"A BES Grant helped me start a new project, and funded a research assistant for the summer."

Matthew Spencer Research Grant recipient

A strategic plan for the land: helpful, or even possible?

By Rob Brooker, James Hutton Institute, Secretary, BES Scottish Policy Group

How can we develop a strategic approach to managing complex land use systems to develop a unified vision? Rob Brooker explores the latest developments in Scotland.

Linn of Dee (Rob Brooker)

I must be getting older because I seem to spend more time in meetings and less time outside measuring things. If you’re involved in meetings some simple tricks can make you appear really engaged. First, check the minutes of previous meetings for spelling mistakes or grammatical errors; this makes it look as though you’ve read the minutes and puts other attendees on edge. Second, ask the question “What is it that we’re trying to achieve?” Deceptively simple, it’s strange how often this is not clear, and surprising how much benefit can be derived from trying to address it.

When working on a recent paper on plant competition, David Robinson brought up Bertrand Russell’s point that “Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise”. For any activity it’s worth asking what it is that we’re actually trying to achieve. This helps to highlight (and then manage) internal conflicts, focus activity, and make efficient use of limited resources (including time). As a good example of this, the Scottish Policy Group (SPG) recently undertook a strategic planning exercise, the report from which has been circulated to SPG members for comment. We think this will help to give us some clear aims, both for near-term activities and longer-term planning, and to map our work onto the wider policy aims of the BES. Given the benefits of defining what it is we’re trying to achieve, we might assume that such an approach would be applied to national-scale management of complex land use systems. But is this the case?

The Scottish Government recently published the revised Land Use Strategy (which, for ease, I’ll call LUS2). The original LUS1 provided “a policy agenda for all land in Scotland and set out a direction of travel towards a more integrated and strategic approach to land use”. Building on this, LUS2 tries to tackle what are perceived as the key issues for the period 2016-2021. Overall, the LUS documents aim to deliver coordinated policy development and sustainable land management action on the ground, and to provide a long-term vision for sustainable land use. However, neither document – as far as I can see – seeks to set out a vision for what the end point should be: what is it that we’re collectively trying to achieve?

One of the key issues in delivering such a collective vision is perhaps the number of demands being placed on land. The concept of expressing our environmental impact in terms of the number of Earths we’d need might be adapted to environmental wish lists. How many Scotlands would we need to meet the demands of the various stakeholder groups who feel they should be consulted? Do we have four Scotlands of desires, but only one Scotland for delivery purposes?

King of my own backyard (Rob Brooker)

On this basis then, compromise is obviously going to be necessary, simply because we can’t fit it all in. The amount of compromise is going to be dependent on the scale of decision making. I am king in my own garden, although only the back garden; woe betide unregulated pruning out the front. Land managers can make decisions at larger scales, but these then can impact on delivering the wishes of other stakeholders, generating resentment and conflict. And this is not simply a problem with farming and the management of game species. I wonder, for example, whether some of the new proposals about rewilding might also be headed in the same direction. In the UK it’s not necessarily that the proposals are inherently bad, but human nature seems to balk at imposition; is there a risk that some rewilding plans might be seen as a new form of land-management imperialism?

Recent projects have started to address how the compromise necessary for developing management visions for large areas of land – with multiple land managers – might be delivered. Nils Bunnefeld kindly pointed me towards the Marxan tool which aims to provide decision support for conservation management planning, including dealing with the challenges of stakeholder engagement and managing compromise. Operating explicitly in Scotland, the Regional Land Use Pilots (RLUPs, which – said quickly – makes me think of a small town somewhere in the Low Countries) have also started to work on this process. Their aim was to “to consider land use in a collective and integrated way and to explore land use choices which would deliver multiple benefits”. Operating in Aberdeenshire and the Borders, they have gone a long way to exploring land use choices with a wide range of local stakeholders in the target areas.  The tricky bit might then be moving from discussion to implementation; as the final report on the Aberdeenshire project drily notes “the Pilot enjoyed extensive goodwill and benefitted greatly from stakeholder input. The extent to which such goodwill would remain if policy had been proposed and on-the-ground decisions discussed is unclear.”

