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Comment
Increasing Conservation Impact and Policy Relevance
of Research through Embedded Experiences
LEKELIA D. JENKINS,SARA M. MAXWELL,† AND ERIK FISHER‡
School of Marine and Environmental Affairs, University of Washington, 3707 Brooklyn Avenue NE, Seattle, WA 98105, U.S.A.
†Marine Conservation Institute and University of California Santa Cruz, 100 Shaffer Road, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, U.S.A.
‡School of Politics and Global Studies, Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, Center for Nanotechnology in Society,
Arizona State University, PO Box 875603, Tempe, AZ 85287-5603, U.S.A.
As researchers in conservation science and the field of sci-
ence, technology, and society, we believe Rudd’s (2011)
framework, described in “How Research-Prioritization
Exercises Affect Conservation Policy,” for conceptualiz-
ing research has practical value. Rudd explores means
to increase research impacts through techniques such as
big-question exercises and exercises to determine best
practices. As an additional means to increase the impact
and policy relevance of conservation research, we sug-
gest researchers embed themselves in the daily working
environment of other communities, such as government
offices, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) or dis-
parate scientific fields, to learn about the constraints and
opportunities that influence conservation work in these
communities.
In his thorough treatment of research impacts, Rudd
presents the benefits and shortcomings of two frame-
works for understanding and improving research impacts
on policy in theory and in practice. Following Beyer
(1997) and Amara et al. (2004), his first framework clas-
sifies research impacts as conceptual (policy makers are
sensitized to new issues and change their beliefs), instru-
mental (policy decisions are affected directly by results of
scientific research), and symbolic (results of scientific re-
search are used to support established policy positions).
In his second framework, which he bases on Shaxson
(2009), Rudd classifies research issues into 4 domains ac-
cording to the extent that scientific knowledge is fully
developed and the policy issue is clearly articulated: do-
main of uncertainty (low scientific knowledge, low policy
articulation), domain of evidence (low scientific knowl-
edge, high policy articulation), domain of partisanship
(high scientific knowledge, low policy articulation), and
domain of best practices (high scientific knowledge, high
email kikij@uw.edu
Paper submitted October 28, 2011; revised manuscript accepted February 28, 2012.
policy articulation). Rudd highlights the importance of
scientists understanding “the pathways through which
research influences policy,” but he notes that most re-
search has had little impact on policy making “due to
the difficulty of linking specific research outputs with
explicit changes in policy and regulations.” Rudd also
discusses how the “domain of uncertainty” can be a par-
ticularly difficult context in which to conduct impactful
research because both the articulation of the policy issue
and the scientific knowledge is low. This domain often
lends itself to unaligned research (i.e., research unrelated
to policy and with uncertain policy value) (Rudd 2011).
We agree that big-question exercises and exercises to de-
termine best practices can address some concerns about
unaligned research, but it can also require the resource-
intensive engagement of a large group (Sutherland et al.
2011).
We highlight embedded experiences as another means
to increase research impact, even in the domain of un-
certainty, which can be more easily applied by individual
scientists and tailored to specific research interests.
Spending an intensive period enmeshed in the culture
and operations of other work communities allows scien-
tists to bridge the gaps between research outputs and
policy change, and research outputs and conservation
impact. The embedded experience, which can range
from conducting highly structured research to being a
casual participant-observer in another community, gives
scientists opportunities to build personal relationships
with their counterparts that may improve the impact of
their work on conservation policy and practice. These
relationships can facilitate the spread of new ideas, in-
cluding those with conceptual impacts that alert pol-
icy makers to new ideas (Rogers 1995). An embedded
740
Conservation Biology, Volume 26, No. 4, 740–742
C
2012 Society for Conservation Biology
DOI: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2012.01878.x
Jenkins et al. 741
scientist may also learn the constraints and initiatives spe-
cific to a particular community—knowledge that can be
used to better link research outputs to policy needs and
opportunities.
