Government officials who make public policy increasingly seek to base their decisions on scientific evidence — but the information they need is often published in specialized journals that they are unlikely to read.
To make that information more accessible and useful, a group of CIFOR-ICRAF scientists is working to bridge that gap in Peru, South America’s second most-forested country.
The CIFOR-ICRAF Global Comparative Study on REDD+ Policy Advisory Group, brings researchers, policymakers, and other key REDD+ stakeholders together to discuss studies that are under way, especially those related to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).
Three times in 2022, the group — which includes 25 to 30 scientists, government officials, representatives of Indigenous Peoples’ organizations, members of non-governmental organizations and academics — met in Science-Policy Dialogues to listen to and discuss presentations of research projects. More sessions are scheduled for this year.
The result is a sort of peer review of work in progress.
“The idea is to present our research to the potential users of our results,” said CIFOR-ICRAF scientist Juan Pablo Sarmiento Barletti, one of the coordinators of the dialogues. “When scientists sit down with policymakers to discuss not our end results, but our research in progress, inviting them validate the work and collaborate in making it more relevant to their contexts, two things happen: there’s a conversation and a shared creation of knowledge, and policymakers are more interested, because they see the progress.”
As a result, he added, “It creates a sense of ownership. Because they participate while the research is under way, there is a greater likelihood that they will use the information.”
The learning works both ways, said Pablo Peña, a co-coordinator of the Policy Advisory Group who also acts as liaison with the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru in Lima, the project’s main implementation partner in Peru.
During the meetings, policymakers learn about research that can help them craft evidence-based policies, and researchers also gain new insights.
“Scientists don’t always have it so clear,” Peña said. “They may not have all the information, or there may be things they’re not sure about, so they bring their work in progress and are open to hearing suggestions, recommendations and critiques from policymakers. That way, the studies are improved.”
The meetings provide the international perspective offered by research in the 22 countries that are part of the Global Comparative Study on REDD+, but they also home in on issues of particular importance in Peru. A meeting Dec. 6 in Lima included presentations about archetypes of deforestation across tropical countries, impact evaluations of conservation projects in Peru and a closer examination of a specific REDD+ project involving Brazil nut harvesters in the country’s southeastern Madre de Dios region.
Julia Naime, a CIFOR-ICRAF postdoctoral researcher at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences in Aas, Norway, who had also spoken about deforestation archetypes at an earlier Science-Policy dialogue, incorporated some of the comments from that session when she presented further advances in December.
“The feedback from policymakers and local stakeholders helped us understand what they see as is the best potential use of the archetypes: to identify general land use patterns and compare policy effects in different areas,” Naime said. “It also helped us to identify the best ways to communicate our results: from the naming of each archetype to how we communicate the way we construct them and how many archetypes is it useful to have.”
In response to comments, Naime and her colleagues modified their terminology. They had originally used the word “frontier” to refer to areas with high levels of deforestation, but changed it to “deforestation fronts” after discussion in the group.
One of the people who recognized the usefulness of the archetypes for identifying patterns of land-use change was Rudy Valdivia, who coordinates Peru’s National Program of Forest Conservation for Climate Change Mitigation. Naime’s presentation helped him think differently about the context in which deforestation occurs, he said.
He was also intrigued by a study presented by Renzo Giudice, a senior researcher at the Center for Development Research at the University of Bonn in Germany, which examined impact evaluations of conservation programs in Peru, including the one Valdivia oversees. Valdivia is incorporating some of the study’s recommendations into the upcoming evaluation of the program.
The Science-Policy dialogues, he said, are spaces “where you can hear other people’s perceptions of how problems are occurring. Sometimes you’re so immersed in day-to-day work that you only focus on your own perceptions. It’s helpful to have a place where you can hear other views.”
For Sarmiento Barletti and Peña, two keys to the group’s success are the wide variety of perspectives and the openness to questions and criticism among people who may not usually talk to each other.
The dialogues also provide neutral ground for discussing REDD+ programs, which can be controversial. Indigenous organizations in Peru have been highly critical of the REDD+ mechanism, because they see them as a form of expropriation and commercialization of nature, Sarmiento Barletti said, “but they participate in the dialogues because they are collaborating with scientists and can apply the evidence from our work in their work in representation of communities.”
Sarmiento Barletti and Peña have some tips for others who might want to start a similar advisory group. Because it is difficult for an individual researcher, government official or member of a non-profit organization to launch such a group, they advise partnering with a research centre or a person at a non-profit or a government agency, to establish contacts with people in other fields.
To keep the group to a manageable size and ensure a range of perspectives, they recommend making participation by invitation to ensure that different sectors and organizations are represented.
Between formal meetings, the scientists circulate papers and have held workshops or meetings in smaller groups. One challenge has been to find effective ways to communicate research results to non-specialists, they said. Scientists involved in the meetings have published their findings as policy briefs and blogs to make their findings more accessible, for example.
One key, Sarmiento Barletti said, is to “include actors that you don’t normally engage with. You need to think about who is being affected by your work — Indigenous Peoples, for example, in the case of REDD+ — and engage with those people if you want an honest perspective.”
Added Peña, “It’s important to have a place like this, where people can discuss freely and openly, with no specific agenda but to listen to each other and talk about new evidence and how to use it or improve it. It’s hard to measure, but having interesting people talking about interesting findings that are reflected in policy as a result of the platform’s work is really useful.”
The next meeting will be held on 30 March in Iquitos, Loreto, where local and international organizations informing on the case for Amazonian peatlands to be accounted as part of the Forests National Reference Levels will present latest results and discuss opportunities in policy.
For more information on this topic, please contact Juan Pablo Sarmiento Barletti at J.Sarmiento@cifor-icraf.org
This work was carried out as part of the Center for International Forestry Research’s Global Comparative Study on REDD+ (www.cifor.org/gcs). The funding partners that have supported this research include the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad, Grant No. QZA-21/0124), International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU, Grant No. 20_III_108), and CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (CRP-FTA) with financial support from CGIAR Fund Donors.
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