There is growing concern that sustainable natural resources management is not being achieved because of the lack of integration of social analysis in decision making. Following the economic philosophy of analysis of the value of water at the catchment scale adopted by Hoekstra, Savenije and Chapagain (2001, Integrated Assessment, 2, 199–208), in this paper we discuss the relationship between economic and social factors. It is concluded that a large degree of natural integration between social and economic factors exists, but that there are also some social variables that require separate consideration. The social context of water in catchment management and the range of social variables that need consideration in any adequate analysis are defined. We identify a need for a metric that can include commensurate judgements of social, economic and environmental benefits on a single scale and identifies the challenges that this scale will need to meet. Finally, it is suggested that the simplest way to include social variables in decision making is the employment of psychometric techniques that can measure subjective well being and preferably the relationship between its components. The major obstacle to incorporating such data in decision making will be the need for a cultural change in accepting that subjective measures can play a major role in policy evaluation.

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