So can we build on these developments to start trying to develop a unified vision of what we want from the land? Perhaps I’m a hopeless optimist, but during recent meetings such as the 2016 SRUC-SEPA conference, and the SPG’s own Pie And A Pint night on protected areas, I’ve felt that there’s increasing recognition of the need to work together across land management sectors, and increasing good will with respect to doing so. Even though these meetings may include only some of the stakeholders that would need to be involved, opportunities exist for building on this good will and perhaps widening stakeholder engagement. Within the LUS2 there is a proposal for the development of a Strategic Vision for the Uplands. By bringing in lessons from the RLUPs and other current research, perhaps this could provide a genuine opportunity to see whether it’s possible to develop a unified vision for the end point of land management, at least for some of Scotland’s land. Whatever the outcome, I’m sure we’d learn a huge amount from the attempt.

Posted in Environment, Land Use, Planning Policy, Scotland | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The teaching excellence framework technical consultation: where next for TEF?

By Camilla Morrison-Bell, Senior Policy Officer

This week the Government released its higher education white paper, “Success as a knowledge economy”, outlining significant changes to university education and research in the UK. In the second of two posts, we consider the implications of the white paper for research. The first post focused on the implications for research.

The technical consultation for the Teaching Excellence Framework was published this week, alongside the publication of the Government’s higher education white paper, Success as a Knowledge Economy. The consultation is running from 16 May until 12 July 2016 and we in the BES Policy team will be liaising with members and feeding into the Royal Society of Biology’s response.

The consultation, which needs to be read with the white paper, sets out proposals for how the TEF will operate in Year Two (meaning 2017/18, applying to 2018/19). The majority of this consultation focuses on the contentious issue of what metrics will be used to measure teaching excellence as well as setting out the assessment process. The white paper then sets out the timeframe for linking TEF to tuition fees; implementation has been somewhat slowed from the initial timeline set out in the previous higher education green paper.

Although not all the metrics will come into force until Year Four of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) (2019/20 applying to 2020/21), higher education (HE) institutions are being encouraged to enter into the TEF in Year Two. By doing so they will be the first to receive an award of ‘Meets Expectations’, ‘Excellent’ or ‘Outstanding’. Institutions are guaranteed to achieve the minimum of ’Meets Expectations’, as long as they meet the requirements of the broader quality assurance system. The incentive for entering into TEF is they can take advantage of ‘full inflationary uplift to fees’ (i.e. HE institutions will be able to increase fees in line with inflation in Year Two).

However, Year Three of TEF onwards (2018/19 applying to 2019/20) will see the introduction of ‘differentiated fee cap and loan cap increases’. This means that HE institutions awarded a rating of ‘Meets Expectations’ will be eligible for 50% of the inflationary uplift. Those achieving a rating of ‘Excellent or Outstanding’ will be eligible for 100% of the inflationary uplift. If a HE institution’s TEF level award drops, they will be required to lower the fees they charged, including for existing students. Therefore, HE institutions maintaining ‘Excellent or Outstanding’ can raise their fees in line with inflation but as now, any changes to fee caps beyond inflation will need to be approved by Parliament.

In the Royal Society of Biology’s response to the green paper on Higher Education we stated our concerns about fees being associated with an award for teaching excellence. Our concerns still stand that ‘a differential, tiered fee system…will likely have a detrimental impact on widening participation and associated social mobility, international competitiveness, teaching standards and sector diversity.’  While the tie between merit and fees still remains, there has been some progression as now the changes to fees and the potential increase will be phased in slower than originally indicated in the green paper.

Metrics for teaching excellence?

As it currently stands the metrics determining an institution’s TEF grade will be measured against three core criteria: teaching quality; learning environment; and employment outcomes and learning gain. Sources of evidence to inform the metrics will still include the National Student Survey, proportion of graduates in employment/ further education from the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey, and retention rates. Institutions will also be able to submit further quantitative and qualitative evidence to a panel.  In Year Three further metrics of weighted contact hours and teaching intensity, as well as a ‘highly skilled’ employment metric will be trialled. This technical consultation is seeking evidence on these undeveloped metrics.

Many of our original concerns about the use of metrics to assess teaching quality still stand: the core metrics proposed are not direct measures of teaching excellence. The technical consultation document even recognises flaws in the core metrics. For example, ‘Student Outcomes and Learning Gain criteria’, will measure occupation 6 months after graduation but that this “may distort the results if students with particular characteristics take longer to transition into long-term career occupations”.  As highlighted in our response to the green paper, six months does not take into consideration a typical career route for an ecology graduate.

