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Knowing But Not Doing: Selecting Priority Conservation Areas and the Research–Implementation Gap

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Conservation assessment is a rapidly evolving discipline whose stated goal is the design of networks of protected areas that represent and ensure the persistence of nature (i.e., species, habitats, and environmental processes) by separating priority areas from the activities that degrade or destroy them. Nevertheless, despite a burgeoning scientific literature that ever refines these techniques for allocating conservation resources, it is widely believed that conservation assessments are rarely translated into actions that actually conserve nature. We reviewed the conservation assessment literature in peer-reviewed journals and conducted survey questionnaires of the authors of these studies. Two-thirds of conservation assessments published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature do not deliver conservation action, primarily because most researchers never plan for implementation. This research–implementation gap between conservation science and real-world action is a genuine phenomenon and is a specific example of the “knowing–doing gap” that is widely recognized in management science. Given the woefully inadequate resources allocated for conservation, our findings raise questions over the utility of conservation assessment science, as currently practiced, to provide useful, pragmatic solutions to conservation planning problems. A reevaluation of the conceptual and operational basis of conservation planning research is urgently required. We recommend the following actions for beginning a process for bridging the research–implementation gap in conservation planning: (1) acknowledge the research–implementation gap is real, (2) source research questions from practitioners, (3) situate research within a broader conservation planning model, (4) expand the social dimension of conservation assessments, (5) support conservation plans with transdisciplinary social learning institutions, (6) reward academics for societal engagement and implementation, and (7) train students in skills for “doing” conservation.
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Keywords: aprendizaje social; area selection; brecha conocer-hacer; conservation planning; evaluación sistemática de la conservación; knowing–doing gap; planificación de la conservación; selección de área; social learning; systematic conservation assessment

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Botany, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, P.O. Box 77000, Port Elizabeth 6031, South Africa 2: Biodiversity Directorate, South African National Biodiversity Institute, Private Bag x101, Pretoria 0001, South Africa 3: Conservation Biology Group, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3EJ, United Kingdom 4: Research School of Environmental Studies, Charles Darwin University, Darwin 0909, Northern Territory, Australia, and Centre for International Forestry Research, Bogor, Indonesia

Publication date: June 1, 2008

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