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Transdisciplinary science for improved conservation outcomes

February 12, 2021
News item image Many lessons from conservation can be applied to nature-based solutions

Margules et al. 2020

Although the goals of conservation are clear, there is still much progress to be made on how to achieve those goals, balancing local aspirations with environmental values. One of the overarching reasons has been that conservation has often overlooked the complex social, economic, and political context in which conservation actions take place. To be successful, interventions need to be rooted in a deep understanding of how social-ecological systems work, and what influences the behaviour of those who shape the landscapes where interventions take place. This requires paying attention to the diversity of local stakeholders, their values, and ways of knowing. Lessons from conservation can be applied to nature-based solutions, since the types of interventions often overlap and a conservation intervention, if managed to provide ecosystem services to people, will often qualify as a nature-based solution.

This study presents lessons from achieving conservation in long-term landscape scale projects in the tropics. Specifically, it explains five practices to gather evidence to improve decision-making:

1) Inductive methods to develop an understanding of the social-ecological context

  • Needed to deliver effective, tailored solutions rather than imposing externally designed solutions. It is crucial to understand the values of local stakeholders, how knowledge is produced, and how it is shared in those landscapes.

2) Theories of change

  • Enable evaluation, and continual learning to achieve accepted goals for conservation and local development, making trade-offs and assumptions explicit.
  • Co-produced with local stakeholders they build a common understanding of the challenges and solutions.

3) Network analysis

  • To describe the relationships between societal actors including individual organizations and government agencies.
  • Identify who and what has power/influence, to what degree, and where linkages between actors can be managed to improve management.
  • Helps facilitate cross-sectoral approaches by identifying who to work with, and where to leverage support to build consensus.
  • Discourse analysis can help better understand the subjective and political perspectives of influential people and institutions.

4) Scenario development and simulation modeling

  • This promotes dialogue and building consensus between landscape actors on desirable future situations to move towards compromises and solutions at the landscape scale.
  • Helps stakeholders understand under what conditions and in which way outcomes might emerge.

5) Multi-criteria analysis

  • This is an integrated valuation approach that allows rapid exploration of the costs and benefits of a range of alternative solutions/land-use management approaches.
  • Land-use decisions require consideration of multiple goals and choices on trade-offs, and in turn multiple criteria need to be taken into account to guide the implementation of land-use decisions. This requires attention to conflicting values (e.g. the protection of biodiversity vs development of agriculture).
  • A participatory approach should be used to formulate the problem, determine options or alternatives, and what factors/criteria to take into account, how to measure them and weigh them, and a step-by-step protocol for making choices.

These five techniques can be used stand-alone or in combination to provide 1) a deeper understanding of the context 2) engagement with all stakeholders 3) negotiation of shared goals and 4) continuous learning and adaptation. Although these approaches can be applied with minimal resources and are fundamental to achieve impact, their value is under appreciated by academic institutions and funders. Therefore, a shift in academic incentive structures and evaluations is essential to support academics working in such social-ecological landscapes. Nature-based solutions, like conservation, are fundamentally about natural resource management and take place in complex, social-ecological landscapes shaped by a diversity of actors. As such, the nature-based solutions practice community should learn from conservation science to inform the design, implementation, and management of nature-based solutions.

Read the paper here.