However, we do recognise that the inclusion of peer review and ability to submit supporting evidence does move towards a framework that can be more flexible in recognising the importance of varying teaching methods across disciplines. The peer reviews will be carried out by an independent panel of academic experts, students and employer representatives who will judge applications. This does add a much needed human element into the process. Nonetheless, we are still concerned about the administrative impacts of submitting evidence on teaching academics, and their time left for preparing for and teaching students.

A few other key points worth noting include:

  • Ratings will be awarded at the level of the HE institution until Year Four, after which and depending on the findings of a pilot in Year Three, ratings will be introduced at a disciplinary-level. This is the level which will be of most use and importance to applicants.
  • After an initial three year term, HE institutions should retain the TEF awards for five years unless concerns are raised, there are changes in ownership or the institute is seeking a higher award level.
  • Universities will be required to publish the gender, ethnicity and social backgroundsof their student they take in.
  • HE institutions in the devolved administrations are able to participate in the first year if they want and BIS will work with the devolved nations ensure TEF develops in a compatible manner. The ambition is also for TEF to roll out to postgraduate taught courses in Year Four (2019/20 applying to 2020/21).

We will continue to engage with this issue, working with the Royal Society of Biology and others, and are keen to hear from members. Please get in touch to let us know your views on the metrics and / or the questions in the technical consultation.

Posted in BIS, Consultation, Education, Education Policy, England, Government, Research and Development, Science, Science Policy, UK | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The higher education white paper: what does it mean for research?

By Ben Connor, Policy Manager

This week the Government released its higher education white paper, “Success as a knowledge economy”, outlining significant changes to university education and research in the UK. In the first of two posts, we consider the implications of the white paper for research. The second post will focus on higher education, including the new Teaching Excellence Framework.

Most of the headline responses to the UK Government’s new higher education white paper have focused on the introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework and the associated opportunity for universities to increase their tuition fees. Yet the white paper, and soon to follow Higher Education and Research Bill, will also have a substantial impact on the structure and delivery of research funding across the UK.

Last year the Government asked Sir Paul Nurse to review the structure and function of the Research Councils, and consider how they could evolve to support research in the most effective way. The Nurse Review reported in November 2015, recommending the creation of a new overarching body to provide strategic direction and cross-sector co-ordination for research, into which the individual Research Councils would report whilst retaining their autonomy. Following the promise made in the Spending Review, the white paper outlines how the Government intends to implement this recommendation.

Introducing UK Research and Innovation

In our evidence submission to the Nurse Review, we suggested that there was not a compelling case for reorganisation of the Research Councils, and that any merger would risk considerable disruption, and make engagement with external bodies problematic. However we also highlighted the need for improved mechanisms for funding and managing multi- and interdisciplinary research, and facilitating cross-Council collaboration. So how does the Government’s plan address these concerns?

First, it is clear that this does represent a substantial reorganisation of the Research Councils. The white paper asserts that the “current research funding framework presents an increasing risk to the UK’s world leading position”, and proposes a new approach to address this perceived problem.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will be a new non-departmental public body, operating at arm’s length from Government. It will bring together the seven disciplinary Research Councils, Innovate UK, and the research funding functions of the soon to be discontinued HEFCE, into a single organisation. The dual support system, of separate budgets for UK-wide competitive project funding (currently provided by the Research Councils), and England only block grant funding (currently provided by HEFCE), will be maintained within the single organisation, and enshrined in legislation for the first time.

It is intended that UKRI will take “a holistic view of the public funding that supports research and innovation”, with a focus on providing strategic direction, co-ordinating cross-cutting issues such as multi- and interdisciplinary research, a providing a unified voice for the UK’s research and innovation system.

When is a merger not a merger?

While the Research Councils will be consolidated into a single organisation, this is not a complete merger. The names and brands of the individual Councils will be retained, and they will have “delegated autonomy and authority”. Crucially, legislation will be brought before Parliament to enshrine the distinctive focus of the Councils, reflecting their royal charters, and to provide for UKRI to delegate responsibility for discipline level decision-making. Each Council will continue to receive funding individually through the annual grant letter from the Secretary of State.

