these experiences, and can be adapted to distinct users' objectives, capacity, and time constraints.

Applications to Existing Policy Contexts

InVEST is an effective decision-support tool applicable to diverse policy and planning contexts. InVEST models can locate where ecosystem services are supplied and delivered across a landscape, and provide a coarse assessment of their changes under alternative land-use plans or impact mitigation options. Outputs from InVEST provide visual aids and data to meaningfully engage stakeholders in iterating possible futures and focusing collective priorities.

The applicability of InVEST to decisions depends on the quality and availability of data, modeling capacity, local institutional and governance structures, and the policy time frame. The guidance in InVEST in Practice brochures will be most useful for beginning InVEST users or those interested in the general process of using ecological production function models to inform decisions.

Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning

Marine spatial planning is a process for allocating the spatial and temporal distribution of human activities in marine areas to achieve ecological, economic, and social objectives. In the past, marine management practices have often been ineffective because they optimize for a single target species and disregard habitat, non-target species, and how people interact with the environment. An ecosystem-based management (EBM) approach attempts to address these weaknesses by considering multiple spatial and temporal scales, linking ecosystems and communities, connecting management efforts across air, land and sea boundaries, and engaging meaningfully with stakeholders.

InVEST can inform an EBM approach to coastal and marine spatial planning processes by quantifying and mapping the expected changes to a suite of ecosystem services provided by marine and coastal regions under different management alternatives.

InVEST in Practice: Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning

Terrestrial Carbon Offsets

Reducing or avoiding land-based emissions can be a cost-effective method of addressing climate change. The voluntary carbon market offers many land-based offset options that can include reforestation, agroforestry or reducing deforestation.

Land-based carbon offset projects often provide benefits in addition to carbon sequestration, such as biodiversity conservation, diversification of agriculture, soil and water protection, employment, and ecotourism. InVEST can help support land-based carbon offset projects by identifying how and where these 'co-benefits' from carbon investments can be maximized. Such information can be used to guide the selection of projects for investment, improve the efficiency of chosen projects and to estimate the likely level of co-benefits.

InVEST in Practice: Carbon Offsets

InVEST Tips Sheet: Using InVEST for REDD+

Environmental and Social Impact Assessments

Environmental impact assessments (EIAs) involve processes to identify, predict, evaluate and mitigate the negative biophysical and social impacts of development plans. Social impact assessments focus specifically on measuring development's impact to human communities. ESIAs tend to be more project-based than strategic environmental assessments (SEAs), and may call for mitigation efforts, such as compensation for losses of biodiversity, following a mitigation hierarchy designed to avoided, minimize, and offset harmful impacts.

InVEST can be used to design analytically-rigorous environmental and social impact assessments (ESIAs) by quantifying the expected Iosses and gains of ecosystem services from development proposals. InVEST enables spatially-explicit evaluations of project alternatives and realistic mitigation plans. Using a "serviceshed" approach, which maps areas providing specific ES to specific beneficiaries, InVEST users can also compare changes in ES access among different communities.

InVEST in Practice: Environmental and Social Impact Assessments

Payments for Watershed Services and Water Funds

PWS are a type of payments for ecosystem services (PES) that focus on hydrological services, such as flood control, regulation of water supply, water purification, and erosion control. PES are contractual and voluntary transactions where a 'buyer' agrees to provide 'payment' to a 'seller' conditional on delivery of an environmental service, or implementation of a land use or management practice likely to secure that service. PWS create financial incentives to protect, restore, or sustain ecosystem services provided by watersheds.

Water funds are a type of PWS in which financing is administered based on an independently governed trust fund, which enables a long-term horizon for activities.

Both InVEST and RIOS can be used to design cost-effective PWS and water funds. InVEST models can quantify the supply, location, and value of water-related ecosystem services and identify desired levels of their provisioning. RIOS can help target investments in management activities (e.g., restoration or protection) to meet multiple goals, and select among options based on ecosystem service returns.

InVEST in Practice: PWS and water funds

Strategic Environmental Assessments

Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs) are analytical and participatory approaches that aim to integrate environmental considerations into policies, development plans, and programs. SEAs are broader in scope and enable earlier and more proactive consideration of environmental considerations than Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), which are typically applied to individual projects.

SEAs are increasingly institutionalized within government decision making, particularly in developed countries. With this increasing global uptake, SEAs provide a powerful process for embedding the scientific results of InVEST analyses in planning and policy. InVEST can help support an SEA by identifying how policies, plans and programs can meet multiple goals, and by guiding selection of the best alternatives.

Download InVEST in Practice: SEAs

Land Use Planning

Land use planning assesses land and water resources, alternative planning options, and economic and social conditions in order to select land-use options. Spatial plans guide decisions about which extractive and land management activities (e.g. timber harvesting) will be allowed, where infrastructure development will occur, and which land is reserved for conservation and restoration. Spatial planning can reconcile competing policy goals at local, regional, national and international scales, and can be used to coordinate the spatial impacts of various sectors (e.g. transport, agriculture, and environment) in the medium- and long-term.

InVEST in Practice: Land Use Planning


Emily McKenzie
Lead Science-Policy Interface