NatureServe Policy Review

How biodiversity information informs national policy in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia

Project Details

Grantee Organization: NatureServe
Grant Amount: $94,000
Contact: Carmen Josse
Contact Email: Carmen_Josse 'atsign'
Funding Dates: 7/16/15 - 1/15/17

BackgroundGNT60400 Natureserve Logo

The case for using biodiversity data to inform public policy is clear and compelling, so it is important to identify and remove barriers that interfere with data access and use. Currently, there is little systematic understanding of the supply and demand relationship between researchers as producers of biodiversity data, and policy makers as data consumers.

NatureServe, a network of public and private organizations that strives to connect biodiversity information to conservation goals across the Americas, is addressing this challenge by conducting a research study on how biodiversity information is incorporated into the policy cycle in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. This group of countries has a similar wealth of natural biodiversity, but varied political contexts, and, therefore, represents an opportunity to identify both common themes and unique approaches to effectively using biodiversity data in policy development.

Key Objectives and Activities

The project will research, review, and synthesize information on the role of biodiversity data in the policy cycle of 4-8 influential policies in each of the 4 focus countries. The first objective will be to identify several policies that have exerted the greatest influence on the generation and use of biodiversity in each of the countries, via literature searches and expert opinion. Subsequent interviews of researchers and stakeholders from governing institutions will inform analyses on how biodiversity information was used in generating these policies, gaining insight on commonalities in trends and bottlenecks among the 4 countries. Third, the team will determine the status of biodiversity information availability, currency, and relevance by reviewing the primary data portals associated with the selected policies, drawing explicit links between the datasets and the policies. The project will culminate in the dissemination of the observations and lessons learned, including public availability of findings on NatureServe’s website and the hosting of a webinar to present the research to stakeholders.

Planned Outputs

  • Commented list of policies from Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, that dictate the generation and use of biodiversity data
  • Flowcharts depicting the relationship of consumers and producers of biodiversity information to the policy cycle of core policies
  • Documentations of gaps between policy needs and available biodiversity information
  • Lessons-learned regarding institutionalization of biodiversity data and its timing and use in policy-making
  • Peer-reviewed publication based on research findings to ensure long-term presence of the report in policy literature and global databases

Planned Outcomes

  • Improved understanding of the drivers of the supply and demand for biodiversity information
  • Greater knowledge of the status of biodiversity information availability, currency, relevance, and stakeholders involved

Results to Date

  • Completed more than 50 interviews in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Interviews spread across academic, government, and NGO sectors and included both biodiversity information generators and consumers.
  • From interviews and a document review of public policies and legal framework, a set of 3 policies per country were identified as the core set of influential policies in the availability and use of biodiversity information.
  • A comparative analysis was conducted of national environmental information portals in the four countries to assess their success in managing and making environmental and biodiversity information available.
  • A final analysis of national policies, interview responses, and national data portals synthesizes the landscape in each of the four countries, distills commonalities, and identifies unique situations in the incorporation of biodiversity information into the public policy cycle.
  • A final report was generated for the project and will be available on the NatureServe website shortly.

Lessons Learned

Discussions surround the development of tools such as a standardized interview questionnaire helped the team clarify and add focus to important research concepts such as policy cycles, and diversity information. These topics can have vague meanings, and consensus usage can be elusive, but tackling the challenge of agreeing on operational definitions up front means that the project will be able to answer the research questions more directly.

Interviews yielded insight into trends within individual countries and across all of the focal countries, some that run counter to expectations. Due to limited resources, biodiversity information, in the sense of records of taxonomy, conservation status, temporal and spacial distribution of organisms, often loses out to data on population status and ecology of a subset of “relevant” species. These data demands are often tied to applied questions such as resource use and extraction. Further, the relationship between government Ministers, who are in the position of actually writing and creating policy, and those who work under them to implement policy, is a key inflection point for information demand and use. What information do the Ministers request, and how do their aides procure it? The apparent relevance of biodiversity information to the policy cycle, therefore, might depend on who you ask.

Project Director Biography

Dr. Carmen Josse conducted most of this project and formerly directed NatureServe’s Latin America ecology program and was the principal contact for NatureServe’s 20 member programs in 12 countries across the region. Dr. Josse has worked to improve the utility of biodiversity information on both a continental and regional scale, with particular focus on the scope and limitations of biodiversity data relevance and availability in Latin America. More recently she participated in projects to guide conservation investments in countries of the Tropical Andes region using analyses that integrate biodiversity values and services with socioeconomic indicators to point to places with urgent need of investment and strategies more likely to have a lasting impact.

Notes from JRS

Public policy shapes the supply of biodiversity data and the demand for biodiversity data in many ways from policies relating to open government, participation in international environmental treaties, to policies for environmental impact assessments. An inventory and assessment of such policies in Latin America will contribute to national strategies for biodiversity conservation and to national prioritization of data sets and data access. Though much research on public policy regarding conservation has been done through lenses such as indigenous peoples’ rights, trade, land use, and climate change, we believe the lens of data supply and demand is unique and valuable. We hope that this study contributes to a discussion of the policy context that enables access to biodiversity data as well as the identification of knowledge gaps and future research questions. This small project got off to a great start and was then hampered by the departure of the Project Director from NatureServe as well as the JRS Biodiversity Foundation’s shift of all of its future grant making to sub-Saharan Africa.  The research to-date has gathered an impressive collection of policies yet the methodology did not fully connect these to the availability and use of data. We hope that the work will serve as a springboard for future policy research on the link between conservation policy and the supply and demand for biodiversity information.

Last Updated: April 4th, 2017

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