Key to the new system will be the relationship between the new board of UKRI (to be led initially by HM Treasury civil servant John Kingman), and the Executive Chairs and Councils for each research discipline. Each Research Council (made up of 5-9 members from the relevant research community) will continue to set strategic delivery plans, take decisions on prioritisation of their assigned budget and liaise with their community. Funding decisions will continue to be made by disciplinary experts. However each Council’s strategic plan must be approved by the UKRI board. This board will include both research and business (although notably not civil society) representation, and as well as setting strategic priorities, will provide advice to the Secretary of State on the balance of funding across the different research disciplines.

What happens now?

In today’s Queen’s Speech, the Government signalled its intention to introduce a Higher Education and Research Bill before Parliament, which will provide the legislative footing for the changes to the UK’s research architecture outlined in the white paper, as well as the proposals for higher education. The bill will be subject to a significant parliamentary process before it becomes law, with a number of opportunities for MPs and peers to influence its final form.

We will continue to engage with this issue, working with the Royal Society of Biology and others, and are keen to hear from members. What do you think of the proposed changes to the UK’s research architecture? Do you agree with the white paper’s assertion that “funding recipients will see little change except for a simplified process”? Get in touch to let us know your views.

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Getting your science into policy: the importance of trust, values and relationships

By Ruth Mitchell, Chair, BES Scottish Policy Group

Many of us like to think of ourselves as applied ecologists, that our research is of relevance and will be ‘of use’ to ‘someone, somewhere’. However while many of us do research that we think should be useful and relevant to decision-makers and policymakers, actually making that connection between science and policy, and seeing the results of our research being used can be incredibly hard and a very rare occurrence. So it was with great interest that I attended the joint BES and CCI Annual Symposium ‘Making a Difference in Conservation: Improving the Links Between Ecological Research, Policy and Practice’ at the new David Attenborough building at Cambridge University from 11-13 April.

At the end of the conference we were given the opportunity to share what key messages we would take away with us. I picked out the key words of ‘trust, values and relationships’ – not the usual key words one discusses at a science conference, but then that is what I found so refreshing about this meeting – it wasn’t just about science! The meeting had speakers who were media experts, economists, social scientists, Defra chief scientists and conservationists from NGOs as well as those of us from academia; it really was about making those links between research, policy and practice. So why did I pick out those three key words of trust, values and relationships?


Policy is a mixture of science and values. We need to be clear which is which and get the balance right. Ian Boyd (Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) said there are two social groups: policymakers focused on values and scientists focused on facts (although scientists themselves are not without values). These are two very different viewpoints. As Charles Godfray (University of Oxford) said, we as scientists need to be clear when we are honest brokers, just presenting the evidence, and when we are campaigning for a particular issue.

Evidence-based policy was popularised by the Blair Government. However the meeting acknowledged that it is better to think of policy as ‘evidence informed’ not evidence based.  In a functioning democracy there are limited degrees of freedom. Policies should be evidence informed but they also need to take into account people’s values. Thus, even when the evidence directs a policy, the final policy product may deviate from what the evidence suggests, since it may also be accounting for other factors such as public opinion (which can have a huge impact since politicians tend to listen to what their constituents say) and economic arguments.

We, as ecologists, may think that the ecological issues our work addresses are key. However, we can only influence policy if our science addresses other sectors as well – not just ecology. This was one of the many barriers to science being taken up by policy that was discussed during the conference. It was therefore great to have economists and media representatives at the meeting, making us aware of the values and priorities of other sectors that our research must also be relevant to.

Trust and relationships

The most precious political commodity is justification. Politicians have to be able to justify their decisions; if they are to base their decisions and policies on science they want to be sure they can trust the science. For this to work we need to foster trust with policymakers. In a discussion on barriers to getting science into policy, Gemma Harper (Chief Social Scientist at Defra) encouraged us to get to know our policymakers and Chief Scientific Advisers and to find out who will use our research. In moments of crisis policymakers will pick up the phone to those they know, those they have worked with in the past and those they can trust.

The theme of trust kept re-occurring. Ian Boyd said in order to provide a practical solution for policy the solution needs to be: authoritative, trusted, integrated, wise both politically and scientifically, and knowledgeable. There was that word ‘trust’ again.

Having good relationships with and being trusted by policymakers doesn’t mean ‘getting into bed with them’. The conference provided several examples of good relationships between scientists and policymakers where they had worked together on some issues but at other times the scientist had held the policymakers to account, asking them to justify why they did not use the evidence available. As scientists we need to have a balanced relationship with policymakers and advisers: accepting that they themselves may be experts in their field, providing what advice we can and not always responding with ‘more research is required’ when asked for advice!

