This PhD investigated these questions by looking at how research scientists working in Botswana interact with the people who might use their results. This was to find out if there are more and better opportunities for researchers to share their discoveries with those who are interested and those who need the new knowledge that is being produced.
The study used three examples to explore these questions: the experience of principal investigators who worked under Botswana Government research permits, a public event where researchers explained their work to a general audience, and student theses written about Botswana’s wildlife and natural areas.
The study found that if researchers involve potential users in their work from the beginning of their research projects, and continue to share information throughout the project through productive interactions in a community of practice, there is a better chance that the research findings will be considered and used.
Monica Morrison, supervised by Professor Nelius Boshoff, Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology, Stellenbosch University
Which (and whose) science? How does evidence from research findings find its way into use to meet the need for management actions?
While Botswana is a small country in terms of its human population, its wealth of natural resources and experience in management of wildlife has given it a place on the global political stage. There have been many public discussions connected with concerns about the governance of natural resources, the influence of the West over conservation policies and economic incentives for protecting wildlife, and even the human-nature relationship itself. Many of these discussions make reference to the role of science in providing evidence to inform management of natural resources.
But there are perceptions among local people, many of them stakeholders in the management of Botswana's wildlife, that much scientific research is carried out by foreigners who do not necessarily choose relevant topics, and come and go from the country without sharing their findings. There is also a perception that, even when shared with government officials who are the stewards of Botswana's wildlife, research findings are not put to use, but rather "gather dust on the shelf".
“Wildlife, wildlife is all we hear about. Why don't researchers care about people?” [Botswana citizen]
There has been a steady increase in social science studies looking at natural resource use in northern Botswana, and an increase in the number of conservation scientists who recognise conservation as a social issue and who are incorporating social issues in their ecological studies, particularly related to the human-wildlife conflict and illegal wildlife trade.
“Where does all the research go? We see people coming from all over the world to study our animals, but they leave again and we never know what they have learned.” [Botswana citizen]
This study has shown that Botswana citizens are visible members of the northern Botswana research community of practice, in many cases participating as researchers themselves. The study also showed that most researchers submit their findings as required by their permits, but there are weaknesses in Botswana's information preservation and retrieval systems that can make it difficult to find studies that have been deposited.
“There are too many people studying carnivores, especially lions. What value are they adding if they keep repeating studies?” [Private sector manager]
Charismatic megafauna such as elephants and large carnivores play an important role in their natural habitat, but also, being highly visible, they are valued by the tourism industry and research about them attracts international funding. Studies of their behaviour can be used to support land use planning, and investigations of their biology can inform epidemiological studies for public health management. It appears that most studies carried out in Botswana build on previous findings, rather than repeating work. Communicating this to stakeholders at the time that research projects are launched and progress would support a broader understanding of the science.
“We know that there are too many elephants. They are destroying most of the big trees: why don't the biologists admit it?” [Private sector manager]
How researchers carry out their research, and present their findings, are framed by stakeholders using their own observations, experience, vested interests, and previous understanding of local conditions and acceptable interventions. Lags in theory adoption and absorptive capacity -- the ability to identify, assimilate, transform, and use external knowledge -- also influence stakeholders' understanding. Dealing with these requires scientists to communicate a clearer picture of what research is trying to achieve and explaining how much time, and how much uncertainty, is involved in producing reliable results. This is easier if researchers engage with stakeholders early in the research process, and share the state of current knowledge.
Image: Excerpt from news story about decision made at Victoria Falls wildlife meeting of regional Ministers in April 2019
Fieldwork to support this study focused on research carried out in northern Botswana, described in Botswana’s aerial wildlife census as the open wildlife northern conservation system area, including the Okavango region and the Savuti-Mababe-Linyanti ecosystem, but also including wildlife studies in the country's other protected areas. The literature reviews, field observations, surveys, interviews, and document content and citation analysis for this study took place in Botswana's Okavango Delta and government centres Maun and Gaborone.
