Science and policy interaction in forestry
In everyday life, we often encounter the fact that the latest scientific findings from various fields are not accepted in practice at all or in a significantly distorted way. The question is, why is this happening? Why is scientific knowledge not used in practice? Why does the scientific community not emphasize the systematic extension, use, or application of its results in practice?
The causes of the complex transfer of knowledge into practice are main barriers of a legal and economic nature (e.g. availability of financial resources), barriers in the business space (e.g. fear of endangering production secrets), or barriers in research institutions and universities (e.g. demanding and administrative burden on scientific workers).
The basic simple approach to solving this problem is based on the consideration that the very availability of scientific results leads to a sufficient direct transfer of scientific knowledge into political practice.
However, this linear model of knowledge transfer is often criticized, e.g. because the interests and power of political actors are underestimated, the use of a scientific solution does not depend only on its scientific quality, but also on its usefulness for various interest groups, etc. Therefore, it is not easy to distinguish between what is science and what is politics and what takes place between these two spheres.
Therefore, to better understand these processes between scientific research and political use, researchers have developed the Model for research-integration-utilization of knowledge in practice (RIU), which can be used to analyse the sphere of creation of scientific expertise and the use of science by political actors.
The reliability of this model in the conditions of Slovakia was tested by scientists from the Technical University in Zvolen and their results were published in the article Transfer of scientific knowledge into forestry practice via RIU model: Experiences from transdisciplinary project ALTERFOR (Přenos vědeckých poznatků do lesnické praxe prostřednictvím modelu RIU: zkušenosti z transdisciplinárního projektu ALTERFOR, which was published in the journal Reports of Forest Research 2/2023.
The main assumption of the RIU model is that within the communication process, i.e. knowledge transfer between research and practice, selected information and research results are incorporated into the already existing knowledge of specific (key) actors.
In the ALTERFOR project (Alternative models and robust decision support for future forest management), different actors with forest management (LH) interests were involved in research and knowledge generation on alternative forest management models and how they can affect the provision of ecosystem services (ES) throughout Europe.
The goal of the project was to find robust approaches to forest management that will be resistant to the challenges of the 21st century (e.g. climate change, growing demand for energy from renewable sources) and at the same time to support and facilitate the transfer of knowledge gained into practice through the RIU model.
One important research question was what happens to scientific knowledge in the course of a communication process characterized by different actors with different interests in forest use: does science provide one solution that serves all interests, or does it have the power to force different interests into a single compromise, solution?
In the RIU model, it is understood the transfer of scientific knowledge is the connection between research (R), integration (I), and utilization (U).
Scientific knowledge is produced in the system of science (research) and scientifically based solutions to problems are used in practice by (political) actors (utilization). In other words, these actors take scientific information in an unaltered form and embed it in their existing knowledge and experience, so that new knowledge is created.
When the actor adds his self-interested judgment to this new knowledge, he creates a basis for potential action. This potential action may or may not turn into an actual action within its use. However, there is no automatic connection between these two spheres (research and utilization), therefore, unlike linear models, the RIU model emphasizes the important sphere of integration as a special activity that lies between research and utilization.
Exploitation begins with the delivery of the final medium for the transmission of information to the actors. Information can be understood as scientific recommendations to (political) actors in the form of a written report, brochure, draft of new regulatory schemes and standards, implementation manual, or in the form of scientific outputs (e.g. scientific articles, scientific conferences).
Science communication is an important sub-task of knowledge transfer, but a much more important aspect to consider is linking science-based information to the resources (power, finance) of political and practical actors. If science-based information is useful to the actors and their interests, then they will use their resources to support the use of scientific knowledge in their specific field.
According to the approach focused on actor power, power refers to the actor’s ability to implement solutions in practice even against the will of other actors.
Knowledge transfer is a process driven by the power and interests of the actors involved. Within the processes of transfer of scientific information (research) to practice (utilization), scientific reasoning and actor power remain separate, but the connection between them is created through integration.
In the analysis of the actors, the researchers identified key actors who, on the one hand, were involved in the ALTERFOR project and, on the other hand, were included among the potential users of the project results, e.g. governmental actors in LH and nature protection, forest owners and managers, actors representing the wood processing industry including manufacturers energy from renewable sources, agriculture. In the last three decades, the importance of non-governmental actors has also increased, especially in nature protection.
The analysis of the actors was based on the theoretical “approach focused on the power of the actor” and adapted to the conditions of LH. The main idea of this approach is that power is directly linked to specific actors in social relations. To measure power, researchers combined observable facts with elements of power that they classified as coercion, inducement, or deterrence, and dominant information.
The findings show that actors whose income depends on the sale of timber are mainly interested in production ES, while other actors were generally interested in supportive, regulatory, and cultural ES.
This situation should not be surprising, as conflicts of interest of varying intensity naturally occur within the framework of multifunctional forest management. However, conflicts of interest were mainly fuelled by incoherent regulatory and inadequate economic instruments, lack of finance, or information asymmetry.
While governmental actors used various elements of power to promote their interests, non-governmental actors relied mainly on unverified information (e.g. appearing in the media, working with the public).
As a result of the existing power imbalance between the actors, the regulatory, economic, and informational instruments of forestry policy were either inadequate or weakened by different interests.
The main result was that, despite the diversity of actors using different elements of power, few of them (e.g. governmental actors in LH, non-governmental actors in nature protection) have real (formal) power in forest management.
Some actors with certain interests and (informal) power profited from this situation, which often caused even greater institutional erosion, plundering of resources, bias towards the promotion of certain coalitions of interests, or information asymmetry.
Due to the effective handling of power in LH, the results of the actors’ analysis pointed to the urgency of the effective use of elements of power – coercion (e.g. removing the incoherence of legal regulations, i.e. resolving inter-sectoral cooperation), incentives (e.g. solving financing and planning in LH) or information ( e.g. increasing the expertise of management staff at all management levels in LH, improving LH communication with the public, modernizing planning in LH, e.g. through computer-supported and objective optimization).
The research results showed that the most effective ways of transferring scientific knowledge into practice, i.e. the transfer of knowledge to action include key actors (e.g. government actors in LH or nature protection) and their power compared to, for example, general scientific advice or participation.
However, scientific advice for key actors can also be classified as an effective way of transferring knowledge into practice. In this context, the quality of scientific expertise is an important criterion for science-based advice.
Based on the acceptance of the fundamental difference between science and politics, the analysed RIU model seeks a partial integration that preserves these differences while building on them to provide a bridge for the transfer of knowledge.
The experience of the ALTERFOR project showed that although the results of its solution received considerable attention, due to the existing interests and power of (political) actors, only some information was inserted into the existing knowledge and expertise of (political) actors and will lead to the emergence of their new knowledge and actions.
More precisely, scientific knowledge as a whole does not go through the selection process, instead only a part of the scientific information selected within interest-oriented communication is used by actors (with power) in practice.
The article Transfer of scientific knowledge into forestry practice via RIU model: Experiences from the transdisciplinary project ALTERFOR (Přenos vědeckých poznatků do lesnické praxe prostřednictvím modelu RIU: zkušenosti z transdisciplinárního projektu ALTERFOR) can be downloaded here.
Authors: Yvonne Brodrechtová, Róbert Sedmák, Ján Tuček, Ján Bahýľ, Michal Bošeľa, Juraj Čerňava, Technická Univerzita vo Zvolene, e-mail: email@example.com
Prepared by: Ing. Jan Řezáč, VÚLHM, v. v. i., e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Illustration photo: Autumn forests