I am currently attending the 2010 International Meeting of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) in Sanur, Bali (Indonesia). As I did a few weeks ago at the ICCB in Canada, I’m tweeting and blogging my way through.
Yesterday I attended a talk by my good friend Trish Shanley (formerly of CIFOR) where she highlighted the disconnect between conservation research and actual conservation. I’ve posted about this before (see Out of touch, impractical and irrelevant & Make your conservation PhD relevant), but this was a sobering reminder of how conservation research can be a self-perpetuating phenomenon and often not touch the people who need it most.
Presenting the highlights of her paper published earlier this year in Biotropica entitled Out of the loop: why research rarely reaches policy makers and the public and what can be done, one comment she made during the talk that really caught my attention was the following (I’m paraphrasing, of course).
Most of the world’s poor living off the land are unconcerned about biodiversity per se. As conservationists we should not therefore adopt the typical preamble that biodiversity (e.g., forests) represent the “lungs of our planet” – what people (and especially women) need to know is how biodiversity loss affects “food for my children”.
“Ensuring rigor and scientific validity of unpublished research by independent, qualified experts through the peer-review process has crucial benefits as a means to guarantee scientific quality and is a foundation of modern science”.
Trish goes on to discuss a lot of the subtleties of publishing and why the culture among scientists is what it is, but I won’t dwell on that here (I recommend you actually read the paper). However, they do provide some excellent suggestions for better information dissemination for a range of groups that should be repeated. Here they are:
Research and academic institutions
- Restructure institutional incentive structures to take into account actual ‘impact’ rather than solely ‘high impact’ journals. Create incentives to invest in dissemination and an expanded range of research products.
- Expand use of nonacademic partnerships and channels to reach target audiences.
- Raise awareness and encourage within the organization social change agents, knowledge brokers and linkage mechanisms.
- In hiring, balance consideration of publication record with capabilities such as originality, creativity, commitment, depth of field experience and impact orientation.
Scientists and students
- Interact with stakeholders at various levels to ensure relevance of research questions and outputs at multiple scales. Identify uptake pathways as part of project design.
- Design projects to support the coproduction of knowledge to meet end users needs and aspirations. Integrate knowledge from the traditional, ecological and social sciences.
- Pay attention to socio-cultural context during the research process and in the content and packaging of research messages.
- Identify innovative partners and means of communication from technological to traditional
- Share and publish experiences regarding how research results have been ‘translated’ or used for a nonscientific audience
- Masters and Doctoral students can consider describing this process in one chapter of their dissertations
Journal editors and publishing organizations
- Challenge researchers to propose ways to evaluate the real impact of their work on the lives of their public, using a systemic evaluation process.
- Provide incentive to scientists to publish practitioner-oriented results and science of relevance to civil society.
- Publish special issues, sections and/or case studies highlighting interdisciplinary work. Break the language barrier by publishing ‘mirror’ papers: translations of the complete paper to the language where the research was undertaken.
- Recognize that sustainable change is a long-term process. Support longer term project time frames (4–10 yr) in which sufficient dialogue occurs at the initiation of projects.
- Expand proposal requirements to include the sharing of relevant research results in an accessible format to appropriate audiences.
- Verify that proposals designate sufficient funds for translation, printing, mailing costs and communication.
- Remember that originality often occurs at the fringes. Identify and support small but innovative, locally driven initiatives.
While I wouldn’t necessarily agree with all of these points, there is no doubt there are some pearls of wisdom within this list. Something to contemplate as you expand your research career.
I just want to leave you with one other morsel from Trish. Show a man the value of all the bushmeat he collected around tree of species x, and then compare that to the concession he’d receive for that tree from a logging company, it’ll be quite clear to him that the tree is worth more alive than dead (and by quite a bit too).
Shanley, P., & López, C. (2009). Out of the Loop: Why Research Rarely Reaches Policy Makers and the Public and What Can be Done Biotropica, 41 (5), 535-544 DOI: 10.1111/j.1744-7429.2009.00561.x