In the United States, the American Association for
the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and
Technology sponsors policy fellowships in which “ac-
complished scientists and engineers ...participate in and
contribute to the federal policymaking process while
learning firsthand about the intersection of science and
policy.” These fellows serve a 1- to 2-year term, work-
ing full-time in executive and legislative branch offices.
Fellows routinely cite how the experience and knowl-
edge they gained in the program allowed them to in-
crease the impact of their work. For example, during
her fellowship Susan E. Campbell worked with the U.S.
Agency for International Development (USAID) and was
tasked with establishing an approach to international de-
velopment and aid in Asia that would limit undesirable
effects on biological diversity. Campbell’s background as
a biologist allowed her to quickly identify experts and
assimilate the available scientific information pertaining
to locations in Asia with a high concentration of native
and endemic species. Her embedded experience gave
her a deeper understanding of the organizational cul-
ture of USAID and their partner organizations. She was
able to identify a realistic and viable approach to devel-
opment that USAID had not considered and that poten-
tially had more conservation benefit than other options.
Campbell’s idea was to maximize the level of scrutiny in
environmental-impact assessments beyond the standard
to more thoroughly evaluate the environmental impacts
of all development. This approach offers environmental-
impact oversight to a larger area and could lead to pro-
tection of areas as needed rather than protection of a
limited number of areas with high levels of biological di-
versity as originally planned. Campbell’s approach was
favorably received and pursued because it allowed US-
AID to increase the potential for conservation benefits
by leveraging their resources for environmental impact
assessments and well-informed aid decisions, rather than
establishing protected areas that were outside their au-
thority to govern.
Fellows often cite that after the fellowship program
the policy relevance of their work increased. Ripple ef-
fects include serving on government advisory commit-
tees, establishing research programs that provide data
for implementing specific conservation laws, and filling
gaps in data government managers had been struggling
to fill. Their embedded experiences often allow them to
address local issues and specific present and future needs
than is possible with big-question exercises and exercises
to determine best practices.
Where formal embedded experiences are not available,
as is often the case in developing countries, informal
embedded experiences can be useful. An international
team of scientists used satellite tracking to study sea tur-
tles in Gabon through an informal collaboration with
the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), an NGO that
plays a large role in managing parks in the region. The
researchers worked from the WCS local offices and lived
and worked with park managers and rangers for months
at a time, learning the day-to-day operations and limita-
tions of park management. As a result of this embedded
research experience, participants tailored their research
to meet the needs of WCS park managers through their
in-depth understanding of the resource constraints of the
community. Their findings are being used by WCS and
Parcs Nationaux Gabon to redesign a marine protected
area in the region (Witt et al. 2008; Maxwell et al. 2011).
The embedded scientists returned to Gabon for meetings
to shepherd their findings through management changes,
where they capitalized on their relationships with park
managers made during the embedded experience (Jenk-
ins & Maxwell 2011).
Embedded experiences can help make the “domain
of uncertainty” more tractable for conducting research
that informs policy, management, and practice. For ex-
ample, embedded researchers can intricately explore the
social and institutional practices that may affect emerging
policy-relevant developments and render them more vis-
ible to researchers, decision makers, and stakeholders.
Engaging a diversity of stakeholders in semistructured
reflection on their own practices, knowledge, and as-
sumptions not only informs research and policy agendas,
but also alters behavior and informs expectations and
thus promotes conservation. Such stakeholder engage-
ment complements big-question exercises and exercises
to determine best practice, which play important roles
in creating research agendas but tend to extract informa-
tion from a narrower set of stakeholders (for instance,
scholarly perspectives rather than those of practition-
ers) and may therefore limit discussion. Embedded re-
searchers can rapidly transition through multiple expert
and practitioner settings, integrate potentially transfor-
mative information and perspectives into these settings,
compile the knowledge of a breadth of stakeholders, and
put information into the relevant research and policy
contexts. Embedded researchers can also identify issues
whose policy relevance may still be emerging. Such em-
bedded and early assessments can help researchers better
align research choices and decisions with policy goals
(Macnaghten et al. 2005). For example, if researchers
were to identify an issue that is rapidly moving from
the “domain of uncertainty” toward the “domain of evi-
dence,” they could conduct research aimed at producing
robust and reliable results that could be used to inform
policy.
