The pervasiveness of threats posed by biological invasions presents significant challenges to human well-being, biodiversity conservation, and natural resource management, which has contributed to the growth of invasion science as a discipline. However, several studies have shown that the social-ecological complexity of invasions, the compartmentalisation of knowledge into disciplines and the lack of integrative research approaches, current invasion research has not informed management decision making effectively. Thus, to maximise the impact of research investments, there is a need to explore and evaluate how research informs management practices and processes linked to biological invasions.
Accordingly, this dissertation outlines the state of invasion management-related research in South Africa, using the internationally recognised Working for Water (WfW) programme as a case study. Drawing on insights from science studies and evaluation research, a mixed-method approach is used to assess the processes, conditions and outputs associated with research produced under the programme’s auspices. The research comprised two areas of inquiry 1) the exploration of textual information (journal articles, grey literature, and their content), and 2) the social dimensions of research and decision making linked to invasion science and management, with a specific focus on collaborative relationships amongst scientists and decision makers. It sought to determine the extent to which published research aligned with the programme’s needs, research and management strategies. The research also aimed to identify effective ways for organising and producing knowledge relevant to decision making; and to provide insights into how the social dimensions, the people and organisations, their interactions and impact, have shaped research and decision-making processes.
Findings suggest that there are significant gaps in the knowledge base particularly in relation to the social dimensions of biological invasions, which were poorly represented and aligned with the mandate and priorities set by the programme. This research showed significant deficiencies in knowledge management and the uptake of research funded by the programme, despite its potential relevance to decision making as evidenced by the recommendations presented in the research. Moreover, research produced under WfW’s auspices was authored by a handful of key researchers who fulfil a significant role in shaping research collaborations both across disciplines and institutions. The loss of these key individuals, including those involved in management-related decision making, would be detrimental to the stability of collaboration networks and research productivity. Finally, findings show that research productivity, collaborative relationships between scientists within and across research organisations, and between research and decision-making processes are positively influenced by collegiality and cooperation between actors, while increased competition and bureaucratisation in the workplace negatively influence research productivity.
To address the shortcomings concerning the invasion research and management identified in this dissertation, efforts towards improving the relationship between researchers and decision-makers and building more resilient collaboration networks need to be implemented. Firstly, institutions must engage in and fund more targeted, long-term transdisciplinary or integrative research that incorporates appropriate structures that foster collaboration, knowledge coproduction and knowledge sharing. Secondly, systems and strategies for monitoring and evaluating research, including the use of bibliometric indicators, social network analyses and qualitative assessments, should be developed to ensure that research relevant to managing biological invasions is not lost to the decision-making process. Such an undertaking would in turn require the development of an integrated research strategy and action plan that accounts for both the knowledge management and the social processes underpinning research and decision making.