Insights On The Transfer Of Landscape Ecological Knowledge

In this section, we summarize our experiences in Ontario over the past two decades to offer insights for developers of landscape ecological knowledge. Although we focus primarily on successes in knowledge transfer throughout the chapter, we also encountered many challenges in the transfer of landscape ecological knowledge in Ontario.

6.5.1. Challenges

Our experiences suggest a complex assortment of impediments to successful knowledge transfer: the problems may be transient, temporary, or long term; case-specific or systemic; limited or pervasive; and caused by individual personalities or organizational culture. Some of these challenges may be minimized by effective knowledge transfer.

• Unfamiliarity with landscape ecology. The traditional stand-level educational background of most resource managers makes them focus on short-term and small spatial scales, and poses an initial obstacle for their receptivity to landscape ecological knowledge. In addition, the abstract nature of landscape ecology and its inherent inability to always provide rapid empirical proof contrasts with customary fields of knowledge such as silviculture. The effects of this unfamiliarity are amplified by the inherent skepticism of practitioners toward a young science and the natural human resistance to change.

• Unrealistic expectations. When landscape ecological knowledge is introduced to forest resource managers, most expect to receive prescriptions or ready-made solutions for specific management problems. This expectation leads to disappointment because landscape ecology is more contextual and, in forest management, is used to develop and explore a range of management alternatives rather than to generate specific prescriptions. This situation is compounded when setting of goals is not explicit because forest managers sometimes expect landscape ecological knowledge to generate the missing goals.

• Viewing GIS technology as a substitute for landscape ecological knowledge. Although the ready availability of GIS technology and spatial databases assists in the transfer and application of many landscape ecological research findings, the technology may also interfere with transfer and application. Some users involved in policy development, strategic planning, and forest management believe that GIS manipulation of spatial data represents modeling and scientific research; because such explorations do not always include due consideration of the methods, assumptions, logic, or scientific basis for their approaches, the explorations can lead to false premises and entrenchment of misconceptions about patterns and processes in landscape ecology.

• Information overload. With the volume of available information increasing so rapidly, users may have access to more scientific knowledge than they can handle, and become overwhelmed. In addition, published scientific knowledge sometimes conflicts, or is duplicated with only subtle differences; as a result, potential users may misunderstand the value and applicability of the available knowledge. The onus is then on the researcher or transfer specialist to discern what knowledge is most relevant or applicable to each user's situation, and to focus on transferring only the most relevant knowledge.

Our experience with these challenges suggests that they are only temporary, though pervasive. Each can be overcome in time with sustained transfer efforts.

Some difficulties may not be readily overcome by transfer efforts alone because the problem lies in organizational cultures, and is more systemic and long term. Nonetheless, it is important for researchers to be aware of these problems, a few of which are outlined below, and to design transfer activities to address them.

• Audience complexity and diversity. Landscape-level approaches to forest policy and management often involve an audience hierarchy in which users have different knowledge needs even for the same topic. In addition, various organizations, landowners, and stakeholders are included in policy development, planning, and management. A clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities of these diverse audiences, as well as of their organizational cultures and educational backgrounds, is essential to ensure that each user obtains the knowledge they require in a usable form. This may mean having to transfer similar knowledge in multiple forms to different audiences, which requires flexible approaches and timing.

• Continuous shifts in organizational priorities. The need for and use of ecological knowledge by forest managers and policymakers are linked to organizational directions and priorities at any given time. Therefore, any sudden changes in organizational priorities—and these are common and systemic due to social or economic pressures—can also lead to sudden and unexpected shifts in knowledge needs. Adapting knowledge and tools to accommodate such shifts is an ongoing challenge, especially in public agencies.

