The role of scientific research in informing policy is well recognised, but translating that knowledge into decision-making can still be an issue. In an analysis of over 100 natural resource monitoring schemes, researchers found that involving local stakeholders speeds up the typical decision implementing process from 3-9 years to less than one year.
Although a great deal of environmental monitoring now takes place, there remains little understanding of how to translate the acquired knowledge into decision-making and action. The study established a database containing 104 publications on environmental monitoring schemes. Based on the results of the monitoring it identified who made the decisions. It then assessed the minimum time from the start of data collection to when the findings were used for decision-making to understand how long it takes for knowledge to translate into action.
The analysis revealed that monitoring was performed solely by scientists in 43 per cent of the studies. In 36 per cent of studies data were collected by local people but analysed by scientists, and in 21 per cent of schemes local people, collected and analysed the data. The monitoring conducted by scientists mainly informed decisions at a regional level (44 per cent) and a national level (38 per cent), and the remaining studies informed international conventions.
However, in many areas, particularly the developing world, the government has minimal influence on land use where day-to-day management is conducted mainly by village decision-makers. At this scale, monitoring conducted by scientists has little impact. Schemes that inform decision-making at a village level tend to be those that engage local people in data collection, analysis and interpretation.
Moreover, the amount of involvement by local stakeholders in monitoring influences the speed of decision-making where the collection and analysis of data by local people leads to management decisions that were about three to nine times quicker than monitoring performed only by scientists. More specifically, nearly a third of scientist-executed monitoring took 9-27 years to reach decision-making, whereas 86 per cent of monitoring where locals participated in both collection and analysis took less than a year.
The researchers point out some limitations in their study. Firstly it only considers monitoring schemes that were published in peer-reviewed journals, which may mean that the study disproportionately represents larger, well-funded schemes where academic publication was the main goal. Another limitation is that management decisions might have gone unreported or might have occurred outside the period that was covered in the research. This could be overcome by using questionnaires with managers.
Nevertheless the research indicates that the type of monitoring undertaken can have an impact on decision-making and the chosen solution to the environmental problem. By using only scientists for monitoring, decisions are more likely to be taken at a larger scale, i.e. internationally, nationally or regionally, and will take longer to implement. If monitoring involves local people who are facing the consequences of the environmental changes, then this encourages a more rapid response at the operational scale of natural resource management.