Translational ecology is a new effort to encourage ecologists to work and communicate with the public and policy makers. In this presentation, we ask this question: What is the next model, beyond translational ecology, that will transform ecological science so it makes an even more effective contribution to solving real world problems? Our thesis is that translational ecology is a first step, but ‘transformational ecology’ is the next step in this evolution of engagement. This transformational ecology model is based on a synthesis of the empirical experience of a broad team of scientists, communities and policy makers working in Africa, Asia and the US, who experimented with a variety of strategies to implement new models of engagement with pastoral people over the last three decades.
This talk will outline the transformational ecology model, which starts with attempting to reduce the knowledge power imbalance between us ‘expert’ scientists and the many other ways of knowing the world held by our non-scientific partners by encouraging all team members to be curious, lifelong learners. This model requires new multi-way language replacing one-way communication words like ‘outreach’, ‘technology transfer’, and ‘dissemination’ with ‘engagement’ and ‘co-learning’, and borrowing tools from the humanities and social sciences like participatory action research, qualitative data collection, and narratives. It also requires a basic philosophical shift so that knowledge is not only about data, but about experiences, stories, and spiritual connections. Specific strategies include creating holistic, interdisciplinary research-with-action teams, negotiating competing types of evidence from science and experience, and becoming boundary spanning individuals and organizations. There is a role in this transformation, for example, for nimble research-education-action organizations connected to large research institutions. Another strategy includes boundary-spanning grad students or faculty members on research-with-action teams who study and enhance team communication and ways to integrate different ways of knowing. To implement this model at universities, faculty and student incentives will need to change so that engagement and broader impacts really count for advancement. This model includes a ‘continuous engagement’ piece that puts community or policy facilitators at the center of the team, so the research-with-action starts, middles and ends with the needs expressed by these scientific stakeholders. This new approach contributes to translational ecology by allowing not only scientists to communicate with policy makers, but empowers other stakeholders to be equal partners in this many-way conversation.