The experiences of a set of embedded researchers
are helping to inform governance of nanotechnology,
Conservation Biology
Volume 26, No. 4, 2012
742 Conservation Impact and Embedded Experience
an issue in the realm of uncertainty. Many laborato-
ries work with engineered nanoparticles (tiny objects
of 1–100 nanometers that can exhibit novel physical and
biological properties) for which the environmental ef-
fects are currently unknown, despite toxicological stud-
ies. Although these particles do not appear in nature
and may enter animal and plant cells, no specific federal
or international regulations exist that pertain to these
particles, despite rising concerns (Committee to De-
velop a Research Strategy for Environmental Health Safety
Aspects of Engineered Nanomaterials & National Re-
search Council 2012). Some nanotechnology practition-
ers, taking a novel approach to embedded research, have
opened their laboratories to humanists and social scien-
tists trained in conducting “socio-technical integration”
(Fisher 2007). These embedded researchers are part of
the Soci-Technical Integration Research (STIR) program
that operates in over a dozen nations (Wynne 2011) and
typically spend 3 months or more as participant-observers
in nanotechnology and other laboratories. Using ethno-
graphic and other techniques, these researchers help lab-
oratory workers reflect on the often-underappreciated so-
cial and environmental aspects of their research and on
what research changes they might make on the basis of
their reflections.
These embedded researchers have found that some
laboratories routinely dispose of engineered nanoparti-
cles in municipal waste streams, where they could en-
ter the environment. Yet they have also found that en-
gaging with laboratory workers about this issue during
the normal course of laboratory experiments can lead
the practitioners to change their disposal practices and
call for regulatory clarity in this area (B. Miorin and T.
Benn, unpublished report). Embedded research within
the fields of medical genetics (Conley 2011) and indus-
trial biotechnology (Schuurbiers 2011) have produced
similar policy-relevant changes in laboratory practices.
Inviting embedded humanists, social scientists, or even
stakeholders into laboratories and field sites for in-depth
and ongoing dialogue can be another valuable and flexi-
ble way to align research objectives, conservation values,
andpolicyoutcomes.
In addition to use of big-question exercises, exercises
to determine best practices, and the two frameworks
Rudd presents, we encourage the conservation commu-
nity to make greater use of embedded experiences to
improve the conservation and policy relevance of their
research.
Literature Cited
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Conservation Biology
Volume 26, No. 4, 2012
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We examine concepts of new knowledge creation and embedded research in a case study on the i-limb, the world's first commercial prosthetic hand with five independently powered digits. Although the case demonstrates many elements of the mode 2 concept, that does not adequately describe the influence of context. In addition to the forces of contextualization, we argue there was also a strong influence on the R&D process and product from the embedding of scientific research and technology development in a location of use, specifically a prosthetic clinic in a hospital. We use the literature on embedded research to supplement our examination of this case of new knowledge creation. We contribute to the literature on mode 2 knowledge production and contexts of application by applying the literature on embedded research to explain the creation of new knowledge in locations of use.
Chapter
Narrowing the knowledge-implementation gap is an essential step for conservation to achieve impact in an effective and timely manner. To do so requires an understanding of this “gap” and the processes, challenges, and enablers that are associated with it. For conservation science, these reflections and scholarship have only gained traction in the past ten years compared to the medical and social sciences where research in this field dates back to the 1970s. Narrowing the gap can occur at all stages from production, the mediation and the transfer of knowledge, and its output or action. These stages describe the knowledge-action framework, which encapsulates the narrative of this book. This chapter synthesizes terminologies used in the context of the knowledge-implementation gap, barriers and challenges that exacerbate it, and processes and conditions that enable bridging of the gap with reflections inspired from other disciplines. We acknowledge that a geographical bias exists toward the Western world and democracies in evaluating the knowledge-implementation gap in conservation science. This is an issue as some of the most endangered biomes/ecosystems are found in the developing world and cultures. As such, we identify the need to highlight the status of the gap including bright spots in developing regions of the globe where very different factors will affect knowledge implementation. We hope this book will provide a foundation for scholarship and reflections on the knowledge-implementation gap in nature conservation.