So what have I learnt?

I’ve learnt how many barriers there are to policy taking up science, to name but a few:

  • the structure of our science outputs needs to be such that policy makers can pick it up and use it
  • there needs to be the right political window for our science to be include into policy – timing is everything
  • there are a number of other values in addition to our science being used to inform policy
  • policy can take a long time to change – sometimes you just have to keep on and things may slowly change in the end

As scientists it is assumed that we all aim to do good, high quality research but perhaps we rarely think about the quality of the relationships we have with those who may use our research.  We need to remember that behind all the policies, that we may or may not agree with (!), are the policymakers who are trying to do their jobs whilst being pulled in many different directions. We as scientists need to go and talk to them, get to know them and discuss how our science may be relevant or useful to them, or even how we can change our research to make it more relevant and useful!

With my BES Scottish Policy Group ‘hat on’ this is perhaps an opportunity that we in Scotland have greater access to than our colleagues interacting with Westminster. In Scotland we have a smaller community, and fewer people to get to know.  It is easier for us to interact with Scottish Government and Parliament than in Westminster, so let’s make the most of the opportunities we have. However, wherever we work, my conclusion from the meeting is relevant: without an acknowledgement of our values and trustworthy relationships with relevant policymakers we stand little chance of getting our science used in policy.

Posted in BES Symposium, Conservation, Event, Science, Science Communication, Science Policy, Scotland, UK | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beyond Protected Areas

By Isabel Jones, Communications Representative, BES Scottish Policy Group

April’s “Pie And A Pint” (PAAP) night saw lively discussion between BES Scottish Policy Group members, NGO representatives, Scottish Government civil servants, and local political party candidates, focussing on one thing: protecting biodiversity both within and outside protected areas, and how we can make protected areas work better for biodiversity and people.

“Beyond Protected Areas” was the SPG’s largest PAAP to date and we were joined by Adam Smith (Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust), Davy McCracken (Scotland’s Rural College), Andrew Bauer (NFU Scotland) and Lloyd Austin (RSPB) who each presented their views and perspectives on conserving biodiversity both within and outside protected areas. There was general agreement among the speakers that protected areas are not currently working that well at protection; our task during the PAAP was to try and build consensus from everyone present as to how the situation can be improved. During our discussions we focussed on Protected Areas on land, but of course Protected Areas also encompass marine environments, and non-natural environments such as historical buildings.

The concept and designation of Protected Areas represents a core effort from all those using the land and sea, whether for economic or enjoyment purposes, to protect nature more widely. Working to make Protected Areas as effective as possible will provide a host of benefits such as providing space for nature, boosting peoples’ wellbeing and health, as well as ecosystem service provision, and enabling the natural environment to be as resilient as possible to future pressures, such as from climate change and invasive species.

Discussing Protected Areas with the Scottish Policy Group

Discussing Protected Areas with the Scottish Policy Group

One of the current issues is that Protected Areas are covered by strict rules in terms of land use and management, and this ‘one size fits all’ approach can lead to differential levels of conservation success (and failure) within them. When Protected Areas are first designated, they are done so at a specific snapshot in time to conserve e.g. high levels of biodiversity present at a site. It may be that since designation certain land-use practices, which were responsible for the initial high levels of biodiversity, are no longer as effective, leading to biodiversity declines. Stringent ‘one size fits all’ rules could be stifling more adaptive land management practices, which could be tailored to individual Protected Areas to maximise biodiversity conservation. Could harnessing the knowledge of resident farmers and land managers be a way to adaptively manage land within (and outside) Protected Areas for conservation, for the benefit of both biodiversity and people reliant on the same land?

Managed land can be hugely beneficial to wildlife and ecosystem services, such as ‘high nature value farmland.’ Where such high nature value land exists outside Protected Areas, it could act as a stepping stone or corridor linking several Protected Areas together, and thus increase their effectiveness as species can more easily move between Protected Areas. It seems logical that where agri-envrionmental management is already working well, it should be encouraged to be continued for the benefit of wider conservation.

