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Achieving conservation science that bridges the knowledge-action boundary

Cook, C.N., Mascia, M.B., Schwartz, M.W., Possingham, H.P. & Fuller, R.A. 2013. Achieving conservation science that bridges the knowledge-action boundary. Conservation Biology, 27, 669-678

There are many barriers to using science to inform conservation policy and practice. Conservation scientists wishing to produce management-relevant science must balance this goal with the imperative of demonstrating novelty and rigor in their science. Decision makers seeking to make evidence-based decisions must balance a desire for knowledge with the need to act despite uncertainty. Generating science that will effectively inform management decisions requires that the production of information (the components of knowledge) be salient (relevant and timely), credible (authoritative, believable, and trusted), and legitimate (developed via a process that considers the values and perspectives of all relevant actors) in the eyes of both researchers and decision makers. We perceive 3 key challenges for those hoping to generate conservation science that achieves all 3 of these information characteristics. First, scientific and management audiences can have contrasting perceptions about the salience of research. Second, the pursuit of scientific credibility can come at the cost of salience and legitimacy in the eyes of decision makers, and, third, different actors can have conflicting views about what constitutes legitimate information. We highlight 4 institutional frameworks that can facilitate science that will inform management: boundary organizations (environmental organizations that span the boundary between science and management), research scientists embedded in resource management agencies, formal links between decision makers and scientists at research-focused institutions, and training programs for conservation professionals. Although these are not the only approaches to generating boundary-spanning science, nor are they mutually exclusive, they provide mechanisms for promoting communication, translation, and mediation across the knowledge–action boundary. We believe that despite the challenges, conservation science should strive to be a boundary science, which both advances scientific understanding and contributes to decision making.

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