How can restoration practitioners be supported to make ‘evidence-based’ decisions?
This was the question being discussed at a workshop organised by the Endangered Landscapes Programme at the Conference of the Society for Ecological Restoration – European Chapter taking place this week in Reykjavik, Iceland.
To avoid costly failures, especially in an era of uncertainty caused by climate change, restoration management needs to be based on (scientific) evidence rather than intuition or practitioner experience.
Use of evidence helps ensure that restoration interventions are both effective and efficient, and the workshop examined the evidence needs of restoration practitioners (types of information and how it is presented and accessed), the ways in which researchers prioritise issues for investigation, and the channels being used to make findings available to those making decisions.
“From a programme perspective ‘evidence’ is important for four main reasons. It helps reduce and manage risk; it gives more confidence that donor funding is being used responsibly and efficiently; it underpins relations with stakeholders and the ‘licence to operate’ granted by government, communities and landowners; and it underpins advocacy seeking policy change” (Dr David Thomas, Manager of the Endangered Landscapes Programme)
“Surveys have shown that across a whole range of sectors – for example in business, education and training – interventions have little or no basis in evidence. This adds up to a lot of wasted effort and resources. Restorationevidence.org is a tool that aims to make the restoration sector more effective by increasing the availability of evidence” (Dr Nancy Ockendon, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge)
“Often evidence is available, but its value to managers is limited. Either it isn’t specific to the places where we are working – the specific latitude, altitude and habitats – or it isn’t based on randomised, controlled trials, or it is out of date”. Jeremy Roberts, Senior Site Manager, RSPB Abernethy nature reserve, Scotland, UK
“Having the evidence is only half of the battle. Decision-makers may know the facts, but they have to consider societal and political issues. There may be no lack of evidence, but in the process of balancing conflicting interests compromises are made and evidence is not always applied”. Prof Anne Tolvanen, Natural Resources Institute Finland, University of Oulu
Through facilitated discussion the workshop engaged participants around discussion of three critical questions:
- How can researchers make sure that they are generating useful research outputs that address the priorities of practitioners?
- How can practitioners be encouraged to generate evidence and share their findings?
- How can evidence be made available to those that need it, so that it is accessible and effective for use by practitioners?
Workshop participants made several recommendations on how to support evidence-based decision-making and practice, including:
- Improve collaboration between practitioners (including the very active private sector, planners and policy makers) and scientists. This needs to be from the beginning to the end of the restoration journey, on an equal level, with mutual respect, and through finding a common language.
- Simplify monitoring methodologies so that site staff and practitioners are able to collect evidence more easily and cost effectively.
- Give greater recognition to the value of ’observational evidence’ and the value of local knowledge and experience of different stakeholders – for example hunters may have insights, knowledge and skills that complement those of scientists doing formal quantitative monitoring.
- Encourage researchers to translate scientific results into popular articles (or other media, e.g. video) that will be read and used by practitioners. Provide incentives for scientists / researchers to produce such user-friendly outputs.
- Create more local networks of researchers and practitioners to share knowledge, research questions, and findings (from the regional to national scale). Hold national / regional meetings of practitioners and researchers to disseminate new and relevant research – cascading knowledge out from central national meetings to regional, local meetings.