Facilitating the wise use of experts and evidence to inform local environmental decisions.

Published online
08 Aug 2022
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
People and Nature

MacLeod, C. J. & Brandt, A. J. & Dicks, L. V.
Contact email(s)

Publication language
Australia & New Zealand


Using biodiversity management within New Zealand's agricultural landscape as a case study, we apply 'boundary science' approaches to overcome two persistent deficiencies in environmental decision-making: 'evidence disparity', the discrepancy between evidence desired and evidence generated, and 'evidence complacency', where evidence is not sought or used, or is out of date, incomplete or biased. Specifically, we assess how recent innovations in gathering, evaluating and communicating of evidence syntheses can: give local stakeholders from a diversity of roles and interests a voice in setting biodiversity priorities, systematically tailor global evidence to meet local needs and make wise use of local biodiversity specialists to enhance the accuracy and reliability of their judgements. Initial case study material comprised comprehensive lists of 18 biodiversity outcome groups and 84 management actions of potential value to New Zealand farms. Of the 40 management actions that mattered most to stakeholders, 90% of actions required editing in preparation for the expert assessments. The final list of priorities encompassed 43 management actions and 11 biodiversity groups. New Zealand evidence gaps were detected for the two actions and 10 biodiversity groups assessed, with half of these gaps plugged using global studies. Six experts then systematically evaluated this evidence to tailor its interpretation to the local context, mitigating the risks of using different evidence subsets and evaluation criteria. The effectiveness of each action in delivering biodiversity benefits was also assessed by a panel of 10 experts using their specialist judgement to mitigate the risks of: (a) a skewed assessment derived from one or two experts; (b) overwhelming panellists with a long list of issues to debate; and (c) conflicts arising from misunderstandings about action outcomes. The stakeholder priorities delivered useful insights, which could be used to direct and facilitate inclusive policy investments beyond our project. Auditing local studies using existing evidence synopses is recommended to help improve local conservation evidence bases. Our study highlights the crucial role that a boundary-spanning team can play in gathering, organising, summarising and integrating datasets to address evidence disparity and complacency issues affecting local biodiversity management decisions required by global policy.

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