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Building with Nature Guideline > Toolbox > Systems Analysis > Framework for system understanding - DPSIR

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Framework for system understanding (DPSIR)

Type: Framework

Project Phase: all – most effective in initiation phase

Purpose: Identifying cause-effect relations within a system (environmental & socio-economic)

Requirements: Systems thinking, data availability

Relevant Software: none


The DPSIR (Driving Forces-Pressures-State-Impacts-Responses) describes the assumed chain of causal links between Driving forces (D) and the resulting environmental Pressures (P), their effects on the State of the environment (S), the Impacts (I) and the societal Responses (R) resulting from these changes in the environment. DPSIR has been developed by OECD, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, 1993). The DPSIR framework helps to design environmental assessments, to identify indicators, and to communicate results. It can be applied by a wide range of different users. A thorough understanding of the system is vital to the design process of BwN projects. DPSIR has provided the basis for national and international initiatives and is commonly used by the European Environment Agency in the execution of integrated environmental risk assessment studies. It is used to integrate socio economic and ecological processes to understand the forces that drive patterns of ecosystem changes (e.g. EEA, 1999).

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How to Use

DPSIR should be seen as a descriptive, not a prescriptive framework. It helps to structure on-going investigations. In this sense it can be used qualitatively as well as quantitatively. Qualitative application helps to further define the scope and relevant aspects of an environmental assessment, quantitative description helps to establish the significance of each aspect. The tool can be used by governmental organisations, (marine) construction companies, scientists, consultants and NGO’s to get grip on various aspects of the effects of human activities on the environment.

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Practical Applications

The tool was applied in the Singapore case of the BwN programme to structure information on environmental risks and impacts ensuing from various activities in the coastal zone (other than dredging). Here we focus on water quality aspects, with the emphasis on pressures, state and impacts.

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