Editor’s note: Jon Fisher is currently a conservation science officer at The Pew Charitable Trusts where he provides scientific expertise to inform and improve research projects and helps to increase the impact of scientific research. He was formerly a senior conservation scientist at The Nature Conservancy where he led and conducted research as a principal investigator and conducted internal theory of change work. He and co-authors recently published a paper “Improving scientific impact: how to practice science that influences environmental policy and management” in the journal Conservation Science and Practice. Fisher presented a webinar on this research to the OCTO networks (including the EBM Tools Network) in December 2019, and we highly recommend reading the paper and watching the webinar recording.
Skimmer: As you describe in your paper, a lot of scientific research that is intended to be applied isn’t ever used - because decision-makers are unaware of it, aren’t able to access it, don’t understand it, or don’t see it as relevant. Your recent paper outlines practical steps for improving the impact of science on decision making. Could you give us a summary of those steps?
Fisher: Sure, at a high level we recommend four steps:
- Identify and understand the audience (e.g., a decision-maker with whom you can partner)
- Clarify the need for evidence (i.e., how new information could lead to action)
- Gather "just enough" evidence (i.e., so there is enough rigor to be credible without missing key decision-making deadlines or wasting resources on gathering extraneous information)
- Share and discuss the evidence (i.e., help people learn about your results and motivate them to act on them).
These are guidelines rather than a strict recipe for success because there are many factors that determine the impact that research has. But following these steps improves the odds of research being influential. In fact, we ourselves have found that not following these steps in past projects has led to disappointing outcomes.