SE CASC Study Analyzes Academic Contribution and Stakeholder Use of Collaborative Research

A new publication by a SE CASC-supported research team, Amanda A. Hyman, Steph L. Courtney, Karen S. McNeal, Lalasia Bialic-Murphey, Cari S. Furiness, Mitchell J. Eaton, Paul R. Armsworth, Distinct pathways to stakeholder use versus academic contribution in climate adaptation research, has been published in the journal, Conservation Letters. The publication is the product of SE CASC project, Best Practices for Project Design: Effectively Addressing Natural Resource Management Needs

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As climate change continues to challenge adaptation initiatives around the world, research-driven recommendations to inform management decisions have become increasingly important. In a new study published in Conservation Letters, researchers evaluated factors that may influence how research results are used by intended stakeholders as well as how the same projects contribute to scientific advancements. Their findings emphasize the importance of regular communication between users and principal investigators in order to increase use of the science.

A research team supported by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center (SE CASC) evaluated documentary sources and conducted surveys of researchers, stakeholders, and program leaders from federally supported projects across the U.S. to understand the factors that influence the variation of academic contribution and use of collaborative research on climate change adaptation. They found that peer-reviewed publications or academic contribution did not significantly affect use but the frequency of meetings between researchers and users did influence the level of use.

The authors believe that this study can help researchers conduct science that will better address the specific needs of natural resource managers and key stakeholders.

Theory of change model with variables used for each component of the model. Italicized text are the data sources with the associated number of unique projects that had data. Here factor refers to the outputs from our exploratory factor analysis. (Figure 1 from article)

“To invest money into climate research wisely, we need to know how to design projects that will successfully address the information needs of natural resource managers and reach SE CASC programmatic goals,” said the study’s lead author, Amanda Hyman, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee. “We sought to fill this knowledge gap by conducting a quantitative evaluation that investigates research project characteristics that lead to increased use and/or scientific innovation.”

Researchers developed a theory of change framework depicting influences of inputs and processes on outputs and outcomes from projects. The framework allowed them to identify the elements of coproduction, which is the deliberate collaboration between research scientists, user groups, and other stakeholders, that allow optimal stakeholder use and academic contributions.

They evaluated 28 unique coproduction projects funded by the SE CASC from 2008-2019. Survey questions sent to 208 users focused on three types of use – conceptual, instrumental, and justification. When they quantitatively tested the theoretical use constructs of their user survey, they found that among use factors, there were two factors that cumulatively explained 61% of the variance in the survey responses. The first represents intangible uses, e.g. influence of a professional network and having research impact user knowledge relevant to their job, which explained 34% of the total variation. They also found factors representing more tangible forms of use, e.g. influenced decisions to change how time, money, or labor are spent in their organization, which explained 27% of the total variation.

“Our study highlights the need to move beyond descriptive studies to more informed evidence-based approaches when examining the link between academic contributions and use of coproduction projects,” Hyman said. “We show that increased meeting frequency leads to increased use of research project products and leadership perspectives of use significantly differ from those of end-users,” highlighting the need for user input in the evaluation process.

When it came to effects on academic contributions and use, researchers found that budget, time since the project ended, PI and users working together before and within the same agency, and average level of involvement of users all positively significantly influenced the number of publications.

In all, researchers say the findings show that meaningful engagement with intended users throughout the research process is essential for developing meaningful science that will be implemented by resource managers.

The study, “Distinct pathways to stakeholder use versus academic contribution in climate adaptation research,” was published online June 8, 2022, in Conservation Letters. Authors are Amanda Hyman, Steph Courtney, Karen McNeal, Lalasia Bialic-Murphy, Cari Furiness, Mitchell Eaton, and Paul Armsworth. This project was supported by the U.S. Geological Survey Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center (G20AC00121).

– Salmons –

Note to editors: The abstract follows.

“Distinct pathways to stakeholder use versus academic contribution in climate adaptation research”

Authors: Amanda A. Hyman, Steph L. Courtney, Karen S. McNeal, Lalasia Bialic-Murphey, Cari S. Furiness, Mitchell J. Eaton, Paul R. Armsworth

Published: June 8, 2022 in Conservation Letters

DOI: 10.1111/conl.12892

Abstract: Challenges facing societies around the globe as they plan for and adapt to climate change are so large that usable, research-driven recommendations to inform management actions are urgently needed. We sought to understand factors that influence the variation of academic contribution and use of collaborative research on climate change. We surveyed researchers (n = 31), program-leaders (n = 5), and stakeholders (n = 81) from projects supported by a federally funded network across the United States. Our results suggest that peer-reviewed publications do not lead to use, but frequency of meetings with stakeholders significantly increased use. Overall, the factors needed for projects to have high degrees of academic contributions are distinct from those needed to be useful to stakeholders. Furthermore, leadership perceptions of use of projects were significantly different from users. Our quantitative results can inform future requests for proposals and better enable researchers using collaborative approaches to conduct science that is more often used by stakeholders.