There is a growing body of evidence to show that scientists often don’t answer the questions most important to managers. It is also increasingly clear that while decision makers value scientific information they do not routinely use science even when it’s available. There are many reasons for this divide between the science and practice of conservation, a separation that is often called the implementation gap. Within the conservation science community there are incentives for publishing research and attracting funding, but not for engaging with decision makers. Furthermore, what is interesting to scientists is not always what is needed by managers.
Carly Cook and colleagues recently analysed ways of bridging this gap. They found that there are least three key challenges for those hoping to achieve boundary-spanning conservation science. First, scientific and management audiences can have contrasting perceptions about the salience of research. Second, the pursuit of scientific credibility can come at the cost of salience and the legitimacy of science in the eyes of decision makers. And third, different actors can have conflicting views about what constitutes legitimate information. The key to overcoming all three challenges is through meaningful collaboration between scientists and decision makers. To achieve this they nominate four approaches that have proved successful in a number of situations: boundary organisations (independent organisations that work at the nexus of science, policy, and practice and facilitate communication among them), research scientists working within management agencies, formal links between research-focused institutions and management agencies, and training programs for conservation professionals.
Breaking down the boundaries between different groups of conservation professionals, and different scientific disciplines, requires that these different groups be prepared to engage with one another and to challenge traditional models of knowledge production. While this may require some additional effort, there are many rewards for those willing to invest their time and energy.
Cook CN, MB Mascia, MW Schwartz, HP Possingham & RA Fuller (2013). Achieving conservation science that bridges the knowledge-action boundary. Conservation Biology, 27(4): 669-678.