• Narrow windows of opportunity for knowledge transfer. The reality is that most users of forest ecological knowledge, whether they are primarily involved in forest policy development, strategic planning, or forest management, are most receptive to new ecological knowledge when they face a problem and must seek specific solutions under tight time constraints. Although such policy and management crises can provide windows of opportunity for effective transfer, they are narrow and ephemeral. If knowledge developers are not vigilant and do not adapt to such conditions, they may miss many supplementary occasions to transfer knowledge.

In our experience, these challenges are difficult to meet because they require awareness of changing situations and the ability to respond quickly in a manner that is appropriate to each component of the audience. Although knowledge developers and transfer specialists may possess the necessary skills to meet each of these criteria, organizational constraints may prevent them from responding effectively. We are unaware of any general solution to this category of challenges other than to recognize its existence and take measures (e.g., striving to remain aware of the audience's changing context) to detect opportunities sufficiently far in advance to allow an appropriate response.

6.5.2. General Lessons for Landscape Ecologists

Although influencing organizational characteristics to make the situation conducive for successful knowledge transfer is beyond the capacity of landscape ecological researchers and transfer specialists, we believe that several factors are within the realm of their control. The insights we offer below are examples of issues that may be under the direct influence of landscape ecology knowledge developers.

• More than practitioners can benefit from the transfer of landscape ecological knowledge. Knowledge developers and transfer specialists can engage a broad range of audiences in addition to forest resource managers, including legislators, policymakers, and land-use planners, who may influence forest management at the many different hierarchical levels involved in solving a forest management problem. Recognizing the specific needs and characteristics of each distinct group of users helps to tailor knowledge transfer efforts accordingly.

• Knowledge developers need to keep pace with existing policies and practices. This awareness of the operational context helps researchers and transfer specialists to time the development and transfer of knowledge to match user needs, thereby maximizing effective use and application of the knowledge. When transfer occurs too early, users may be unreceptive because acceptance of the knowledge would demand too big a change from the status quo. If transfer occurs too late, users may no longer need the knowledge (i.e., they may have already developed alternative solutions) or it may no longer be relevant.

• Continuous engagement and personal interactions are most effective. Even when users are receptive, continuous engagement by knowledge developers, starting as early as the research design stage, builds mutual trust and facilitates progressive and gradual transfer of knowledge. Continuous engagement also provides opportunities to transfer the same knowledge in different forms to suit different circumstances. As a result, it is a powerful vehicle for knowledge exchange and for increasing the acceptance of new knowledge and its applications.

• It is essential to establish the context for landscape ecological knowledge at the outset. This is especially true when knowledge of the underlying concepts must be established before transfer of tools can succeed. Without understanding the concepts, users cannot apply the tools appropriately. Relying on GIS and computing technology supports the transfer of tools in the short term, but may actually impede the transfer of landscape ecological concepts in the long term if those concepts are not made part of the transfer of the tools.

• A clear understanding of the user's expectations is important for transfer. In addition to understanding the user's need for specific knowledge or application of the knowledge, researchers must be aware of the user's expectations. Users prefer directly applicable, user-friendly, validated knowledge, whereas researchers may prefer innovative, methodologically elegant, complex solutions to their problems.

In general, we found that the passive approach to knowledge transfer (i.e., expecting users to discover, read, understand, and apply published research knowledge) is ineffective. However, it is possible to provide examples of effective use of supply-driven ("push"), demand-driven ("pull"), and collaborative-iterative modes of active knowledge transfer (Perera et al. 2006) in Ontario. Most early applications of landscape ecology at strategic scales resulted from a push powered by education and the creation of awareness by researchers. This approach was effective in transferring landscape ecological concepts and setting the context at the levels of broad policy development and the production of management guides. Relying on demand (pull) from users continues to be an effective way to transfer landscape ecological tools at the scales of local management and tactical problem-solving, especially once the context is established. Last but not least, the collaborative-iterative approach is optimal in situations such as the development of management guides in which ongoing interaction and adaptability are key to ensuring that the knowledge will be used in an appropriate context and that the tools are adjusted to meet user needs.

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