Collaborating with NGOs

A perspective from a CEED researcher

Carissa Klein is a conservation scientist at The University of Queensland. Her expertise is in spatial conservation prioritisation, answering questions such as:  Should we be investing in marine parks or stopping forest clearing to get the most bang-for-our buck in protecting Indonesia’s coral reefs?  How can we zone the ocean to meet the needs of multiple stakeholders?  In addition to WCS, she is also collaborating with The Nature Conservancy (Melanesia), Conservation International, and the World Wildlife Fund (Malaysia) to apply various spatial conservation prioritisation techniques to support conservation decisions.

Carissa Klein is a conservation scientist at The University of Queensland. Her expertise is in spatial conservation prioritisation, answering questions such as: Should we be investing in marine parks or stopping forest clearing to get the most bang-for-our buck in protecting Indonesia’s coral reefs? How can we zone the ocean to meet the needs of multiple stakeholders? In addition to WCS, she is also collaborating with The Nature Conservancy (Melanesia), Conservation International, and the World Wildlife Fund (Malaysia) to apply various spatial conservation prioritisation techniques to support conservation decisions.

As with many conservation scientists, I have always wanted my research to be useful. But conducting research that is useful AND novel enough to be published in a good scientific journal is not an easy task. What is useful is often pretty boring in an academic sense, and what is scientifically interesting, is often disconnected from reality. This is a serious issue and often results in a trap of focusing on solving problems that don’t actually exist in reality.

In an attempt to overcome this challenge, I made the conscious choice to collaborate with conservation NGOs to help them solve specific, real-world conservation problems in the places they work. Although I have worked with NGOs both small and large, including the world’s four biggest conservation NGOs ( The Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society, World Wildlife Fund, and Conservation International), I will focus on my collaboration with WCS as it has been particularly productive both in terms of science and conservation.
So what is it that I do? I develop quantitative tools and approaches that can be used to help practitioners decide what and where to protect. I have a strong focus on marine conservation in the tropics.
The collaboration between WCS started with the Fiji country program, directed then by Dr Stacy Jupiter, and expanded to other WCS programs in Africa (see page 13) and Papua New Guinea (page 15). Initially it was just me working on projects but it quickly led to the formation of a small research team comprised of a postdoc (myself ), two Honours students (Kendall Jones and Viv Tulloch), and two PhD students (Azusa Makino and Viv Tulloch). Short profiles of all of these people appear in this issue.
In just three years, this team published six papers (and several more are in review) focused on conservation planning in Fiji – and this science has helped WCS improve the network of protected areas in Fiji (see page 8). And we still have not had enough of each other – last year we applied for two research grants to help sustain and grow our collaboration. We were awarded a Science for Nature and People Grant for research integrating land management with marine conservation (see the story on page 5).
There are many other CEED/NERP researchers working with NGOs around the world (eg, Maria Beger, Jessie Wells, Richard Fuller, etc) and I highly encourage others to expand these networks.
Other CEED/NERP researches often ask about my experiences with NGOs – How do I establish the collaborations? What are the benefits/ drawbacks? The answers are not clear cut, but I will briefly outline a few tips for researchers interested in setting up and maintaining collaborations with NGOs.

  1. Invest time in building relationships. Relationships with NGO staff and stakeholders are the key, but like any relationship, they are not formed quickly.
  2. Hone your communication skills. More time is spent on communication than when doing ‘blue-sky’ science. From communication focused on ensuring we solve the right problem all the way through to ensuring everyone understands the methods and results. And central to all of this work is training workshops with the end-users of the quantitative tools to help build the capacity of managers and scientists working in these countries.
  3. Be flexible and embrace change. In any given place, things can change at any time, and NGOs (and the scientists they work with) have to adapt too. Change happens for a variety of reasons – threats to nature change, governments change, change in working teams etc – and your project might need to do a u-turn to keep up and ensure that it is still relevant.
  4. Co-fund projects. Identify research funds that can be used to leverage funds from an NGO to co-fund projects (eg, ARC Linkage Grants). Long term funding is key as the endpoint to most of these planning projects is far away.

Although I love what I do, it is not as glamorous as it sounds – there are real costs associated with doing applied research. These tips highlight the fact that it is often much more time consuming than most ‘blue-sky’ science projects as time normally spent on doing science gets spent on building relationships, training stakeholders, and adopting projects to accommodate a change in circumstances. It requires researchers to shift the focus on papers towards other aspects of delivering good science.


More info: Carissa Klein c.klein@uq.edu.au

“I have always wanted my research to be useful. But conducting research that is useful AND novel enough to be published in a good scientific journal is not an easy task.”

 

 

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