Land managers are aware that Great Britain's trees are threatened by a changing climate and by increasing incidence of tree pests and diseases. However, they often explain that they do not fully understand how they can act on this knowledge in their management responses to prevent or treat pest and disease outbreaks and to improve general tree health. This is due in part to the challenges associated with providing clear navigation around complicated, and sometimes contradictory or inaccessible information, and providing clear guidance on how to apply that evidence. This “knowledge to action gap” presents policy makers, scientists and other stakeholders with significant challenges in their information and knowledge translation, dissemination, and brokerage activities for different groups of land managers. This research project focuses on better understanding knowledge networks and developing co-designed interventions to try and overcome some of the constraints acting on land managers.
- To improve understanding of the knowledge needs of land managers with different objectives and different levels of engagement with the woodland and forestry sector
- To map out knowledge networks related to specific tree pests and diseases and identify keystone organisations likely to be able to influence other organisations and land managers within those networks
- To identify barriers and challenges to the flow of information and knowledge within networks that have an impact on closing the knowledge to action gap
- To identify improvements to processes, systems of information and knowledge development or output production that could have an impact on closing the knowledge to action gap
- To co-develop and assess interventions and strategies effective in closing the knowledge to action gap.
Research is ongoing through the current "Overcoming the Knowledge to Action Gap for Tree Health" project, and is also informed by developments in the "Understanding land managers' behaviours for tree health policy options" project.
Through this work we have identified a number of key issues in knowledge processes:
- Land manager knowledge is built through learning processes including social learning, and is influenced by a range of social and individual values and capabilities, so a focus on the provision of “knowledge products” alone, is unlikely to achieve change in land manager decision making and behaviours associated with tree health issues
- Learning processes are essential to knowledge translation in areas of complexity and novelty of the sort associated with newly arriving and unfamiliar pests and diseases. Knowledge networks and social learning processes in particular offer approaches that allow individuals to interrogate the information they receive, and help individuals build confidence around a consensus for action.
- Evidence and information require translation if it is to be applied by land managers: Knowing about something is not the same as knowing what to do about something. Different organisations within a knowledge network feel they have different degrees of responsibility for interpreting and translating evidence and information. Information is often written into documents or other materials or included in training events focusing on the description of a pest or disease. The implications of the evidence for appropriate management practices at site level, are less frequently articulated. There can also be a degree of contradiction between the information put out by different organisations as they respond to the changing knowledge context, or promote particular approaches suited to particular management objectives which may not apply to all land managers. This presents a knowledge arena which is difficult for land managers to navigate and interpret.
- Information provision and use is driven in part by perceived trust, relevance and salience: Land managers will use information if they can see why it applies to them, and what benefit they may gain from acting on the knowledge. However, there is a significant degree of variation across organisations within the knowledge network around how well they know the interests and motivations of their audiences. Better understanding of audiences can help frame information and messaging to improve uptake. However, knowledge of audience can also lead some organisations to decide some pests and diseases are of low salience, even though stakeholders with a wider more strategic view of the particular pest or disease would disagree. Building a broader sense of ownership and responsibility around pest and disease issues would go some way to building greater resilience across treescapes.
FR is leading on this research which is being conducted in partnership with University of Exeter and Fera Science.