Saturday, 30 May 2015

How Understanding Predation will explore Local Knowledge

How are wild bird numbers changing and what factors are driving those changes? 

These are questions that many people are interested in and their understanding of these issues is based on a variety of influences, such as experience and observations, discussions with friends and colleagues and on the interpretation of the scientific research that has been done. Interestingly, views on how things are changing and why can vary markedly between people.

This project seeks to address these issues and explore where people’s knowledge comes from and identify where and why similarities and differences in understanding occur. Our hope is that by understanding these different interpretations we will ultimately be better placed to address the questions that people have about our wild birds.

Both local and scientific knowledge contribute to our understanding of the world and therefore to conservation decision-making processes. See our previous posts about the benefits of taking a scientific approach and the role of Local Ecological Knowledge

Therefore, this project involves a review of current scientific literature and a review of local knowledge held by the scores of scientific and non-scientific organisations and individuals with an interest in this subject matter (see the draft report structure for the ways in which scientific evidence and local knowledge will be used in the project). 

Local knowledge is being explored in two stages: 
  • First, through an online questionnaire. Postings on the blog have already been used to help understand the issues and perspectives of stakeholders and ensure that these are explored effectively during the project by informing the design of the questionnaire. We invite you to ask anyone with a stake in these issues to complete the questionnaire. By participating, interested parties can express their values and share their knowledge. So far, we have had over 200 questionnaires (as of 27th May 2015) completed and many different views have been expressed. These views are helping us understand how different stakeholders think and feel about issues relating to predator-prey interactions. 
  • Second, we are organising a series of workshops where we will discuss the findings of the questionnaire in more depth. Further information on the form that these workshops will take is available in the workshop guide.

The workshops will include discussions about: 
  • The extent to which participants base their understanding on science/local knowledge, and how they decide which form of knowledge to prioritise, and the reasons for this;
  • Participants’ knowledge and understanding of changes in wild bird populations in upland and lowland systems in Scotland and the reasons for these changes; and
  • The conservation and management goals for predator and prey species that participants would like to see implemented (in the context of maintaining healthy populations of both), and their knowledge and understanding of different techniques for achieving such goals.
Data gathered from questionnaires and workshops will be analysed in a systematic, transparent and equitable way with an emphasis on putting different sources on an equal footing. This does not mean that all information provided will be treated equally however, since both the investigation and analytical processes will distinguish between fact-based and value-based claims. These processes will differentiate between the information that is suitable for inclusion in the final factual evidence base and that which is appropriate for characterising the value-based findings. 

Thanks to all those who have submitted posts to the blog and filled out questionnaires so far, and we look forward to meeting many of you soon at one of our upcoming workshops.

What is the difference between the blog and the questionnaire?

The blog is designed as a space where anyone interested in UP can post general comments or questions or observations. Postings on the blog have already been used to help understand the issues and perspectives of stakeholders and ensure that these are explored effectively during the project. All information submitted to the blog will be considered and used to inform the reviewing as the project continues. However, if you have a keen interest in the project and knowledge to share, please make sure you fill in a questionnaire. You will also need to fill in a questionnaire if you want to attend one of the project workshops. The questionnaire is designed carefully to capture information in a structured way, and this will allow us to use it effectively and comprehensively to inform the findings of the project (see the draft report structure for the ways in which local knowledge will be used in the project).

Should we fill in a single questionnaire for our organisation or multiple ones?

If you are a small organisation, where a few individuals can summarise their local knowledge and agree that their views are consistent, then it is fine to submit a single questionnaire. However, much of the benefit of this project will come from collating as much local knowledge from across Scotland as possible, so if you are an organisation with many staff with relevant local knowledge spread across the country, please try to encourage as many as possible to fill the questionnaire if you can. Similarly, if you are an organisation with many members and can encourage members to fill the questionnaire too, this will be very valuable and very much appreciated. Just as having larger sample sizes in natural science studies allows us to better answer questions in an unbiased way and understand variation in effects, similar issues apply when researching local knowledge. 

This does not mean that filling a questionnaire is like placing a vote (it’s not a numbers exercise) but it does mean that the more questionnaires we receive the more certain we can be that we are building a shared understanding that includes the variation that exists in local knowledge within and between different interest groups across Scotland (see the draft report structure for the ways in which local knowledge will be used in the project).

Gill Ainsworth

University of Aberdeen 

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