Conservation strategies and tools

Faced with the destruction of biodiversity, researchers, NGOs, companies and public stakeholders are developing a growing number of innovative biodiversity information and quantification tools (ecosystem service modelling, alert tools, participatory mapping tools, alert tools based on artificial intelligence, footprinting tools, economic evaluations and tools, etc.).

Although these tools are becoming increasingly effective from a technical point of view, their designers and users nevertheless encounter numerous difficulties when it comes to producing concrete and sustainable changes in the collective management of the ecosystems at stake at the landscape scale (as we ourselves have experienced with integrated ecosystem service assessment tools in Bordeaux: see for example here, here and here). These limitations point to the importance of studying in more depth the social, organisational and institutional dimensions of the design and use of such tools (see for example the work of L. Mermet on economic tools for biodiversity in this book).

My research on this topic has consisted in developing social sciences methods for the analysis of the relationships between the design of these tools and their real-world uses in strategies for change, organisation of action, allocation and control of responsibilities, and collective governance of the ecosystems. 

This line of work has resulted in particular in: (1) the development and field testing of a “context diagnostic method” for conservation; (2) the  critical analysis of innovative information tools on ecosystems and the study of their governance and strategic dimensions.

Context diagnostic method

Our work emphasises the importance of studying innovative information and assessment tools for biodiversity in the context of the concrete collective management situations and strategies for change in which they are mobilised, and on which their effectiveness ultimately rest.

In order to move in this direction, part of my post-doctoral project consisted in designing a method for diagnosing ecosystem management contexts for project managers concretely involved in strategic conservation interventions. By guiding  the analysis of the social, organisational and institutional dimensions of their intervention context, the method aims to enrich their reflexivity on the relevant use they can make of innovative information and evaluation tools for ecosystems.

The approach combines empirical data collection methods (questionnaires, stakeholder mapping, interviews, direct observation, workshops, etc.) on the intervention sites concerned, with conceptual contributions from social science theories deemed particularly relevant to analyse collective ecosystem governance issues. Visuals are proposed to make these theories more “actionable” and to allow for exchanges and collective interpretations of the action situation between members of the same intervention team or between different stakeholders.

The method, illustrated with examples from real-life ecosystem management strategies, has been published as a technical report. Tutorial videos accompany the report. See also these blog posts (here and here) and this introductory guide to the method.

This approach has been tested with biodiversity project leaders within large environmental NGOs and development banks in workshops as well as on concrete intervention landscapes for the protection/restoration of ecosystems, notably in the Philippines and Indonesia. See in particular this academic paper on the governance issues of a “sustainable landscape” and an ecological corridor in Sumatra where the method was used.

Critical analysis and governance of conservation tools

More generally, my research aims to open up an agenda for critical analysis of information tools for conservation, by multiplying case studies and progressively equipping a more general and comparative discussion of their governance and implementation issues in contrasting socio-ecological contexts (this perspective constitutes one of the dimensions of research on ecosystem-centric accounting, see in particular this paper).

Such work is based on interdisciplinary collaborations between management sciences (and in particular accounting), conservation sciences and socio-anthropology. We also defend a committed position in which this criticism is actively used to provide strategic support and design assistance to actors who deploy and experiment with these tools in complex situations of territorialized action, using research-intervention methods.

This academic paper proposes a general approach for such a research agenda by illustrating it with our fieldwork in Borneo on the case of an early warning system against deforestation used in the context of the implementation of an ecological corridor.

Other field research conducted in France and internationally on ecosystem protection/restoration strategies has given particular emphasis to the analysis of the role of data and information and evaluation tools (see for example the research conducted on the Great Green Wall in Senegal here; and the reports produced as part of the field courses on strategic analysis of environmental management on the Publications page)

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