Article
This article examines the association of location and actors in the invention, development and innovation of power generation and lighting technologies. It is known that niche actors play important roles in knowledge creation and energy innovation. What is not well understood is the association and influence of location for sustainability transition knowledge creation. To understand the association of location and knowledge creation we use a theoretically novel framework which integrates concepts of niches, mode 2 knowledge production, embedded research and socio-spatial embedding. We applied the new framework and comparative case study methods to answer our research question of what locations and actors are associated with knowledge creation. We found that knowledge creation in the cases is positively associated with locations-of-use and the involvement of niche actors. The spacial and temporary variation of our cases limits the generalizability of our framework. Future research directions include examination of other historical and contemporary case studies, and identification of effective practices in embedding energy knowledge creation projects in locations-of-use.
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1. There is a widely recognized gap between the data generated by researchers and the information required by policy makers. In an effort to bridge the gap between conservation policy and science, we have convened in several countries multiple groups of policy makers, practitioners and researchers to identify priority information needs that can be met by new research in the social and natural sciences. 2. The exercises we have coordinated included identification of priority policy-relevant research questions in specific geographies (UK, USA, Canada); questions relating to global conservation; questions relating to global agriculture; policy opportunities in the United Kingdom; and emerging global conservation issues or ‘horizon scanning’. 3. We outline the exercises and describe our methods, which are based on principles of inclusivity, openness and democracy. Methods to maximize inclusiveness and rigour in such exercises include solicitation of questions and priorities from an extensive community, online collation of material, repeated voting and engagement with policy networks to foster uptake and application of the results. 4. These methods are transferable to a wide range of policy or research areas within and beyond the conservation sciences.
Book
The nanotechnology sector, which generated about $225 billion in product sales in 2009, is predicted to expand rapidly over the next decade with the development of new technologies that have new capabilities. The increasing production and use of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) may lead to greater exposures of workers, consumers, and the environment, and the unique scale-specific and novel properties of the materials raise questions about their potential effects on human health and the environment. Over the last decade, government agencies, academic institutions, industry, and others have conducted many assessments of the environmental, health, and safety (EHS) aspects of nanotechnology. The results of those efforts have helped to direct research on the EHS aspects of ENMs. However, despite the progress in assessing research needs and despite the research that has been funded and conducted, developers, regulators, and consumers of nanotechnology-enabled products remain uncertain about the types and quantities of nanomaterials in commerce or in development, their possible applications, and their associated risks. A Research Strategy for Environmental, Health, and Safety Aspects of Engineered Nanomaterials presents a strategic approach for developing the science and research infrastructure needed to address uncertainties regarding the potential EHS risks of ENMs. The report summarizes the current state of the science and high-priority data gaps on the potential EHS risks posed by ENMs and describes the fundamental tools and approaches needed to pursue an EHS risk research strategy. The report also presents a proposed research agenda, short-term and long-term research priorities, and estimates of needed resources and concludes by focusing on implementation of the research strategy and evaluation of its progress, elements that the committee considered integral to its charge. © 2012 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Article
In this article we argue that nanotechnology represents an extraordinary opportunity to build in a robust role for the social sciences in a technology that remains at an early, and hence undetermined, stage of development. We examine policy dynamics in both the United States and United Kingdom aimed at both opening up, and closing down, the role of the social sciences in nanotechnologies. We then set out a prospective agenda for the social sciences and its potential in the future shaping of nanotechnology research and innovation processes. The emergent, undetermined nature of nanotechnologies calls for an open, experimental, and interdisciplinary model of social science research.
