The impact of scientific information on ecosystem management: Making sense of the contextual gap between information providers and decision makers
Natural Resources and the Environment, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Pretoria 0001, South Africa; Department of Society and Conservation, College of Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812-0576, United States
Scientific information is not always effectively incorporated into decision-making processes. This phenomenon seems to hold even when the information is aligned with an articulated need, is generated according to sound scientific procedures, and is packaged with end-user preferences in mind. We propose that contextual or cultural differences contribute significantly to the misalignment in communication between those who generate information and those who seek information for improved management of natural resources. The solution is to cultivate shared understanding, which in turn relies on acknowledgment and sharing of diverse values and attitudes. This constitutes a difficult challenge in a culturally diverse environment. Whereas cultural diversity represents wealth in experiences, knowledge and perspectives it can constrain the potential to develop the shared understandings necessary for effective integration of new information. This article illustrates how a lack of shared understanding among participants engaged in a resource-management process can produce and perpetuate divergent views of the world, to the extent that information and knowledge flows are ineffective and scientific information, even when requested, cannot be used effectively. Four themes were distilled from interviews with management and scientific staff of a natural resource-management agency in South Africa. The themes are used to illustrate how divergent views embedded in different cultures can discourage alignment of effort toward a common purpose. The article then presents a sense-making framework to illustrate the potential for developing shared understandings in a culturally diverse world. © 2008 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.
Cultural diversity; Ecosystem management; Decision making; Environmental management; Information use; Natural resources; Ecosystems; decision making; ecosystem management; learning; natural resource; participatory approach; perception; public attitude; resource management; traditional knowledge; article; cultural anthropology; decision making; environmental management; South Africa; Comprehension; Conservation of Natural Resources; Cultural Diversity; Decision Making; Ecosystem; Humans; Information Management; Knowledge; Science; South Africa; Africa; South Africa; Southern Africa; Sub-Saharan Africa