Linked Indicators for Vital Ecosystem Services (LIVES)

Key Themes:
  • Power and Legacy
  • Interdependence and Inclusivity
  • Operational and Funding Models

Integrated management of water, food and energy resources

About the project

The challenge

Achieving water, food and energy security is critical to sustainable development. Faced with burgeoning population growth, increasing demand for food and energy, and growing water shortages, balanced decision-making on resource management is ever more critical.

Understanding shared risks is critical to achieving more effective and equitable resource management. As we exert pressure on an unstable set of complex, interdependent systems providing food, energy and water, there is a growing need for reliable information to mitigate and adapt to risks that we create through resource allocation choices.  

A major challenge is that current decision-support tools do not bridge silos between different types of science and knowledge and often-competing policy goals, nor do they support forward-looking decision-making where there is very little certainty about the future.

The response

With the support of the NOMIS Foundation and MAVA Foundation, the Luc Hoffmann Institute (LHI) kick-started the Linked Indicators for Vital Ecosystem Services (LIVES) project in 2014. The project aimed to re-examine and advance the fundamental science behind the support the scientific community offers the policy community in the planning, management and governance of resources.

LIVES tests various ways of identifying ‘linked indicators’ for joint governance, planning and management of the food, energy and water nexus, to be used by institutions responsible for river basin management.

In collaboration with other policy and research institutes, such as the University of Geneva, the project explores how we combine ‘hard’ science with social science to provide knowledge that is actionable. It aims to improve coherency in river basin planning so that risks are better identified and managed for the benefit of biodiversity and human wellbeing.

The results

The project has tested new mixed-method approaches for integrated development planning as ways to address food-energy-water trade-offs. The first phase of the project in Cambodia demonstrated how mindset shifts, capacity development and policy changes are possible when stakeholders are involved in the research.

We have grounded our scientific analysis in a combination of social science approaches that focus on early decision-maker engagement and participatory processes to identify water-energy-food links, key monitoring requirements and viable options for action. The project is now in its second phase, testing the prototype methodology, continuing field explorations in Cambodia and Colombia and starting to analyse lessons learned.


After testing the mixed-methods approach to supporting better policy-making in river basins in Phase I (July 2016), our partners and stakeholders in Cambodia have shown a strong interest in increasing their knowledge and capacity of these methods to use them in future.

WWF Cambodia, in partnership with the National Council of Sustainable Development in Cambodia, supported by LHI, led a series of stakeholder workshops between January and May 2017 to increase the capacity of the LIVES methods. These were well received and WWF Cambodia and stakeholders have started to plan how to use the methods to discuss integrated planning and trade-offs in community investment planning processes. They will also use them to support community empowerment and advocacy initiatives with other partnering NGOs and civil society organisations as WWF Cambodia continues to promote sustainable development.

Through an exchange of lessons and experience on the LIVES approach between several partners, including WWF Cambodia and WWF Colombia, the latter has seen the potential of using it to harness local knowledge and data to identify, with local stakeholders and policymakers, a sustainable development pathway for the Bita River basin in Colombia.

Find out more from the project website.

Project partners

WWF, University of Geneva, IUCN, University of Maryland, National Council on Sustainable Development (Cambodia),  Royal University of Agriculture (Cambodia), Royal University of Phnom Penh, KnowlEdge SRL, UNEP DHI, Conservation International.

Project leaders

Dr Louise Gallagher (University of Geneva), Dr Christian Brethaut (University of Geneva), Andrea Betancourt (Luc Hoffmann Institute), Philip Leonard and Claire Bramley (WWF), Karina Watkins (WWF Cambodia)

Project implementers

Prof. Pal Davidson (University of Bergen), Prof. Bill Dennison (University of Maryland), Dr. James Dalton (IUCN), Chandet Horm (WWF Cambodia)

Advisory group

Dr Jonathan Hutton (LHI), Stuart Orr (WWF), Prof. Pal Davidson (University of Bergen), Dr Michele Thieme (WWF US), Prof. Bill Dennison (University of Maryland), Dr James Dalton (IUCN), Chandet Horm (WWF Cambodia)

Key collaborators

Dr Birgit Kopainsky (University of Bergen), Dr Carina Wyborn (University of Montana), Dr Laurie Yung (University of Montana), Dr Heath Kelsey (UMCES), Dr Simon Costanzo (UMCES)

Project development

The concept was proposed to the NOMIS Foundation, led by LHI and WWF International.

Start date: July 2014

End date: June 2018

Related reading

LHI, WWF US, WWF Cambodia, WWF Colombia, Humboldt Institute, Royal University of Phnom Penh, KnowlEdge, UMCES and the University of Bergen met to advance the management and sustainability of river basins: read the Annapolis Workshop Newsletter (23.03.17) for more information.

Paper: Gallagher, Bassi, Costanzo et al., LIVES: Modelling for change with Nexus thinking, submitted at the Green Growth Knowledge Platform Fourth Annual Conference on Transforming Development Through Inclusive Green Growth, September 2016, Republic of Korea.

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