Defra and other government departments face the challenge of understanding the potential effects of policies operating across multiple temporal, spatial, and institutional scales and impacting on multiple sectors and stakeholders. It is further recognised that these policies will not occur in isolation and, therefore, their impacts will also depend upon other policies and independent developments in demography, the economy, technology, culture, and the environment. In order to address this concern, they have proposed a project for the Appraisal of Sustainable Rural Policy and Land Use, or the SURPLUS project. Defra specifies the aims of the SURPLUS project as “to improve Defra’s ability to carry out policy appraisal, based on a full assessment of future changes in land use, recreation, amenity and rural economic activity, and the impact of such changes on the rural environment.” It has stated the initial objectives of the project as to:
1. Develop cost-effective tools for assessing trends as well as forecasting and anticipating future changes in direction in rural economic and social activity and land use and their environmental impacts and social consequences, over 5-20 year timescales.
2. Test and evaluate the tools with empirical data and provide measures of the uncertainty of forecasts and sensitivities with regard to input assumptions.
3. Ensure that the tools are relevant and useful to policy customers in Government departments and agencies, nationally and regionally.
4. Ensure that the tools build on or link with existing methods and experience and utilise existing data as far as possible; and
5. Apply the tools to a range of policy issues as identified in the Rural White Paper Our Countryside: The Future, the England Biodiversity Strategy and the Strategy for Sustainable Farming and Food and refined during consultations undertaken for the scoping study.
At the moment, it is unclear whether existing tools, e.g. modelling frameworks and approaches, specific models, and scenarios and other foresight methodologies, are capable of meeting these objectives, either by themselves or in combination. Therefore, there is the need for an integrated evaluation of not only the tools themselves, but also the objectives of the overall study.
In this context, and in accordance with the tender specification, the overall aim of this study is to guide the further development and implementation of the SURPLUS project proposed by Defra. It will confirm the user requirements and refine the objectives for the overall project. It will assess the feasibility of using modelling and other foresight approaches to achieve the objectives of the overall project and develop technical specifications and determine funding arrangements for its implementation. Perhaps most importantly, it will provide a recommendation on the desirability of continuing with the overall project.