Unfortunately, “no change needed here” is a difficult sell to funding bodies that often require quantifiable changes in e.g. species richness, populations of threatened species, or expansion of desirable habitat types to justify funds awarded. Relying on the good will of land managers to maintain land in a high conservation-value state, when they may be losing out on productive land area, doesn’t really seem fair. Is there a better way to incentivise and reward land managers who are already using successful agri-envrionmental approaches, and encourage more to do the same?

During the PAAP there was a general feeling that we can’t carry on doing things as we always have done, but that there are aspects of Protected Areas that do work. The future of Protected Areas needs to be supported by everyone: the public, land managers, scientists, and politicians. By working together and developing new ways to communicate between Protected Area stakeholders, a roadmap of the future of Protected Areas in Scotland can be developed. Following our speakers’ presentations we broke out into discussion groups to try and answer some specific questions to try and build consensus on

i) How can we make Protected Areas as effective as possible?

ii) How do we ensure connectivity between Protected Areas?

iii) How do we conserve nature outside of Protected Areas?

Outcomes from group discussions are currently being collated by the SPG and written as a report, giving a tangible outcome from April’s PAAP directly resulting from discussions involving SPG members, MSPs, NGOs and scientists.

Do you have any comments and recommendations you would like to feed in to the three questions on Protected Areas?

Interested in the next PAAP? Become a member of the SPG and follow @BES_ScotPol on Twitter – see you there!

Posted in Agri-Environment Scheme, Conservation, Event, Scotland | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making a Difference in Conservation: Conference Report

Last month, our joint symposium with the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, Making a Difference in Conservationbrought together over 250 delegates to explore the complex relationship between ecological evidence, conservation policy and practice.

BES/CCI Symposium Programme

Over two days, a wide range of speakers – from ecology and conservation science, policy, social science, campaigning NGOs and beyond – explored the successes and failings of the links between science, policy and practice, and the consequences for conservation. Speakers reflected on the different stages of the process, from identifying priorities and organising evidence, through to making decisions and engaging publics.

In their conference report, delegates Clive Mitchell (Scottish Natural Heritage) and Juliette Young (Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, BES Policy Committee Member) reflect on the main themes of what was said at the symposium, whilst also considering what remained unsaid, exploring points that there was little time to explore, including assumptions and the importance of world-views in filtering the evidence that is used to support policy and practice.

What were your key messages from the symposium? What actions will you take? Leave your comments below, or get in touch if you would like to write a blog post. All the videos from the symposium will be available online very soon. You can also catch up on the key points in our Storify, read more of our reflections, or revisit one of the workshops.

Read the Conference Report


Posted in BES Symposium, Conference, Conservation, Ecology, Event, Science, Science Policy, UK | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Maximising the policy impact of your scientific research

By Alice Plane, Assistant Editor, Journal of Applied Ecology

At the recent joint BES and CCI Symposium ‘Making a Difference in Conservation: Improving the Links Between Ecological Research, Policy and Practice’ Journal of Applied Ecology Executive Editor, Marc Cadotte, and Associate Editor and Policy Direction author, Sarah Durant coordinated a workshop on maximising the policy impact of scientific research. This post was first published on the Applied Ecologist’s Blog.

In recent years there has been an evolution of the types of papers journals publish and as funders increasingly require impact it is becoming increasingly important to provide the policy and applied recommendations that can be taken from your research.

The workshop was split into two sections, with Marc discussing how to achieve and communicate policy relevant research and Sarah focusing on how to maximise policy impact when working overseas. The primary concerns of workshop attendees, who ranged from academics to practitioners to those who work somewhere in between, included:

  • access to the funding and resources to engage with policy when publication often comes at the end of the grant period
  • access to the scientific evidence in the form of papers is a huge barrier for practitioners, but not all academics can pay for open access
  • practitioners rarely read primary scientific papers and need information distilled into accessible and policy/management relevant formats
  • the novelty and generality required by many journals doesn’t necessarily fit with engaging with policy, which often requires details on a specific situation
  • the door to engage with politicians isn’t always open – how can this be overcome?
  • influencing policy seems to depend on knowing people who define policies
Marc Cadotte discussing what we mean by policy. Photo credit: Martin Nuñez.

Marc Cadotte discussing what we mean by policy. Photo credit: Martin Nuñez.

In this blog post I have listed the key take-home messages from the workshop for maximising the policy impact of your scientific research. It was agreed that as a scientist you should bear some of the responsibility to communicate the policy implications of your research – you are best placed to communicate your research because you have unique insights into the topic, you can best represent your research and you may be funded by public money.

