Collaborative research conducted through the NERP Marine Biodiversity Hub provided evidence and advice to support management decisions relating to the conservation values of Australia’s marine environment.
Knowledge brokering was integral to this process, ensuring projects were appropriately designed and scoped to meet the needs of end-users, in particular the Department of the Environment, and that results were provided in a format that would be used by decision makers.
A knowledge broker was appointed to help develop and exchange knowledge between scientists and policy makers. The knowledge broker, also the Deputy Director of the Hub, worked closely with the Director and Research Leadership Team. A broad group of scientists, policy makers and communicators supported the exchange of knowledge, including the Hub’s Steering Committee, project leaders, senior executives, policy officers, marine reserve managers, technicians and data managers.
Knowledge brokering under the NERP built on previous success with the Commonwealth Environment Research Facility (CERF) Marine Biodiversity Hub. Under the CERF program, knowledge brokering activities generally focused on informing and engaging scientists and policy makers so that scientific outputs could be understood and used. Under NERP, we extended this approach to inform, engage, collaborate and build capacity, regularly revisiting important areas to ensure that the outcomes remained integral to Departmental activities. The five stages of knowledge brokering under NERP were:
- scoping and refining research projects in collaboration with the Department;
- describing research outputs and indicators of impact to identify key users;
- communicating progress toward outputs to maintain engagement;
- delivery of outputs in an agreed format; and
- evaluating impacts on Departmental activities.
Understanding the nature of research projects, the policy setting, the people and their capacity for engagement was important. Research drivers focused on adaptive management and the monitoring and evaluation of conservation value, and marine reserves were a focus of collaboration, capacity building and, in some cases, co-production of project outputs. Policy drivers were Marine Bioregional Planning, including managing the CMR network, species recovery plans and REEF 2050. The marine monitoring blueprint and the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area monitoring framework are examples of products that tailored the best available science to meet policy objectives. Knowledge brokering also supported project leaders to forge relationships with end-users.
Marine Biodiversity Hub scientists and end-users, particularly policy makers and managers from the Department, embraced and participated in knowledge brokering. This was most evident in their commitment to plan and implement strategies designed to inform, engage, collaborate and build capacity for applied marine research. The great example of this was the scoping and progressing of research to support plans for the recovery of listed species. In these instances, well structured policy problems, clearly defined data and information needs, and established relationships between researchers and policy makers, enabled effective engagement and knowledge exchange.
Considerable capacity was built in the area of marine monitoring, particularly in terms of understanding how policy and research are central to developing a shared language and logic for monitoring and environmental reporting. This is a challenging arena in which the interests and resources of policy makers and researchers converge. Ongoing knowledge brokering will enhance the contribution of monitoring to evidence-based decision making.
The knowledge broker played an important role in interpreting the Australian Government’s environmental policies and conservation values for the marine research community. This was particularly important for projects operating in an ambiguous, broad, or evolving policy context, such as marine offsets. Managing sensitivities and expectations for research in social and economic disciplines was another challenging area (also experienced during the CERF Hub). The knowledge broker also maintained the momentum of research collaborations affected by restructures and staff changes in the Department, and identified opportunities to expand agreed research outputs to meet the needs of end users.
Building a framework for the world’s largest living structure
Establishing an integrated monitoring framework for the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (GBRWHA) presented a significant knowledge brokering challenge amid tight timeframes set to meet processes under the Environment Protection Biodiversity Act 1999. Developing a more strategic approach to reef monitoring involved collating a wealth of information on management needs and 65 existing monitoring programs, and harmonising the needs and views of diverse specialists and stakeholders in the complex setting of adaptive management.
Policy makers, scientists, and data and natural resource managers helped to define and prioritise steps towards integrating management and monitoring approaches, and distilled this into practical guidance applicable in any coastal or marine region. The guidance was subsequently applied to the GBRWHA to develop an integrated monitoring framework tailored for GBR managers. This provided the basis for further collaborative efforts to build the monitoring program (see story Shaping integrated monitoring for the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area).
Stakeholder commitment to participation has been vital to successful knowledge brokering in this project and has involved developing a shared language and logic for integrating monitoring, including the identification of key management and science inputs, essential monitoring functions and options for engaging experts and stakeholders.
The monitoring framework contributed to the strategic assessment of the World Heritage Area in 2014 and is guiding development of a reef-wide integrated monitoring and reporting program to review the success of the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan (draft released for public comment in September 2014). It will build on and coordinate existing monitoring and reporting activities and will be linked to the outcomes and targets identified in the plan.
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