By Catriona J. MacLeod, Angela J. Brandt, and Lynn V. Dicks.
This Plain Language Summary is published ahead of the article discussed; check back soon for a link to the full paper.
Two persistent issues typically underlie poor environmental decisions, where conservation resources are wasted on ineffective actions: Researchers fail to deliver the evidence needed by decision-makers (‘evidence disparity’), and decision-makers fail to use the evidence delivered by science (‘evidence complacency’).
Should we be surprised that gathering the relevant scientific evidence is an overwhelming task? With over 2.5 million scientific papers published each year, where do we begin? How do we avoid only considering a biased subset of evidence? When evidence is patchy, conflicting or uncertain – how do we interpret results? When evidence is lacking altogether – how can we address key information gaps? Add a tight deadline to the mix and you have a seemingly insurmountable challenge.
Using transparent, structured processes, our team worked at the interface between stakeholder and expert communities to illustrate how to improve the knowledge base available for local environmental decisions.
Our case study focussed on biodiversity management in New Zealand’s agricultural landscape. We started by giving over 250 local stakeholders, from a diverse range of roles and interests, a nationwide voice in setting biodiversity priorities for this landscape – inviting them to identify the nature values that matter most, and management actions they considered most relevant to enhancing those values. We then showed how existing global evidence synopses can be systematically tailored to meet local needs and plug local information gaps. Finally, we illustrated how to enhance the accuracy and reliability of biodiversity expert judgements. We used a process designed to mitigate the risks of a skewed assessment by one or two experts, overwhelming experts with too many issues to debate, and conflicts arising from misunderstandings about action outcomes.
Our study highlighted how ‘boundary-spanning’ teams, such as our own, can help address evidence disparity and complacency issues affecting local conservation decisions that global policy requires. Such teams play an important role – bridging the gap between stakeholder and expert communities and knowledge systems to gather, organise, summarise, and integrate various evidence sources.
Looking beyond our project, the identified stakeholder priorities and global evidence bases could be used to direct and facilitate inclusive policy investments and encourage researchers to enhance local knowledge bases where most needed.