Assessing the role of decision support tools in conservation

14 June 2017


Image credit: Luc Hoffman Institute

Developing decision support tools to link science-policy-practice: improving user-centred design

Decision support tools are often suggested as a means of putting scientific knowledge into a useable form for decision-makers. Usually computer-based, they guide users through decision stages towards an evidence-based final decision. Uptake of tools in conservation and elsewhere has sometimes been low as a result of poorly designed products.

Last month, David Rose (Geography, CSaP, UCL STEaPP) and Rebecca Robertson (Zoology) led an inter-disciplinary workshop assessing the role of decision support tools in conservation. The workshop extended research done as part of Defra’s Sustainable Intensification Platform and as part of CSaP’s contribution to the EU Biodiversity Observation Network.

The workshop, which was funded by the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute, Luc-Hoffmann Institute, and EU BON, brought together developers of decision support in conservation, as well as policy-makers, practitioners, and academics.

The day covered six key stages in the design of decision support tools: identifying the user, ensuring clear benefits to use, testing whether users can use it, testing whether it is easy to use, adopting a good delivery plan, and maintaining the legacy. Speakers included Caroline Parker (Glasgow Caledonian University), an expert in the design of decision support tools, Craig Mills (Vizzuality), Malcolm Ausden (RSPB), Leon Bennun (The Biodiversity Consultancy), and Lauren Weatherdon (UNEP-WCMC).

The speakers touched on various aspects of good user-centred, particularly stressing the value of engaging users at an early stage in order that tools were useable and relevant in practice. A panel session with Prue Addison (University of Oxford), Stephanie O’ Donnell (WILDLABS.NET, Flora and Fauna International), and Melanie Ryan (Luc-Hoffmann Institute), offered valuable advice on how to engage stakeholders effectively.

The workshop stressed the importance of engaging users at every stage of a project, including from conception, through design, and after implementation. A World Cafe style exhibition session allowed users to test various decision support tools aimed at supporting conservation decisions.

Check out the storify for the event here.

Dr David Rose

University of East Anglia (UEA)