DDD Conference

Dr. Zheng-Hong Kong

Knowledge Exchange in Environmental Management Needs Integrating with Local Socioeconomic Concerns to Support Sustainable Outcomes in Drylands

University of York, United Kingdom
Knowledge is an intrinsic element of environmental management and closely related to management capacities. Understanding what kinds of knowledge are needed and how to communicate them in effective ways is crucial for enabling well-informed management. However, knowledge and its exchange have often been observed from the angles of its creators and disseminators, rather than from the perspectives of the receivers. This can lead to mismatches between supply of and demand for knowledge, resulting in futile knowledge exchange and wastage of resources. In this research, 3 cases in north-western China where National Environmental Programs (NEPs) have been implemented to combat desertification are investigated to address this gap, using interviews and questionnaires with scientists, grassroots implementers, and farmers/ herders. We aimed to identify what and how knowledge has been exchanged during NEPs implementation, the outcomes from dominant knowledge exchange, and to explain why discrepancies occur and how they can be remedied, considering local stakeholders’ perspectives.
We identified constant flows and exchanges of knowledge from and between scientists and policy makers at high levels during the formulation of NEPs, while well-functioned communication channels and mechanisms of existing environmental institutions made implementation very effective and efficient. However, knowledge exchange at high levels encourages large-scale research and simplified concepts, and often overlooks specific contexts. This caused knowledge exchange during the implementation process to be incompatible with some local conditions and saw suspicion and distrust developing among local stakeholders about the relevance and applicability of the knowledge they received. Despite local farmers/ herders, who have resided on their land for generations, have more knowledge about their environment than is presumed by many scientists, their struggles to balance conserving land and making a living require more support from beyond environmental policies.

We suggest knowledge and its exchange in environmental management should “change with the changing” in the biophysical arena and extend beyond the environmental domain to integrate with those that look into local socioeconomic concerns. Such efforts could not only improve environmental management outcomes but also advance sustainable development.

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