How research-prioritization exercises affect conservation policy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Conservation scientists are concerned about the apparent lack of impact their research is having on policy. By better aligning research with policy needs, conservation science might become more relevant to policy and increase its real-world salience in the conservation of biological diversity. Consequently, some conservation scientists have embarked on a variety of exercises to identify research questions that, if answered, would provide the evidence base with which to develop and implement effective conservation policies. I synthesized two existing approaches to conceptualizing research impacts. One widely used approach classifies the impacts of research as conceptual, instrumental, and symbolic. Conceptual impacts occur when policy makers are sensitized to new issues and change their beliefs or thinking. Instrumental impacts arise when scientific research has a direct impact on policy decisions. The use of scientific research results to support established policy positions are symbolic impacts. The second approach classifies research issues according to whether scientific knowledge is developed fully and whether the policy issue has been articulated clearly. I believe exercises to identify important research questions have objectives of increasing the clarity of policy issues while strengthening science-policy interactions. This may facilitate the transmission of scientific knowledge to policy makers and, potentially, accelerate the development and implementation of effective conservation policy. Other, similar types of exercises might also be useful. For example, identification of visionary science questions independent of current policy needs, prioritization of best practices for transferring scientific knowledge to policy makers, and identification of questions about human values and their role in political processes could all help advance real-world conservation science. It is crucial for conservation scientists to understand the wide variety of ways in which their research can affect policy and be improved systematically.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)860-866
Number of pages7
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number5
Early online date25 Jul 2011
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2011


  • 100 questions
  • policy issues
  • research impact
  • research utilization
  • science policy

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