Monday, August 30, 2010


What is the goal of natural resources management (NRM)? How do you decide what "success" looks like? One of the most heartfelt comments from the Adaptive Management Short course that I ran together with Lance Gunderson two weeks ago was that we should have more positive examples. More success stories. Fewer horror stories from the front lines of trying to help people make difficult decisions in the face of risk and uncertainty. That reminded me of the difficulty my student Jamie McFadden faced when reviewing the literature for examples of adaptive management - how to tell if they are successful?

Today, I'm happy to report, my colleague Sarah Michaels and I found a term to describe success in NRM. Natural Resources Nirvana or NRN for short. Of course, we still don't know what it looks like, but we're pretty sure we'll know it when we get there :)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Quality Experts?

What makes an expert a quality expert? Roger Pielke Jr. thinks we should apply David Schofield's criteria for economists to all experts:
I do not want to hear economists use their professional position to embellish pre-existing ideological, and often alarmist, narratives. I do want quantitative and political economists to deploy their unique tool sets to tell me about the fearsome trade-offs we have to address if we are to continue civilisation’s long march of human progress. I want to hear the language of innovation, uncertainty, optionality and risk, not wearisome political rhetoric and claims of spurious certainty.
Note that risk and uncertainty are not synonymous - this is not news to social scientists, but it is to many ecologists and natural resource managers. I wonder what a political ecologist looks like?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Models for interfacing ecology and society

First off, an apology for the long, long silence on this blog. In some respects I've had a very restful summer reading, writing, and sitting on white sandy beaches. But intellectually, this summer has challenged me like no other period in my life. I'm struggling with a fundamental conflict between the base assumptions underlying my recent research, and a new-found awareness of research on policy formation and public engagement with science. I haven't resolved those conflicts yet, but I can see the glimmer of hope on the horizon.

But back to the purpose of the blog - reviewing recent articles and commenting on their relevance for AM. Peter Groffman and colleagues have a great review of research relevant to the interface between science and society in the latest Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. The most useful point they make, IMHO, is to distinguish between the "deficit model" of science communication, and a broader concept of "public engagement". In the deficit model, the primary reason for failure to act on a developing environmental issue is assumed to be a lack of knowledge on the part of members of the public. Fill that gap, and all will be wonderful. This model ignores that much more than knowledge goes into a person's decision to act or not act on an issue - thorny things like beliefs, values, and interests. And worse, those decidedly non-ecological aspects affect how and what people choose to learn, further compromising the simple model of teaching to save the world.

In the public engagement model, say Groffman and colleagues, scientists engage in 2 way dialogue with the public that connects the problem to public values in an open and transparent manner. Hmmm, sounds difficult. And time consuming. But I believe they are right - fits in well with the work by Elinor Ostrom on governing the commons.

The article ends with a series of ideas for modes of engaging the public. I was very pleased to see that starting a blog was the number one suggestion! They had a very interesting figure from the Pew Research Center on People in the Press indicating that in 2008 the Internet exceeded Newspaper as the source of national and international news for the first time. Digging through that report, it appears that the use of the internet is even higher among younger people - so get out there and blog everyone!