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The ConFoBi 2018 World Cafe held brainstorm sessions on the interaction between research, policy and practice.

The ConFoBi 2018 world cafe

How does ConFoBi relate to decision-making?

I have always had a keen curiosity toward decision-making and communication. This is why I was excited about the opportunity to support ConFoBi researchers in thinking about these issues in the 2018 symposium, in the coldest winter of Freiburg.

Biodiversity conservation decisions are made at different levels. Strategic decisions are made at high levels, for example by governments and directors, operational decisions at the level of forest management practice, by foresters and planners. The ways in which new research findings – or more generally a research based understanding – are filtered to policy and practice, intrigue ConFoBI researchers. Even more mysterious is the way in which decision-makers work and how they apply knowledge they have acquired from different sources.

So, the ConFoBi researchers used the symposium to put their heads together to think of how their research findings feed to policy and practice, and of how they can learn about these decision-making settings. The “world café” type group work was organized under four headings: science to policy, science to practice, policy to science and practice to science.

The workshop showed that communicating science to policy needs to be based on an understanding that ‘policy’ is very broad and diffuse, including decisions made at different levels, the politics surrounding these decisions, and the discussions in media and society influencing and interpreting them. In communicating to policy, ConFoBi should be sensitive to recognizing policy debates, decision-making points and other windows of opportunity. This might multiply the impact of the very important regular communication, especially if the contributions are made in a language that reaches the participants of the topical discussions.

For making meaningful contributions to policy and also to practice, ConFoBi researchers need to acknowledge the needs and time horizons of decision-making cycles. Sometimes policy formulation and implementation take years or decades and other times political decisions can be made very fast, and even practice can take a new direction abruptly. The knowledge needs that practitioners and strategic decision-makers have in these settings can vary a lot.

The balancing between goals and interests seems to be what politics and decision-making is about, even in the most practical settings. Yet, they set the incentives for management, or protection. For contributing to policy and practice, it is important to understand the interests of the different actors and the various goals that they need to meet. Perhaps ConFoBi could sometime in the future identify these conflicts and support the understanding of tradeoffs that decisions need to address.

The language, format and channels through which we communicate, is extremely important. In addition to summarizing research in brief and popular terms, ConFoBi can reach out to policy implementation and practice by joining and contributing to forestry and nature conservation meetings, excursions and demonstrations. In all these settings, the language needs to be adjusted to match that of the

participants and audiences. For a deeper understanding of policy and practice, researchers and decision-makers could also spend longer periods in the working settings of each other. In hierarchical settings we might need to start with the decision-makers at the top, to reach practice.

The ConFoBi researchers thought that once the project produces results, reaching the different audiences and processes needs some core messages about retaining trees and structures in managed forests as well as the ecological and economic impacts of retention. The core messages should be based on evidence and also communicate uncertainties. The ivory tower of science is the place for ensuring quality and validity but we need a connection to society for securing the relevance of our research.

We could also aim to make practical recommendations and develop support tools. Yet, in some instances we might be better to communicate a message of urgency of conserving forest nature and the value of the wonderful things we need to preserve, like the habitat trees. As many of the messages have been said already before, we need to communicate in an illustrative fashion, and work in concert with the numerous actors out there who can take the messages further into policy and practice.

The application, applicability, evidence base, use and framing of knowledge can also be an explicit target of research, as the ConFoBi projects C and D nicely portray. For more inspiration, you might be interested to read also about the conflicts that biodiversity conservation decision-makers deal with, what kind of mechanisms for governance and knowledge application can be identified, and what kind of institutional adaptation is required for integrating biodiversity conservation into practice.

by Eeva Primmer (Mercator Fellow ConFoBi)