There are many reasons why ecologists should prioritize policy communication and you can also read Marc’s post on who should communicate the policy implications of ecological research here.

Tips for maximising the policy implications of your research:

  • Bear in mind that policy instruments are complex. Where you lack experience in this complexity seek advice from an expert who specialises in the aspects of policy your research could affect.
  • Distil evidence into accessible and policy-relevant formats e.g. lay summaries, policy briefs, short reviews (the IIED briefings are good examples of this).
  • Choose the right journal to increase the chances that the relevant policymakers will see the paper when it is published.
  • Plan ahead and make the policy relevance of your article clear, especially in the abstract. You can read Marc’s tips on planning and execution, writing clearly and effectively and post publication communication in the presentation slides.
  • Engage policymakers right from the start, and – although it may sound obvious – know your problem. What aspects of policy may need to change? What are the policy implications of your evidence? What is the scale of the effect – Local/ National/ Regional/ International?
  • Think about what the potentially relevant policy instruments are e.g. relevant national legislation or international policies such as CBD, CITES, CMS, and which are likely to have the strongest impact and are most practical for what you want to achieve.
  • Think about whether you will need funding to consider the policy aspects of your research in your original proposal. Sometimes this can be difficult as you don’t always know what the policy implications will be until you have your results, but it is often possible to hazard a good guess. Very often the add-on does not mean significant additional funding and separate policy funding streams are available.
  • Bring the scientific community together so that there is a majority scientific consensus on the evidence e.g. the new Policy Direction format provides a good forum for doing this – see, for example, Developing fencing policies for dryland ecosystems. This makes it much easier for practitioners to understand and make use of your evidence.
  • Be aware of different perspectives and build relationships of trust with governments (this may be especially important for conservationists trying to increase policy impact in overseas research).

  • Use social media to communicate and share knowledge.
  • After publication communicate your research through blogs and local and national media. As discussed later in the CCI-BES Symposium meeting by Serah Munguti from Nature Kenya and Fiona Fox from the Social Media Centre it is important that scientific stories make it into the media because the public pay attention to the media and policymakers take into account what the electorate are saying when making decisions.

The final, and possibly the most important take-home message from the workshop was to talk to people about the policy implications of your research. Communication is crucial. You know your evidence better than anyone else and if you don’t engage – then who will?

Posted in BES Symposium, Conservation, Event, Science Policy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making a Difference in Conservation: Key Messages and Reflections from the BES/CCI Symposium

By Camilla Morrison-Bell, Senior Policy Officer

Camilla Morrison-Bell reflects on her key messages and highlights from last week’s BES/CCI symposium, “Making a Difference in Conservation”.

BES/CCI Symposium Programme

Last week (11th-13th April) was the joint BES and CCI symposium, “Making a Difference in Conservation”, which focused on improving the links between ecological research, policy and practice. The programme was packed with great presentations, workshops, posters, and even a guided walk of Cambridge. Professor Sir John Beddington also gave a fascinating public lecture on ‘Emergencies, Evidence and Policy’ during his time as Chief Scientific Adviser to UK Government.

During the symposium we covered a full range of issues, starting on the first afternoon with understanding what the current barriers are between ecological research, policy and practice as well as how to identify priorities for policy and practice. The next morning focused on evidence, including its generation, collection, synthesis and collation; while the afternoon saw a number of parallel workshops being run (I was part of the ‘demystifying the science-policy interface’ workshop). Wednesday was a full day of talks on public engagement, making decisions and the different techniques to use to help make a difference (be that from engaging at the international convention level to informing behavioural change). Finally, the symposium was rounded off with a panel of six reflecting on their key take home messages from the two and half days.

I thought I would also pull out a few of the key themes that (in my view) surfaced throughout the symposium.

The first message I heard clearly coming through is that scientific evidence is just one strand of information used within the decision-making process.  To be clear, there was no doubting the importance of rigorous scientific evidence being used to inform decision-making. However, it was apparent there is also a need to make space for and recognise the importance of personal experience and informal experiments for ecological practitioners. This was highlighted by Malcolm Ausden during his presentation on the ‘collection of evidence by practitioners’. Similarly, public policy making is so infused with politics (which in turn is influenced by public choice and preferences, amongst other factors as well as the evidence) that we should aim to have policies built upon the multiple evidence base approach, also referred to as evidence based reasoned policy and even evidence informed policy!  The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) was highlighted a couple of times as an example of using the multiple evidence base approach to inform policy.

