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Three Lessons in Evidence-Based Biodiversity Conservation

Nov 2, 2018 4 Min. Read

How to build a strong case with an evidence-based approach.

Biodiversity, through the goods and services it provides, is essential for human well-being. International donors and development practitioners understand that environmental sustainability is not an ancillary means to this end, but rather a central component of development objectives.

Because funding for environmental endeavors have fallen short of other development sectors, demonstrating its efficacy is critically important for conservation practitioners. However, conservation programs are often designed and implemented without systematically accessing and appraising the available evidence about what works, what does not, and under what conditions.

Fortunately, there is renewed interest in evidence-based practice in conservation – in both academia and a vibrant community working to make evidence-based decision-making the default operating principle in biodiversity conservation programs. We are designing and implementing evidence-based development solutions, including building the evidence base for effective biodiversity conservation programs.

Here are some lessons learned from our work in evidence-based conservation.

Evidence trumps eminence

Using the best available evidence reduces the risk of investing resources in ineffective approaches.

In contrast, ‘evidence complacency’ may lower the efficiency and effectiveness of conservation programs. One study found that one-third of conservation managers in one region in England based their decisions on common sense alone, with others using just their past personal experience.

Another study found that when managers were presented with evidence summaries, nearly half chose to abandon their usual approaches. Neither common sense nor personal experience were enough to guide them to the right decision.

Failing to generate evidence from research and implementation experiences slows down the progress of the whole field. Collecting, analyzing, and sharing evidence about successes and failures of conservation programs is necessary for establishing best practices. Systematic approaches to asking relevant questions, testing critical assumptions, and sharing lessons learned are a fundamental aspect of evidence-based practice.

Evidence isn’t just for academics

Too often, evidence is communicated exclusively through the academic literature, which may not be may not be the most efficient way to reach all relevant audiences. Instead, evidence must be presented and disseminated with the user’s needs in mind. The same body of evidence may need to be presented in different ways to reach audiences with different needs and priorities.

In USAID’s Measuring Impact project, we worked with scientists from the American Museum of Natural History to systematically assess the evidence about best practices for stakeholder engagement in conservation programs. To ensure that this evidence would be available to the widest possible audience, this work was presented as a peer-reviewed journal article, a brief for practitioners, and a step-by-step guide for those interested in implementation. The aim was increasing the reach of this evidence by developing a suite of products to facilitate uptake by a variety of users.

Evidence-based practice requires guidance

Implementing an evidence-based approach requires more than just access to evidence. Although most decision-makers and implementing partners would agree on its importance, the concepts and tools required to effectively access, appraise, apply, and generate evidence may not be familiar to all.

Proper guidance can be just as important as the evidence itself.

Measuring Impact led to the development of Evidence in Action, a four-part resource that describes the attributes of evidence-based conservation, provides best practices for using and generating evidence in the USAID context, and suggest ways in which USAID’s processes can be leveraged to build an accessible and useful evidence base. This work aims to increase the efficiency and efficacy of USAID’s biodiversity conservation investments.

Through our partnered efforts with our dedicated conservation donors and partners towards safeguarding the Earth’s natural heritage.

By Andres Gomez

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