The special feature includes five papers on research methods
New studies aim to boost social science methods in conservation research
Scientists have produced a series of papers designed to improve research on conservation and the environment.
A group of researchers, led by the University of Exeter, have contributed to a special feature of the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolutionto examine commonly used social science techniques and provide a checklist for scientists to follow.
Traditional conservation biology has been dominated by quantitative data (measured in numbers) but today it frequently relies on qualitative methods such as interviews and focus group discussions.
The aim of the special feature is to help researchers decide which techniques are most appropriate for their study, and improve the “methodological rigour” of these techniques.
“Qualitative techniques are an important part of the curriculum for most undergraduate, graduate and doctoral studies in biodiversity conservation and the environment,” said Dr Nibedita Mukherjee, of the University of Exeter, who coordinated the special feature of the journal.
“Yet the application of these techniques is often flawed or badly reported.”
Dr Mukherjee, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, added: “In putting together this special feature, we urge greater collaboration across the disciplines within conservation, incorporating rigorous use of qualitative methods.
“We envisage a future in which conservation scientists test, modify and improve these techniques, so that they become even more relevant and widely used.”
The five papers in the special feature include one which examines the use of interviews as part of research into conservation decision-making.
It found that researchers do not always justify their use of interviews, or report on their use fully enough for readers to make informed judgements.
"While interview-based research might not always be reproducible, we should still leave the reader in no doubt about what was done,” said lead author Dr David Rose, formerly of the University of Cambridge but now at the University of East Anglia.
Another paper looked at the use of focus groups. Lead author Tobias Nyumba, from the University of Cambridge, said focus groups are often used but many researchers are “not particularly keen on the process, from planning, execution, analysis to reporting.
“This paper is, therefore, a must read if focus groups must form part of your research toolkit,” he said.
A third paper looked at the nominal group technique (NGT).
Lead author Dr Jean Huge said: "While conservation conflicts are on the rise worldwide, NGT provides a simple yet systematic approach to prioritise management options and could help reduce conflict.”
The special feature is a collaboration between universities including Exeter, Cambridge, East Anglia, Ghent, ULB, VUB, Queensland, Trento, Central University of Ecuador and the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment.
Date: 11 January 2018