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How Can We Address Mismatches in Conservation Research and Practice?

This blog, coauthored by Natalie Dubois and Rebecca Jarvis, originally appeared on The Journal of Applied Ecology’s The Applied Ecologist Blog.

For too long, conservation research was viewed as a one-directional path from researchers to practitioners. The field has since moved towards a better understanding of the interdependent nature of knowledge generation and use, but mismatches in the spaces between research and practice persist. These spaces remain underutilized as junctures to cultivate and strengthen connections between conservation knowledge and action.

In 2014, Rebecca and her colleague Stephanie Borrelle convened a workshop to identify the mismatches between conservation research and implementation that limit the delivery of evidence-informed action. Five years later, they convened a second workshop for researchers and practitioners (including Natalie) to reflect on the field’s progress.

Our article, co-authored by the workshop leads and participants, expands on the workshop findings and outlines recommendations for strengthening the alignment of conservation research and practice.

Taking stock of the mismatches

During the second workshop, participants reviewed five common mismatches: priority, spatial, temporal, communication, and institutional.

Priority mismatch occurs when research topics are not relevant to practitioners’ needs. Other times, the misalignment is not one of topical relevance but rather of scale – spatial mismatch occurs when research is conducted at broad scales that are difficult to apply to localized conservation contexts. Attempts to address priority and spatial mismatches by generating new evidence can be compounded by temporal mismatch, a misalignment between decision-making timelines and research processes.

In other situations, useful research exists but remains hidden from practitioners who do not know about or cannot access it (communication mismatch). Contributing to these four mismatches is institutional mismatch, which plays out in the form of rules, norms, and priorities of research- and practice-focused organizations that have the side effect of limiting meaningful interaction between researchers and practitioners.

Addressing mismatches in research and practice

These mismatches make it harder for researchers and practitioners to align their work and encourage evidence-informed decision-making. As the conservation field evolves, we need to revisit the spaces in which we engage in knowledge generation, sharing, and use. In our article, the authors identify ten strategies to better align research and practice for conservation impact.

By nurturing relationships, researchers and practitioners create spaces within which to interact. Making conservation evidence more accessible lowers barriers to use, while sharing and replicating successes can encourage learning across contexts and scales. This approach can be further strengthened by contextualizing outputs and communications for different audiences and diversifying funding to expand support for activities in the boundary spaces which tend to fall outside the scope of traditional funding mechanisms.

Greater engagement in co-design and co-production is also key for increasing the relevance and availability of research while sharing the power and responsibility of conservation projects. The use and generation of evidence as part of adaptive management provide additional opportunities to strengthen knowledge creation and exchange.

Although not always the case, the mechanisms by which researchers and practitioners build the evidence base still remain largely separated, and so strategies to improve accessibility of conferences and events and increase knowledge exchange and boundary work can reduce barriers between the work of researchers, practitioners, and their institutions. These efforts are more likely to be successful when institutions champion diversity, kindness, and inclusivity in the spaces in which research and practice occur.

Experience has shown us that treating the spaces between research and practice as separations to shuttle knowledge across is not enough. Strengthening the alignment between research and practice in conservation calls for deliberate and sustained action by individuals and will not succeed without strong institutional support. Still, these boundary spaces are full of potential. The more we come together to codesign, cocreate, and share in these spaces, the greater our ability to achieve our conservation goals.

About the Authors

Natalie Dubois is a Senior Research Specialist at Environmental Incentives and works with conservation practitioners to strengthen the use and generation of evidence in conservation programs.

Rebecca Jarvis is a Lecturer in Transdisciplinary Conservation Science at Auckland University of Technology, Aotearoa New Zealand, where she works on better understanding the relationships between knowledge, policy, and action.


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