The IMS 2050 Human Dimensions Project: cost-effective Indicators and metrics for key GBRWHA human dimensions

Allan Dale

Led by: Prof Allan Dale, JCU


Project Summary

Building on the work of the work of the GBR RIMReP Program Design Group, this project will develop cost-effective indicators and metrics for human dimension outcomes, objectives and targets in the Reef 2050 Plan, consistent with the Drivers-Pressures-State-Impact-Response (DPSIR) framework. It will add value to and ensure continuity with information collected through the Social and Economic Long-Term Monitoring Program for the Great Barrier Reef (SELTMP). The project will: determine potential and extant indicator sets; evaluate data collection cost-effectiveness; determine thresholds (where appropriate); and provide guidelines for a collaborative approach for developing grading scores, using multiple lines of evidence to rate progress towards Reef 2050 Plan targets, objectives and outcomes.


Project Publications
Final Report: Burdekin
Final Report: Burnett Mary
Final Report: Eastern Cape York
Final Report:
Final Report: Mackay Whitsunday
Final Report: Wet Tropics
Final Report: Summary
Journal Article


Science Day, 20th November, Townsville


Problem Statements


The Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan (Reef 2050 Plan) provides a framework to protect and manage the GBR. Four of its seven major themes address human dimensions. They establish objectives, targets and actions for: 1) governance, 2) heritage, 3) community and 4) economic outcomes in the GBR. However, as a result of limited socio-economic research coordination, there is no agreed framework to benchmark these human dimensions to help monitor progress, refine strategies and progress action against the Reef 2050 Plan.

Past MTSRF and NESP projects, however, have previously identified several critical research gaps:

  • MTSRF Transition Project 33 identified the need to monitor the GBR’s human dimensions;
  • NESP Project 3.8 identified a “most striking gap – [in] monitoring pertaining to Indigenous use, dependency and well-being” and recommended “an integrated monitoring program”;
  • NESP Project 3.9 identified the need for participatory research to develop indicators for Reef 2050 Traditional Owners actions and to better engage Indigenous peoples in RIMReP; and
  • NESP Project 3.11 identified the need to monitor the health of the overall system of governance affecting GBR outcomes.

Government agencies and GBR stakeholders need information to assess implementation outcomes, objectives and targets against each human dimension theme. The DPSIR (Drivers Pressure State Impact Response) framework structures the Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program (RIMReP) for the Reef 2050 Plan. The DPSIR framework, however, does not adequately address human dimensions and needs to be strengthened to track and inform progress. The current state of play with respect to the development of methods to benchmark and monitor the human dimensions is that:

  • While methods for human dimension indicators and metrics development have been tested, finalised methods are needed to further refine and benchmark progress; and
  • Indicators and metrics for monitoring the systemic governance in the GBR have been tested and benchmarked, enabling agencies to commence monitoring.

How Research Addresses Problem

Consequently, this IMS 2050 Human Dimensions Project asks:

  • How can elements of the socio-ecological system, which may present the greatest risk and opportunity to environmental, social, cultural and economic outcomes in the GBR and catchment, be tracked?

The project will deliver an agreed set of human dimension indicators for subsequent testing that will provide a consistent approach for governments, managers, community and industry to track key elements of the GBR system (and its catchment) against implementation of the Reef 2050 Plan. Through clustered human dimension indices, this project will deliver the following outcomes:

  • The identification, classification and prioritization of indicators fit for integrated monitoring, evaluation and reporting for the whole GBR and catchment over time;
  • A common language regarding human dimensions established to assist with efficient communication across governments, stakeholders, disciplines, regions and to the public;
  • The Reef 2050 Plan’s progress towards meeting its human dimension objectives and outcomes will be benchmarked; and
  • A NESP TWQ Socio-economic Research Coordination Unit will be formed to coordinate these efforts and plan and support emerging social and economic research priorities for the GBR.

The approach will involve:

  • Using multiple lines of evidence, including available empirical data and information developed within SELTMP (building on preliminary methodologies funded by MTSRF/NESP);
  • Developing index clusters that include social, economic and cultural attribute indicators;
  • Evaluating SELTMP data sets and empirical observations to identify gaps to guide future efforts; and
  • Aligning efforts with RIMReP’s biophysical monitoring systems.

Three key components of the project will:

  • Draw direct linkages and recommendations for strategic action from the human dimension indicators (inclusive of Indigenous indicators) and relate these to relevant Reef 2050 Plan objectives;
  • Undertake structured assessment of the most critical human dimensions data gaps to evaluate costs and benefits of collecting the empirical information needed to develop the required attribute-based indicators (e.g. frequency of monitoring, capital and infrastructure costs, etc.);
  • Using risk assessment principles, provide guidelines for grading indicator scores for all attribute indicators and develop consistency in approaches to indicator gradings and thresholds identification; and
  • Establish the basis for integrating annual reporting of the emergent indicators and trends within formal Reef 2050 Plan review and reporting cycles and 5 yearly Outlook reporting.

Alignment with NESP Research Priorities
The project will be the primary and agreed mechanism for delivering on NESP TWQ priority 2a: Undertake research for the Reef 2050 Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program (RIMReP) to develop cost-effective indicators and metrics (i.e. indicator clusters) for key GBRWHA biophysical and human dimension values and identification of associated ecosystem thresholds and guidelines for grading scores, linked to specific objectives and targets in the Reef 2050 Plan.

The project will also complement and align with proposal/s funded under NESP TWQ priority 2b: Development of a method to be adopted by the Reef 2050 Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program (RIMReP) to monitor and assess aesthetics in the GBRWHA.

Define/determine how these relate to the ecological health of the Great Barrier Reef environment.


Project Keywords

Human dimensions; Social indicators; Socio-economic; Research unit; Great Barrier Reef.


Project Funding

This project is jointly funded through JCU, CSIRO, GBRPMA, QUT, NQ Dry Tropics, Queensland Farmers Federation, Australian Banana Growers Council, Ports North, QTIC and the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Programme.


Project Map

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Markers are not an exact position of where the research is taking place, they are only to be used as a guide to the general area in which it is being carried out.