Interview with Carina Wyborn, Research Advisor at the Luc Hoffmann Institute, by Victoria Pilbeam, Masters student in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management at the University of Oxford.
One of the biggest conservation challenges is how to translate what we know about the environment into meaningful action. In conservation circles, this is often discussed in terms of the ‘science-policy interface’, the ways that conservation science connects and relates to decision-making. In an era in which some political leaders claim that the general public are “tired of experts” and draw their evidence from “alternative facts”, critical thinking around the science-policy interface is perhaps more relevant now than ever before. As conservation scientists and practitioners, we all have to do some soul-searching about the role of science in a ‘post-truth’ world, says Wyborn.
Can you tell me about the Luc Hoffmann Institute (LHI) and the work that you do?
We have a very inspiring mission to connect the global research community with WWF’s conservation programmes and other conservation organisations, but in practical terms this is challenging. My main role is to help LHI understand what it means to implement that vision. My research is about the role of science in conservation decision-making at local, national and regional scales. Conservation has always had a mantra of ‘using science to make the world a better place’ but a lot of social science literature on the role of science in decision-making is not making it into the conservation space.
We also have a Capacity Development Programme, currently mainly focussed on post-doctorates but we’ve just started working with a Master’s programme in the US. The goal is to provide ‘non traditional’ skills for conservation scientists to help them think about, and do, science differently to improve its impact.
How do you see your role as a social scientist working on conservation science?
LHI’s role is to help address some of the critical conservation challenges of the 21st century. So many of conservation’s challenges revolve around how we can engage with people differently, with different types of knowledge, and the role that science has in complex, messy decisions that are much more about values than they are about facts.
Science is a really powerful ‘institution’ but it’s also an identity for people, often for people who are trying to save the world and feel very passionately about their knowledge. I strongly believe in the value of science but we need to think about its appropriate place. This involves instances in which we need to take science down from its pedestal, in a way that situates it with other ways of knowing and making decisions. Sometimes that’s threatening to people. But how can we re-evaluate the role of science if we can’t have an honest conversation about it?
Main Image: © Global Warming Images / WWF