49% of research permit studies included were carried out in protected areas of the north
44% of research permit studies included were carried out in protected areas in other sections of the country
My methodology came to focus on identifying routes to evidence for productive interactions and uptake through actively engaging and participating in these routes. This involved a mixed methods approach, combining qualitative and quantitative analysis to explore conditions affecting the communication and uptake of northern Botswana wildlife research. Three Botswana case studies used different methods to point to research uptake: a country-wide government research permit process that engaged with wildlife surveys , a public outreach event in Maun, Botswana, and scholarly outputs related to the production of theses and dissertations from the studied research. Surveys and interviews were carried out in northern Botswana, Gaborone, and remotely through telecommunications.
Because many of the responses to the research permit survey were based on elicited perceptions and memories of the permit holders of work that took place up to 20 years previously, published outputs that were a result of the specific work done under permit were also reviewed to provide another indication of research outcomes and uptake.
Researchers who wish to carry out fieldwork in Botswana's protected areas must apply for a research permit by submitting a proposal for their work. If awarded, the permit's conditions include the requirement to make regular progress reports, and to submit a copy of their findings to the government body responsible for administering the permit. Research priorities for wildlife studies are identified in a guidelines document that has been updated twice since 1993.
Image: Research and filming permit holders at Government of Botswana pitso (consultative meeting), Gaborone, August 2017
Decisions about what gets studied are often made without consideration of the needs of potential users and priorities of managers. Setting priorities for research in conservation science is closely related to issues of relevance and fitness for use of information and data. The study found that those investigators who had previous experience in Botswana or who chose a topic that was reflected in the priorities set out by the DWNP perceived more uptake of their research findings.
Because the DWNP is the official steward of Botswana's wildlife, interactions with its officials are considered important by researchers. But are researchers making enough effort to engage with government researchers, practitioners, and managers? The value of research findings in informing management planning has been frequently acknowledged by government. Is the Government of Botswana making the best use of independent researchers and Botswana-based NGOs as resources?
An important lesson from this study is that efforts to increase the opportunities for productive interactions among stakeholders in northern Botswana’s wildlife community of practice can be increased to ensure relevance, accessibility, trustworthiness, and understanding of research produced.
The regulatory research permit process itself, including supporting guidance in its research strategy, is already in place and can be made to better support these activities.
Specific recommendations can be found at the end of this presentation.
Image: Table showing motivations for some wildlife studies carried out under research permit, 1996-2014
Ongoing exchange of data and knowledge among stakeholders builds trusted relationships
“Governments are slow to move. The bigger impact is when you go directly to the end users. Like we did with the fishing disputes resolution .... But you have to make government your partner; otherwise the end users will not trust your recommendations. It gains legitimacy." [Professional researcher at Botswana university]
A common form of indirect interaction is researchers’ use of information and data collected by others. This often takes place before fieldwork, to ensure that new investigations take existing knowledge into account, but can also happen in the field, as new contacts are made and relevant knowledge about local conditions is exchanged. The re-use of locally produced data and research products should be an indicator of potential relevance of the new research to potential users.
“[Name of NGO] has carried out several spoor surveys to provide population and distribution data for carnivores. 2012 in the CKGR-KTP area in 2013, the CKGR in 2014. Collaborating with [names of other NGOs], DWNP. Each contributes transport, etc. There is huge demand for the data. We give it to government and to others who ask but don’t publish it. We also publish articles based on the data.” [NGO manager]
The process of collecting, processing and analysing data collected in the field offers multiple opportunities for productive interactions among wildlife researchers and stakeholders. Just over half of all respondents to the research permit survey indicated that they used data from other sources to support their work. Even through much data sharing was ad hoc, researchers who shared data, information and knowledge throughout the research process perceived more uptake into use. Government officials, including those from DWNP, were the most common recipients of research findings, followed by other researchers and Botswana research institutions. Less than a third reported sharing with memory institutions such as libraries and archives that are responsible for long-term preservation and access.
