Positioning scientists as relevant and respectful partners in restoration

Dr. Elizabeth King

Publication Date:

Research scientists can contribute in many different ways as collaborative partners in ecological restoration, for example by building knowledge of ecological dynamics or by developing tools to support decision-making. In such collaborations, we (hopefully) recognize that scientists, partners, and other stakeholders hold different knowledge, values, and priorities regarding the ecological and social context surrounding restoration. In principle, this diversity can be an asset, leading to more innovative, effective, or inclusive outcomes. But in practice, outcomes depend on how such differences are acknowledged and navigated. In this talk, we begin by examining positionality as a key factor that influences – often in tacit ways – whose knowledge and values gain greater authority over others. Positionality refers to the social stance of individuals relative to one another, and includes dimensions such as identity, status, and power. To ensure that contributions from scientific research are both relevant and respectful toward other partners, we need to be mindful of how the authority of science is wielded when processes for engagement are chosen, as well as during the engagement activities themselves. Next, we describe an ongoing collaboration between an interdisciplinary team of scientists and a group of stakeholders who are all stewards of globally rare Maritime Live Oak forests in the southeastern United States, yet all have different stances on the appropriateness of various forest restoration strategies. Invoking principles from structured decision-making (SDM) and participatory action research (PAR), we discuss the processes we adopted for appreciating stewards’ perspectives and values, strengthening the relevance of our contributions, and also avoiding a hegemonic position in the partnership. SDM and PAR offer complementary ideas for building relevant and respectful partnerships, yet creativity, humility, and intentionality on the part of scientists are still required to create fair, pluralistic engagement processes. How can scientists cultivate these skills and learn about effective modes of transdisciplinary engagement, when it is still rarely covered in academic training? In the last part of this talk, we discuss our efforts underway to synthesize useful practices and resources into an open-access training curriculum for students and research scientists. Restoration initiatives provide a diverse portfolio of successes, train wrecks, and on-the-ground wisdom, from which we can learn and discover new approaches. We invite webinar participants to share ideas, reflections, and experiences to help advance toward that common goal. Speaker: Dr. Elizabeth King (Odum School of Ecology and Warnell School of Forestry & Natural Resources, University of Georgia). Lizzie King is an interdisciplinary scientist whose research focuses on restoration ecology and social-ecological systems science. Her long-standing research in African pastoralist systems bridges hydrology, ecology, and anthropology to understand linkages between land degradation and livelihoods, especially the social and environmental conditions that affect pastoralists’ decisions and abilities to adapt their livelihoods. Dr. King also studies the decision-making challenges that arise in natural resource management when stakeholders have divergent perceptions, values, and objectives. In recent years, her work has increasingly focused on pedagogy and training for interdisciplinary and academic/non-academic research partnerships.

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Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program