How to package and communicate evidence in an accessible, organised and neutral way was also a key topic of the conference. Systematic Reviews were mentioned on a few occasions and in particular Andrew Pullin focused his presentation on ‘using systematic review and evidence synthesis to inform decision-making’. This may seem counterintuitive when referring to evidence since it should, by default, be unbiased. However, evidence can be selected, used and communicated in a biased way and systematic reviews were highlighted as a way to help prevent this by ensuring a collaborative evidence base that is transparent, open and shared. Systematic reviews not only gather up all the evidence in an open and objective fashion for a policy maker or practitioner to use, but they can also provide a further meta-analysis to identify where the evidence stacks up across different studies in support of, for example, environmental management techniques.

We then heard how the Conservation Evidence Synopsis (a project that packages, synthesises, communicates evidence) will include an evaluation of the evidence that has been synthesised in order to help practitioners see what interventions have worked or not. We also learnt how so often within big international assessments the key message that gets communicated is one or a few key headline facts or a summarising infographic. Therefore, a key message for me working within the policy arena is not to bombard decision makers with information but to distill the key facts into an engaging format that is then supported by the more complex evidence.

Underpinning both of these issues and a word that was repeated regularly was transparency. Transparency in collated evidence is fundamental but also in the policy-making world. For example, when a policy does not fully align with what the evidence would suggest as being the best approach, policy decision-makers need to be transparent and explain the decision they have reached.

This leads to my fourth key point which is communication and the need to communicate with a wide range of audiences – be this media, the academic community, engaging in public evidence calls such as select committee inquiries or by providing advice to Government. In each case how to present or disseminate the evidence might be different but the important point being to make sure to communicate the evidence clearly and effectively.

Finally, horizon scanning for ecological issues that are going to be fundamental for society is a useful exercise to identify early signs for drivers of change, as well as identify knowledge gaps and priority research questions that need answering (then answering them!). This can help policy makers identify threats before they become a problem, and make the link between prioritising key research questions and identifying key research areas to fund. We heard of a few horizon scanning initiatives at the symposium including the Horizon Scan of Global Conservation Issues by Sutherland et al, Bonnie Wintle’s work at Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) and the 1st Antarctic & Southern Ocean Science Horizon Scan.

I have pulled out just a few of the key messages I took away with me from the symposium. There will of course have been more as it was a full programme with so many interesting presentations. If you were at the Symposium, let us know what you took away from the meeting in the comments below, or Twitter using the hashtag #BEScci.

We in the BES policy team are working hard to take some of these key messages forward. We aim to highlight to our members when there are opportunities to submit ecological evidence into, for example, relevant public consultations or select committee inquiries. We do this through our Special Interest Groups (SIGs) and by looking at our expertise database. So if you are thinking about ways to communicate your evidence into policy forums it is worth starting by filling in your expertise in our database and to join one of our SIGs.  Two areas that we will be proactively focusing this year are upland ecology and rewilding – get in touch if you would like to be involved in this work.

We also run a number of schemes to show how the policy-making world works. These are aimed more at early career scientists and include some schemes such as BES Parliamentary Shadowing Scheme (here is a recent blog for more information), the POST Fellowship scheme and six month paid internships with us in the BES office.  If you participate in any of these schemes you can then join the BES Policy Alumni Network. Another exciting initiative we are embarking upon is our Policy Guides project. The Policy Guides will improve communication between BES members and policy-makers to increase the impact of ecological research and support evidence-informed policy-making by explaining how scientists can engage with policy.

If any of the policy support schemes that we run are also of interest then please get in touch and send me an email.

Posted in BES Symposium, Biodiversity, Conference, Conservation, Event, Science Policy, UK, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making a Difference in Conservation: the BES/CCI Symposium

By Ben Connor, Policy Manager

Last week saw over 250 people come together in Cambridge to tackle the challenges of improving the connections between ecological research and conservation policy and practice. We’ll be posting blogs and all the videos from the symposium very soon, but in the meantime, catch up with the key discussions and whet your appetite for more with our Storify…

Posted in BES Symposium, Biodiversity, Conference, Conservation, Event, Science Policy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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