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What happens at the gap between knowledge and practice? Spaces of encounter and misencounter between environmental scientists and local people

Anne H Toomey, Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University; Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History


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Researchers studying processes of global environmental change are increasingly interested in their work having impacts that go beyond academia to influence policy and management. Recent scholarship in the conservation sciences has pointed to the existence of a research-action gap and has proposed various solutions for overcoming it. However, most of these studies have been limited to the spaces of dissemination, where the science has already been done and is then to be passed over to users of the information. Much less attention has been paid to encounters that occur between scientists and nonscientists during the practice of doing scientific research, especially in situations that include everyday roles of labor and styles of communication (i.e., fieldwork). This paper builds on theories of contact that have examined encounters and relations between different groups and cultures in diverse settings. I use quantitative and qualitative evidence from Madidi National Park, Bolivia, including an analysis of past research in the protected area, as well as interviews (N = 137) and workshops and focus groups (N = 12) with local inhabitants, scientists, and park guards. The study demonstrates the significance of currently unacknowledged or undervalued components of the research-action gap, such as power, respect, and recognition, to develop a relational and reciprocal notion of impact. I explain why, within such spaces of encounter or misencounter between scientists and local people, knowledge can be exchanged or hidden away, worldviews can be expanded or further entrenched, and scientific research can be welcomed or rejected.

Key words

encounter; impact agenda; knowing-doing gap; knowledge-exchange; research-action

Copyright © 2016 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087