Where Do Knowledge Developers Go From Here

As we learned, the transfer of forest landscape ecological knowledge is possible under a range of scenarios, from implementation of a single tool that will influence a limited set of decisions to the development of policies with a broad range of social repercussions. When the transfer situation becomes more complex, from single to multiple applications, one to many user groups, single to multiple organizations, one to many ownerships, and narrow to wide impact of the application, common keys to success as well as challenges emerge. In addition, no single transfer method or list of obstacles to be overcome can be identified before engagement between knowledge developers and users begins because each situation is unique. There are also many participants in knowledge transfer beyond developers and users, such as transfer specialists and other experts, and all of them share partial responsibility for the process. Amidst these complexities, researchers must accept the responsibility to identify the needs and opportunities for application of their knowledge and to ensure transfer of the knowledge they develop.

Imagine the following scenario. A group of elected officials visits a forestry research agency. The officials are well aware that the agency's scientists conduct outstanding research and that their work and the publications resulting from their research are held in high regard by the broader scientific community. But the officials are not interested in exemplary publications produced by renowned scientists; instead, they want to know about the relevance of the work, how it could solve important problems, whether the researchers accomplished their original goals, and—not surprising given that these are elected officials—whether the work will help their constituents. Not only do the scientists need to make clear the relevance of their research but they also have to present their science in a manner that makes sense to the elected officials. Furthermore, the scientists have only a few minutes to make their case before the policymakers hurry off to their next appointment.

Although this scenario is purely hypothetical, researchers who receive government funding will recognize its plausibility. Those responsible for funding scientific research increasingly want to know what they are getting for their money, and want to receive this information in clear and unambiguous terms. They want to know about outcomes, not just outputs. Unfortunately, though scientists are trained to communicate with their peers, there is much less emphasis placed on communicating with the much larger and more diverse audience of policymakers, knowledge users (such as planners and managers), public officials, and the general public. As Scheuering and Barbour (2004) observed, "Science does not exist in a vacuum, but reading scientific publications might make you think it does."

During these times of decreasing funding for research and increasing accountability of researchers to those who fund their work, the need to close the gap between those who produce knowledge and those who use it is growing. As we have stressed in this book, this requires a reciprocal relationship in which a partnership is formed; in the case of forest science, the partnership is between those who manage the natural resource and those who study the resource, and the partnership exists for their mutual benefit. Although the importance of this relationship between producer and consumer of knowledge has been stated many times before, it is worth repeating. Bridging this gap calls for fundamental changes in the ways that universities train both the producers and the consumers of knowledge and it requires changes in the ways research organizations reward their scientists. In an interesting essay on the role of the university, Rowe (1990) argued that universities have become "overloaded and top-heavy with expertness and information." Instead of being "a know-how institution" they should become "know-why institutions." The know-how approach is rich with information but poor in knowledge. It is this knowledge and the basic understanding that provides "ethical alternatives on which to act." As a profession, we researchers are good at collecting information; we also need to turn this information into knowledge that is useful to those who support our efforts.

In making our case for knowledge transfer, we also must recognize the pitfalls. Many of these have been identified in the preceding chapters. One, however, deserves special attention. If research is justified solely on its perceived merits to society, there is a risk of failing to support programs that are presently "out of favor" but that nonetheless have value, as well as high-risk ventures that constitute some of the research community's most innovative work. We contend, however, that by closing the gap between producers and consumers of knowledge, the likelihood of support for this research is increased, not diminished; people will support what they understand more readily than abstract concepts that appear to have no relevance. This is also true of funding agencies: research funds will be more readily awarded when the agency understands how the research helps meet the agency's goals.

Those involved in landscape ecology, and specifically in forest landscape ecology, have been successful in persuading the policy community that our science should be taken seriously (Klijn 2005). A landscape perspective, with its emphasis on spatial relationships, on collaboration across disciplines, on multiple scales and hierarchies, and on the importance of context and local processes, is the right science at the right time for resource managers. Consequently, the most important job for researchers is to ensure that this science does not operate in a vacuum, and to act on opportunities for the application of landscape ecological knowledge. We hope that by introducing the concept of knowledge transfer to the vocabulary of forest landscape ecological researchers, this book will serve as a catalyst for future endeavors to improve the effectiveness of knowledge transfer and will contribute to successful application of this knowledge.

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