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Sridhar Hari | Fellow Senior
2022-10-01 - 2023-09-30 | Research area: Sustainability Research
An Elephant in the Room? The place of science and scientists in conservation decision-making in India

While there is general consensus about the existence of a knowledge-action gap in the fields of ecology and conservation, its causes are hotly-debated. Broadly, this debate can be characterised as having two dominant perspectives. One perspective is based on the idea that knowledge always flows unidirectionally, from scientist to practitioner, and the gap is mainly a consequence of inadequacies in the generation, communication and/or use of scientific knowledge. This perspective has come, mostly, from inside science. The other perspective is based on the idea that knowledge flows bi-directionally between scientist and practitioner, i.e. it is co-produced, and the gap exists because of the lack or infrequency of interactions between scientist and practitioner. This view has come mainly from outside science.

Independent of this debate, knowledge, whether produced only by scientists or jointly by scientists and practitioners, is believed to inform practice in different ways, including instrumentally, conceptually and symbolically. In this project, I would like to provide empirical grist to these theoretical mills using two approaches: 1. Focussed, in-depth interviews of scientists about their personal experiences in attempting to create ecological knowledge useful for conservation action; 2. Systematic analysis of scientific evidence used in conservation decision documents (e.g. policy documents, park management plans, environmental impact assessments etc.). 

This project will be focussed on India, which presents a unique case in the global debate on the science-conservation gap. Conservation science in India is largely based upon ideas and theories from the west (what one might call Michael Soulé’s Conservation Biology (Soulé 1985)). At the same time, India’s historical resistance to foreign scientists working within its borders has meant that its conservation biology community consists mostly of Indians; in contrast to other countries of the global south, where conservation biology is dominated by scientists from the global north. Indian conservation scientists, while engaging with western conservation biology, have had their ears closer to the ground, questioned conservation biology’s relevance and taken a much more bottom-up approach to engaging with conservation action. The Indian conservation scientist community is, therefore, likely to contain a wealth of unique experiences and perspectives related to science’s role in conservation. I hope that the findings from the proposed project will help paint a nuanced picture of how science, both in intended and unintended ways, informs and engages with conservation practice, and point the way towards more effective use of science in solving our growing environmental problems.