Knowledge co-production and boundary work to promote implementation of conservation plans

Knowledge co-production and boundary work to promote implementation of conservation plans

Thanks to Point Blue’s Dr. Libby Porzig for this: Please check out the paper by Jeanne Nel and colleagues, “Knowledge co-production and boundary work to promote implementation of conservation plans,” from the latest issue of Conservation Biology.  Knowledge co-production describes the iterative and collaborative process of combining multiple knowledge sources to address a problem or challenge, with the recognition that when stakeholders are involved in knowledge production, they are more likely to see the outputs and outcomes as legitimate and relevant. This process is facilitated by boundary spanning individuals or organizations. This paper does a really nice job explaining these concepts and describes a very cool example from freshwater conservation planning in South Africa.


The concepts of knowledge co-production and boundary work offer planners a new frame for critically designing a social process that fosters collaborative implementation of resulting plans. Knowledge co-production involves stakeholders from diverse knowledge systems working iteratively towards common vision and action. Boundary work is a means of creating permeable knowledge boundaries that satisfy the needs of multiple social groups while guarding the functional integrity of contributing knowledge systems. Resulting products can be viewed as ‘boundary objects’ of mutual interest, which maintain coherence across all knowledge boundaries. This paper shows how knowledge co-production and boundary work can be deeply entrenched into well-established stages of conservation planning to bridge the gap between planning and implementation, and promote cross-sectoral cooperation. Knowledge co-production occurred iteratively over four years in interactive stakeholder workshops, which included: co-development of goals and spatial data, translation of goals into quantitative inputs for Marxan software used to select draft priority areas, review of draft priority areas, and packaging of resulting map products into an atlas and supporting implementation manual to promote application in 37 different use contexts. Knowledge co-production stimulated dialogue and negotiation, and built capacity for multi-scale implementation beyond the project. The resulting maps and information integrate diverse knowledge types of over 450 stakeholders, representing well over 1000 person years of collective experience. The maps provide a consistent national information source that has been applied in 25 of the 37 use contexts since launching 3.5 years ago. When framed as a knowledge co-production process supported by boundary work, regional conservation plans can be developed into valuable ‘boundary objects’, which offer a tangible tool for multi-agency cooperation around conserving biodiversity. This work provides practical guidance for conservation planners interested in promoting uptake of their science, and contributes to an evidence base for reflection on how conservation efforts can be improved.

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