Sign posted on a mountain road in Vermont, U.S.A. The sign demonstrates one form of non-economic value related to nature: it suggests that drivers should use caution so as to avoid harm to both human grandchildren and red efts (the juvenile stage of the Eastern newt, Notophthalmus viridescens – a common forest inhabitant in the U.S. Northeast). The shared responsibility and care evident in the sign can be considered relational values. The sign provides an example of the type of visible manifestation of values that might be analyzed if creative strategies are applied in research on the multiple values of nature.
Image credit: Rachelle Gould and the people who made and posted the sign.

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Creativity is often heralded as a way to address difficult problems, and environmental problems are among the most difficult we face. Environmental problems are so difficult to address due to interdependent systems, the need for deeply interdisciplinary approaches, and challenges of characterizing elusive phenomena. One specific challenge for environmental research relates to characterizing the many ways ecosystems benefit people, or the multiple values of nature.

This paper argues that research into the multiple values of nature should draw on principles from the literature on creativity. It summarizes six strategies that the creativity literature suggests and then discusses how each strategy is specifically relevant to research on the multiple values of nature.

The six strategies suggested in the paper are: (1) define the problem carefully and intentionally; (2) be inspired by others’ work; (3) nurture skepticism and be open-minded; (4) don’t use only words; (5) iterate and “fail early, fail often;” and (6) embrace teamwork. The paper describes each of these strategies and offers suggestions about how to operationalize them in multiple-values-of-nature research.

The paper contains multiple tables that may aid readers in applying the principles of creativity to their work. The first table summarizes the six strategies and their relevance to the multiple values of nature. The second table, which focuses on the strategy “define the problem carefully and intentionally,” offers three problems that multiple-value-of-nature research may address. The third table provides examples of particularly creative previous research on the multiple values of nature that can serve as a source of inspiration. The fourth table lists seven ‘innovation’ questions and provides examples of permutations of those questions for research on the multiple values of nature.

Though creativity is not a panacea, the innovation that a creative approach can bring to research into the multiple values of nature can help move environmental decision-making forward even in the face of vast complexity.