Long-term investment in a research location and its stakeholders contributes to all conditions for research uptake: awareness, relevance, trust and understanding
Commitment to long-term wildlife research in a region can lead to increased productive interactions as researchers become more knowledgeable about environmental and political contexts, and familiar with stakeholders. It also seems likely that continued work in a country or location would provide the opportunity to observe any uptake of completed research.
The survey responses reveal a complex mix of engagement in wildlife conservation, management and research in Botswana that is constantly evolving and that contributes to the long-term involvement and interactions that can contribute to better understanding and uptake of research. Responses to the survey question about professional status at the time of initiating the research, for example, illustrate this dynamic process.
The length of stay in Botswana was important because there are indications that long-term commitment to a region of study can affect uptake of the research. Botswana’s research permit process allows for extensions if reporting requirements and adherence to regulations are observed. Sometimes a single permit is extended many times, retaining the same reference identifier, and other times a researcher may obtain a series of different permits, working as either principal investigator or as part of a team. Looking at all research permit holders included in this study, the length of research period for permits ranged from a few days to 13 years, with an average length of 27 months. During the period studied, one researcher worked a total of 484 months as either a principal investigator or team member on 11 different permits. And, sometimes, researchers stay on to create research NGOs that allow for long-term engagement.
One pattern of researcher engagement in Botswana is for a graduate student to complete a study under one degree, and then return for follow-up work, often to obtain another degree. In the process of engagement with other stakeholders, the idea to form an organisation that would support ongoing research in the country sometimes takes shape. The resulting research NGOs invest years, and perform a mix of research, capacity-building and advocacy.
Participant observation and a survey of attendees and presenters at a structured monthly public outreach event jointly organised by the Okavango Research Institute and safari operator Kwando Safaris, between 2015 and 2019, investigated interactions and perception of research uptake. The study was carried out to see if the event, Research Talks for Everyone, could be considered a productive interaction, whether it created opportunities for ongoing productive interactions, and whether it resulted in uptake or use of the research presented. Participation and observations during the event allowed the author to follow the event in the roles of researcher, presenter and audience member.
The findings of the study support the initial observation that the northern Botswana research stakeholders studied make up an identifiable community of practice, whose interactions produce resources that affect their practice. The platform can be seen in itself as a productive interaction in that the event has led to further engagement with the research presented.
Data collected through attendance sheets and records of the presentations, other than the frequency of attendance that might indicate that attendees found the event useful or interesting, did not specifically address the issues of productive interactions and uptake. A web-based survey of attendees was conducted to learn more about the nature of interactions associated with the event, asking recipients whether they had followed up with presenters after the event, and whether they had shared what they learned at the Research Talks. The survey revealed that the event was valued, not only by non-academic stakeholders, but by professional researchers themselves.
"People don’t work on the same subject, it can happen by terrible bad luck, but it’s another reason why researchers need to know what other researchers are doing, so then there is less chance of anybody being scooped.” [NGO researcher audience member and presenter]
At each stage of the event – from planning to post-event follow-up – there were interactions between researchers (as presenters and audience members) and other research stakeholders (mainly as audience members). The most indicative interactions took place when audience members followed up with presenters, and when they later shared what they had learned with others.
Most audience members followed up with presenters after the main event to ask more questions, to get contact details, request collaboration, share experiences, request expertise, discuss a point or methodology, share data, or request a copy of the full paper.
The act of passing on learning indicates engagement with the knowledge transmitted, and is itself an interaction that produces awareness, assumes relevance, and creates trust and understanding. Most of the respondents (93%) reported that they had shared with others after the event. Most of the sharing reported was with colleagues (62%). This could indicate that the research had been perceived as relevant to the respondents’ professional lives, especially in the case of tourism managers and the guides in their concessions, and for academic researchers and their students
The study revealed patterns that can be interpreted as the result of productive interactions, in that they led to effort by the stakeholders to engage with the research, either through changing their thinking and behaviour, or through use of the research findings. Survey and interview results showed changes in thinking (conceptual uptake), changes in how work is carried out (instrumental uptake), changes in interactions with members of the community (strategic uptake), use of learning at work (instrumental uptake), and use of summaries shared post-event (conceptual, instrumental, and strategic uptake).