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This article addresses three questions: What is the extent of instrumental, conceptual, and symbolic use of university research in government agencies? Are there differences between the policy domains in regard to the extent of each type of use? What are the determinants of instrumental, conceptual, and symbolic use of university research? Based on a survey of 833 government officials, the results suggest that (1) the three types of use of research simultaneously play a significant role in government agencies, (2) there are large differences between policy domains in regard to research utilization, and (3) a small number of determinants explain the increase of instrumental, conceptual, and symbolic utilization of research in a different way.
Book
Getting an innovation adopted is difficult; a common problem is increasing the rate of its diffusion. Diffusion is the communication of an innovation through certain channels over time among members of a social system. It is a communication whose messages are concerned with new ideas; it is a process where participants create and share information to achieve a mutual understanding. Initial chapters of the book discuss the history of diffusion research, some major criticisms of diffusion research, and the meta-research procedures used in the book. This text is the third edition of this well-respected work. The first edition was published in 1962, and the fifth edition in 2003. The book's theoretical framework relies on the concepts of information and uncertainty. Uncertainty is the degree to which alternatives are perceived with respect to an event and the relative probabilities of these alternatives; uncertainty implies a lack of predictability and motivates an individual to seek information. A technological innovation embodies information, thus reducing uncertainty. Information affects uncertainty in a situation where a choice exists among alternatives; information about a technological innovation can be software information or innovation-evaluation information. An innovation is an idea, practice, or object that is perceived as new by an individual or an other unit of adoption; innovation presents an individual or organization with a new alternative(s) or new means of solving problems. Whether new alternatives are superior is not precisely known by problem solvers. Thus people seek new information. Information about new ideas is exchanged through a process of convergence involving interpersonal networks. Thus, diffusion of innovations is a social process that communicates perceived information about a new idea; it produces an alteration in the structure and function of a social system, producing social consequences. Diffusion has four elements: (1) an innovation that is perceived as new, (2) communication channels, (3) time, and (4) a social system (members jointly solving to accomplish a common goal). Diffusion systems can be centralized or decentralized. The innovation-development process has five steps passing from recognition of a need, through R&D, commercialization, diffusions and adoption, to consequences. Time enters the diffusion process in three ways: (1) innovation-decision process, (2) innovativeness, and (3) rate of the innovation's adoption. The innovation-decision process is an information-seeking and information-processing activity that motivates an individual to reduce uncertainty about the (dis)advantages of the innovation. There are five steps in the process: (1) knowledge for an adoption/rejection/implementation decision; (2) persuasion to form an attitude, (3) decision, (4) implementation, and (5) confirmation (reinforcement or rejection). Innovations can also be re-invented (changed or modified) by the user. The innovation-decision period is the time required to pass through the innovation-decision process. Rates of adoption of an innovation depend on (and can be predicted by) how its characteristics are perceived in terms of relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability, and observability. The diffusion effect is the increasing, cumulative pressure from interpersonal networks to adopt (or reject) an innovation. Overadoption is an innovation's adoption when experts suggest its rejection. Diffusion networks convey innovation-evaluation information to decrease uncertainty about an idea's use. The heart of the diffusion process is the modeling and imitation by potential adopters of their network partners who have adopted already. Change agents influence innovation decisions in a direction deemed desirable. Opinion leadership is the degree individuals influence others' attitudes
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The globally distributed leatherback turtle Dermochelys coriacea is subject to fisheries bycatch throughout its range. Protection from fisheries within pelagic foraging habitats is difficult to achieve but may be more tractable when populations are concentrated near neritic breeding and nesting grounds. We used satellite telemetry to describe patterns of habitat utilization during the inter-nesting period for seven leatherback turtles nesting at Mayumba National Park in Gabon on the equatorial West African coast. The National Park includes critical nesting grounds and a marine protected area to 15 km offshore. Turtles dispersed widely from the nesting beach spending a mean of 62 ± SD 26% of tracking time outside the confines of the National Park. This propensity to disperse is likely to increase the chance of deleterious interactions with fisheries in the region. Patterns of habitat utilization indicate the need for wider spatial scale planning on the West African continental shelf to enhance protection of leatherback turtles when they are seasonally occupying these habitats in great numbers for breeding and nesting.