Workpackage 08

Member of the

Freshwater Information Platform

Workpackage 08

Capacity Building, Awareness Raising, Dissemination and Science-Policy Dialogue

Responsible Institution: Oxford University (UOXF.AC)

Key questions and issues:

  • What are the main issues of concern of society, and how can these concerns be improved by the development of a well thought out communication and development strategy?
  • How can stakeholders and civil society target groups be identified and integrated into the scientific process more explicitly, as a means of encouraging uptake of new information?
  • How can the outputs of science be made more accessible, practical and operationally valuable for society as a whole?
  • How can the links between scientific research, the media and decision makers in general be strengthened in such a way to promote better uptake of scientific results?
  • How can society be convinced that protection of freshwater biodiversity is a crucial issue?

Capacity building, outreach and communication in the BioFresh project will make an important contribution to the availability of information on freshwater biodiversity worldwide. The creation of a dissemination and communication strategy to facilitate the transmission of this information is a key objective of BioFresh. The formulation of this strategy will take place in the first 6 months of the project (including a 3-month preparatory phase). Likely impacts of global change on freshwater ecosystems will be highlighted to help raise the profile of the issue with the general public and decision makers. Through this process, better understanding of freshwater biodiversity and its role within ecosystems will be promoted in a more accessible and user-friendly manner, encouraging uptake of the results for policy making.

Making decisions and creating policy instruments relating to environmental and natural resources is a complex challenge. While the scientific community usually operates at a detailed and local scale, managers and policy makers require a more holistic ecosystems approach, without the detail required by scientists. The gap between the two approaches is not solely due to knowledge differentials, but also because of a different way of thinking. The interdisciplinary nature of these problems demand fresh approaches to ensure that the right type of information is received by the policy maker in a form that can easily be incorporated into policy. In WP8 we will address these needs in a variety of ways.

Within the broader scientific community, the results of this project will clarify some key uncertainties in relation to the links between freshwater biodiversity and ecosystem services (as suggested in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005), and better organization of the relevant available data will prove invaluable to both present and future freshwater researchers. Furthermore, through better organization of available freshwater data, it is more likely that decisions on water allocations will be more sensitive to the needs of freshwater ecosystems.

The urgency of effective responses to the challenges of freshwater biodiversity loss requires that the dialogue linking science to societal processes becomes firmly established and effective. This should be based on information flows from science to relevant levels of governance - locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. One of the first steps within BioFresh will be to develop a dissemination and communication strategy designed to optimise the impact of scientific knowledge on policy formulation.

This linkage of science to society will be achieved through the use of broadcast and non-broadcast methods. While broadcast methods will still be vital to deliver complex information to the science community and others with an interest in this field, there is a great need for novel (non-broadcast) approaches to capture the imagination of a much wider range of potential users of the information. The value of data only lies through its use, and so it will be essential to promote the use of the collated BioFresh datasets by a wide range of different user groups. The information disseminated by WP8 will be drawn from all other Work Packages in the project.

In the light of the continued rapid depletion of freshwater systems, there is a clear need to clarify and demonstrate “How can citizens profit from freshwater biodiversity protection and scientific projects like BioFresh?” and “Why is better information on the loss of freshwater biodiversity so important?”. To answer these questions, clear, understandable but not over-simplified information about the causes and impacts of freshwater biodiversity loss and related ecosystem services must be made available in a variety of formats, to society in general, and key stakeholders in particular (e.g. nature conservation and water managers, basin commissions etc.).

Furthermore, better understanding of public perceptions of freshwater biodiversity, and the importance of changes in it, will enable more effective information delivery related to the integrity of freshwater systems. The use of rapid appraisal approaches in water management is important if sophisticated modelling is not available. This type of approach provides support for decision makers, and the development of such a tool designed for freshwater biodiversity assessment will enable more effective decisions about water allocations to be made.

The translation of main scientific concepts from a project like BioFresh into materials that can be understood (and acted upon) by both the public, and policy makers, is a key part of the scientific process. The role of the media in this process is crucial, and thus it is important to deliver these scientific outputs in ways which are attractive to agents within that domain. Within the freshwater biodiversity science community, it is widely accepted that the urgency of biodiversity loss from freshwater systems should be conveyed to the largest possible audience. A key part of this audience will be those policy makers whose areas of influence impact on natural resources in general and freshwater systems in particular.

By offering different and often contrasting perspectives of involved stakeholders, policy makers have a major role to play in this, and so will be targeted specifically in the planned communication and dissemination strategy and other outreach activities. In addition, it is anticipated that the BioFresh project will galvanise the global biodiversity science community to pool their knowledge in such a way as to fill in some of the current gaps in our knowledge. This will also provide the opportunity for scientists from developing countries to be involved in and contribute to, international initiatives. This will make a contribution to the Millennium Development Goal number 8 which relates to the building of global partnerships for development (to assist developing countries in growing and participating effectively).