The need to build bridges between science and practice in nature conservation

Octavio Klimek Alcaraz

This title is a translation of the title of an article by a group of German researchers in the science of ecology, who make a series of reflections and proposals regarding the preservation of nature, especially the preservation of its biodiversity. The purpose of this article is to examine from a more applied perspective the reasons for the existing deficits and the challenges to the necessary link between science and practice in nature conservation.
The appointment is:
Riecken U., Ammer C., Baur B., Bonn A., Diekötter T., Hotes S., Krüß A., Klimek S., Leyer I., Werk K., Ziegenhagen B. & Farwig N. (2020) . Notwendigkeit eines Brückenschlags zwischen Wissenschaft und Praxis im Naturschutz: Chancen und Herausdorfen. Nature and Landscape, 95 (8).
Considering it interesting and applicable to the reality of Mexico, I take the liberty of reviewing it:
Its authors state that global biodiversity loss continues to progress despite various national, European and global efforts. Given this, participants in science (eg: researchers at universities and non-university research institutions) and in conservation practice (eg participants in politics, administration, associations, non-governmental organizations, landowners, citizens in general) , participate in activities to stop this situation. But effective action requires a close exchange between the two sides: science and practice. Numerous examples and experiences clearly show that cooperation and communication between science and practice, and in particular the transfer of validated research results to practice, should be optimized by building a new “bridge”. In other words, his approach is that the success of conservation action requires a close exchange and feedback between scientific researchers related to conservation and professionals dedicated to its practice in all its aspects.
One reality is that there are still very few collaborative projects between research and practice. But the need for basic and preliminary research that is independent of immediate application is undeniable. Both approaches are of equal value, complementary, linked in a continuum and important to society.
The reason for the observed lack of transfer of scientific results to nature conservation practice is the often limited opportunities for participants from science and practice to consult and exchange with each other.
Approaches and incentive systems differ in science and practice, and not all research questions have direct application. Questions are not necessarily application-oriented from the start. However, generalizable findings are often also relevant to practitioners and should therefore be summarized for them in an understandable way (eg in guidelines, local language review articles, download recommendations) and quickly made available.
In practice, it appears that scientific researchers are often unable or unwilling to carry out the practice-relevant processing of research results and their evaluations or to indicate options for action, as described, which they need for policy decision-making processes.
Although the scientific community believes that professionals do not have access to the knowledge available in international journals, nor do they apply it to specific practical conservation issues.
One of the reasons they put forward for German-speakers, and which certainly applies to Spanish-speakers, is that due to the application of the so-called “Journal Impact Factor” (FI) in the evaluation of scientific achievements and as a decision-making criterion in the distribution of scientific funds, research results are published mainly in international English-language journals. This makes it difficult for professionals to find relevant results in the local language.
Another is that there is a lack of resources for knowledge transfer in the original language. Furthermore, if research is application-oriented, the research questions formulated by the scientific community and funding institutions often do not meet the knowledge needs of practice.
There are many examples and experiences that show that this mutual exchange does not work optimally and according to needs. From the authors’ point of view, a new “bridge-building” in nature conservation is needed to optimize the transfer of reliable results from research to practice and, conversely, the communication of the needs of practice to science.
The bridge between science and practice, which is necessary for a more evidence-based and therefore more effective conservation of nature, manifests itself not only in the form of publications and projects, but also, in particular, through exchanges between people. The personal exchange between research and practice can mainly take place in university education and, of course, this happens in the subsequent transition from university to the various professional fields of nature conservation.
But academic training does not always include the necessary practical meaning (among other things, due to the lack of mandatory practices) and teaches nature conservation tools (e.g. procedures, methods, norms, legal regulations, organization, responsibilities) and knowledge of faunal or floristic species in varying degrees of intensity.
Constant updating of the knowledge of professionals is usually not carried out or is limited. Nor is it possible to feed experience and knowledge from practice into academic learning, for example through relevant learning assignments.
There is usually a lack of public positioning of scientific societies and professional associations on issues relevant to practice. Furthermore, the exchange of experience tends to take place mainly within societies and less between them or with practice.
In summary, the various needs can be characterized as follows:
Scientific needs: increased knowledge; generally valid results; publications in peer-reviewed journals primarily in English with FI; project funds; curiosity; recognition in the “scientific community”; perception by politics and society and therefore increasing the willingness to offer the relevant funding.
The practical needs: robust, easily accessible and comprehensible information, but preferably evidence-based; guides, manuals, individual articles in Spanish; advices; decision support via the Internet; training; references; recognition and acceptance by society.
The focus of the article’s proposals is to improve communication between different groups of actors. Communication is not a one-way street, but there is always an obligation to go and another to come back from the stakeholders.
Applied research must better meet the research needs of practice and provide conservation practice with the right tools.
Practice-oriented reinforcement of academic training should be sought, for example through internships, promoting understanding of the aforementioned tools, as well as ensuring sufficient knowledge of the species.
For the widespread and continuous translation of scientific findings into practice, it is also essential that they are transferred from individual publications to manuals, guidelines, review articles in the language of the country – Spanish in this case – and Internet-based decision-making tools. . The skills for this should be taught already during training. Science communication experts should also be involved in the conception of major research projects from the outset.
It is important to show the forms and establish the criteria for practice-oriented research with an applied component in order to achieve the necessary academic reward in the scientific community. This would permanently increase the effectiveness of this type of research.
Third-party funding agencies should require and support greater efforts to transfer research results.
Research funding is increasingly called upon to support collaborative projects that build the necessary bridges between science and practice through transfer modules.
Funding concepts and priorities should therefore be developed in joint workshops and research and application funding instruments should be expanded, in particular by strengthening inter- and transdisciplinary projects. I would add here that project funding should seek to reduce inequality between regions, it is not the same to fund research for institutions in Mexico City than in Guerrero.
All nature protection and spatial planning measures require clear quality standards and constant quality assurance in their implementation. They should also be state-of-the-art and based on scientific evidence.
Scientific societies – for example, in the case of Mexico, the Mexican Society of Ecological Sciences, the Mesoamerican Society of Biology and Conservation or the Society of Conservation Biology – have extensive experience in their discipline. The main self-imposed task is the exchange of experience and knowledge.
It would be appropriate to improve the public positioning of scientific societies and professional associations on issues related to practice (biologists, foresters, among other nature conservation specialists). Furthermore, cooperation between societies of different orientations (eg scientific societies, associations for applied nature protection, professional associations) should be significantly improved.
Researchers engaged in science are expected to (re)consider the needs of practice and move away from the primary assessment of scientific achievements based on publications in international journals, so that practice publications (e.g. manuals and textbooks) also can generate the relevant reputation.
Practice must orient its actions more strongly to scientific evidence, actively seek cooperation with science, demand adequate offers for continuing education and then use them. In this sense, it is important to establish the relevant requirements for the quality of practice, as well as to check whether they are met.
A debate aimed at resolving the issues raised is urgently needed, especially as the number of publishing bodies and relevant publications is constantly increasing – and therefore becoming larger – as are the demands on those working in the field. Therefore, it is to be feared that the proposed bridge will become increasingly difficult.
To improve the situation, scientific research in the field of nature conservation should increasingly take into account the needs of practice, and relevant research should also be recognized by the scientific community. At the same time, the debate should contribute to the practice to orient its actions more towards scientific evidence and seek even more active cooperation with science.

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