By Will Allen
What is the DPSIR framework? How can it be extended to improve the ability to describe the interactions between society and the environment?
DPSIR (Driving forces, Pressures, States, Impacts, Responses) is a framework for describing and analysing the important and interlinked relationships between social and environmental factors (see the first figure below).
Different groups use these terms in slightly different ways, dependent on their disciplinary backgrounds – and given the diverse range of uses that the framework is put to, it probably does not make sense to attempt to create rigid definitions. What is important is that those stakeholders involved in any particular situation use the development of the model to clarify their understanding of the terms, and it is equally important to develop an integrative and shared understanding and communication of the causal links and mechanisms involved.
I have extended the basic DPSIR framework to highlight the need for clear and specific information on each of the five components and the relationships between them. These components are the driving forces and their resulting environmental pressures on environmental and socio-economic states, the impacts resulting from these, and the subsequent societal responses (see the second extended figure below).
Driving forces can be thought of as primary or secondary, or as physical and socio-economic, to distinguish between natural and human (anthropogenic) activities. In social terms, drivers can be thought of as such things as needs for food, shelter, water, low unemployment, and economic wealth. Primary anthropocentric driving forces are likely to include population growth and accompanying developments in the needs and activities of individuals, communities and sectors.
These driving forces provoke changes in the overall levels of production and consumption, and impact on the environment. Driving forces exert ‘pressures’ on the environment, which can be manageable or unmanageable. Pressure indicators describe developments – for example in the movement of pests/pathogens, the use of related resources, and the use of land by human activities.
The pressures exerted by society are transported and transformed in a variety of natural processes to manifest themselves in changes in environmental conditions (state of the environment). Such changes can be in quantity and/or quality. Furthermore, there are also changes in socio-economic states.
In turn, these changes have impacts on the functions of the environment, such as human health, resources availability, ecosystem services, and biodiversity. Impacts are consequences of environmental state change in terms of substantial natural or socio-economic effects which could be either positive or negative. Impact indicators are used to describe changes in these conditions.
Response activities/indicators refer to attempts by groups (and individuals) in society, as well as government to prevent, compensate, ameliorate or adapt to changes in the state of the environment. These can be through policies, practices or operations. Some societal responses may be regarded as negative driving forces since they aim at redirecting prevailing trends in consumption and production patterns. Other responses aim at raising the efficiency of products and processes, through stimulating the development and penetration of more effective technologies or practices.
As illustrated in the second figure, responses may seek to control driving forces or pressures (prevention or mitigation respectively), to maintain or restore desired end states (be they socio-economic or ecological), or to help accommodate impacts (adaptation). In some cases the deliberate response may be to choose a strategy to “do nothing”, or perhaps just “wait and see” (not shown in the figure).
Although it is tempting to look at the DPSIR framework as a descriptive analysis with a specific focus on individual components in the economic, social and environmental system, it is the relationships between the components that introduce the dynamics into the framework and bring about changes. A focus on the links between the DPSIR elements reveals a number of processes and indicators describing these. For example, eco-efficiency indicators help determine the relationship between the driving forces and pressures. Similarly, the relationship between a pressure indicator and a corresponding state indicator speaks to pathways. The strength of these ‘in-between’ indicators is that they express, more than other indicators, the dynamics of the interactions in the DPSIR system.
The existence of these interrelationships and their indicators also shows that the DPSIR framework, although often presented as a linear chain or a circle, in fact resembles a very complex web of many interacting factors some of which may represent highly non-linear dynamics. In many cases the change in the state of the environment or impacts has several causes, some of which may be immediate and of local origin, others may be exerting their influence on a continental or even global scale. Reductions in pressures often result from a mixture of policy responses and changes in various driving forces, including practices.
Integrating equity and social justice considerations
A series of questions, shown in the table below, can further extend the framework to include equity and inclusive development perspectives.
Concluding remarks and questions
Seen from these perspectives, the DPSIR framework has a number of underlying strengths, including:
- its communicative power as a boundary object,
- the illustration of cause-effect linkages underlying environmental problems,
- the provision for multi-stakeholder participation
- support for an interdisciplinary approach in bridging across the social and natural sciences divide
- support for linking science more closely with policy and management.
What has your experience been in using the DPSIR framework? Are the extensions I have suggested useful? Do you have different extensions to suggest?
To find out more:
This i2Insights contribution is based on: Allen, W. (2022). Using a DPSIR framework to support good natural resource management and policy. Learning for Sustainability, March 10. (Online – open access): https://learningforsustainability.net/post/extended-dpsir/
Gabrielson, P. and Bosch, P. (2003). Environmental indicators: Typology and use in reporting. European Environment Agency (EEA) internal working paper. Copenhagen: Denmark. (online – open access): https://www.resource-recovery.net/sites/default/files/eea_dpsir-indikatoren_2003.pdf (PDF 96KB)
Gupta, J., Scholtens, J., Perch, L., Dankelman, I., Seager, J., Sánder, F., Stanley-Jones, M. and Kempf, I. (2020). Re-imagining the driver–pressure–state–impact–response framework from an equity and inclusive development perspective. Sustainability Science, 15: 503-520. (Online – open access): https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-019-00708-6
Biography: Will Allen PhD is Principal of Will Allen & Associates based in Ōtautahi Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand. He is an independent systems scientist, action research practitioner and evaluator, with 30 years of experience in sustainable development and natural resource management. He is particularly interested in the development of planning, monitoring and evaluation tools that are outcome focused, and contribute towards efforts that foster social learning, sustainable development and adaptive management. He also manages the Learning for Sustainability (LfS) website as an international clearinghouse pointing to on-line resources around these areas.