Observations, survey results and interview also showed a strong and interactive role for local NGOs. NGOs and graduate students working with these organisations were most likely to present their interim findings to others.
Image: The author presenting interim findings at Research Talks for Everyone, April 2019
To determine if it was possible to see the uptake of Botswana research through capacity building, theses and dissertations created under the government research permits studied were analysed to identify productive interactions, and to determine both direct and indirect capacity-building outcomes. Direct interactions were those where capacity building flowed directly from the production of a thesis in a project, and indirect interactions, where the outputs of a project contributed to the capacity-building of others through their use in production of another thesis.
Image: Some covers from theses produced under Botswana research permits 1996-2014
Capacity-building through the academic system creates a research work force that contributes to the potential for broader uptake of scientific findings. To determine if it was possible to see the uptake of Botswana research through capacity building, theses and dissertations created under the research permits studied were identified to determine direct capacity-building outcomes. 110 of the permits (55%) had produced at least one student thesis or dissertation, directly building capacity of the student writer. Institutions in 14 countries had granted degrees for the theses produced. The map shows that most degrees were issued by South Africa, the UK and USA.
Image: The map shows countries of degree granting bodies for original research permit thesis outputs
South African students tended to produce their theses for South African institutions and Europeans for European institutions. Students from Botswana and other African countries produced more theses for European institutions than for institutions in Africa or the rest of the world. Forty-three percent of the thesis writers associated with permits were from countries in Sub-Saharan Africa: Botswana (26), Kenya (2), Namibia (2), South Africa (44), and Zambia (2), indicating that a significant proportion (43%) of the theses produced under the studied permits were written by students with home countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Image: Chart showing country of student origin by country of degree granting institution (n=159)
A search of Google Scholar found found 825 of 1138 original outputs from the Botswana research permits (73%). The search process found that 705 of the 825 documents found in Google Scholar were cited by other documents in Google Scholar: in other words, the content of these outputs was used to support the findings and analysis carried out by other researchers not necessarily connected with the Botswana research. These 705 documents received 27,598 citations in Google Scholar.
2624 of the citing documents were unique theses or thesis sections that sometimes cited more than one of the original research permit outputs. Institutions granting the degrees for the 2624 unique theses represented 78 countries.
Institutions in the United States (28%), South Africa (13%) and the UK (10%) granted the most degrees related to the theses that cited the original research permit outputs. Most African institutions that produced the theses were based in southern or eastern Africa.
160 countries, and 35 regions were the focus of studies that produced these theses. 241 theses did not specify a geographic region, as the studies were carried out in laboratories, or were based on models. Half of the theses produced (50%) had a non-African country or region as their geographic focus, while 44% focused on Africa: Botswana (6%), South Africa (12%), the rest of southern Africa (13%), and the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa (13%).
Analysis of the 1138 research outputs produced under the studied Botswana research permits indicates that there were notable direct and indirect capacity-building effects from the work. For example, a significant proportion (43%) of the theses produced under the studied permits were written by students with home countries in sub-Saharan Africa, directly building knowledge and capacity of African researchers, and of those with whom they interacted throughout their research. Also, outputs from the research permits were used to support creation of 2624 theses, indirectly building capacity beyond that of those who directly participated in the original Botswana work.
89% of the 200 research permits contributed to capacity-building uptake through direct (thesis production) or indirect (reading and citing) interactions. These interactions can be considered productive in that they led to further use of the research findings produced under the Botswana permits.
This analysis demonstrates that the research capacity-building process does not stop when a thesis is finalised. When a thesis is shared, and its findings are used by other researchers, its influence grows through indirect interactions far beyond the institutional, topical and geographic boundaries of the original work, supporting uptake of research in an ever-broadening community of practice.
Image: The map shows the countries of degree granting bodies for the citing thesis documents