By Dr Thomas Brooks, Head of Science and Knowledge, IUCN.

How can conservation science best deliver outcomes in policy and practice?

One element of this key question is the effective prioritization of conservation research. Over the last year, the Belgian Biodiversity Platform, an initiative of the Belgian Federal Science Policy Office, has been conducting a survey of stakeholders in both research and applied conservation. The survey received around 400 responses providing more than 1,000 recommended priorities. In October, the Platform convened a conference, Conservation Research Matters to work on synthesising these recommendations.

The conference, attracting around 100 conservation scientists, practitioners, and policy makers was cleverly structured to combine participatory process with plenary presentation.

The Belgian Biodiversity Platform analyzed the survey responses and provided maps of connections among the most frequently-mentioned concepts across nine high-level themes.

Breakout groups reviewed these and developed half-a-dozen summary research priorities for each theme accordingly. These priorities will be provided to research funding agencies, decision-making bodies, conservation institutions, and academia in Belgium to help guide their work.

The conference also called for recommendations on how to overcome persistent challenges facing the application of conservation research, spanning funding, capacity, communications, and the enabling environment.

Mixed into the proceedings were a series of plenary talks on the question of strengthening the science-policy interface. For example, Sarah Rousseaux reported on the activities of the EU FP7 supported Biodiversity Knowledge project in Belgium. The project surveyed Belgian conservation organizations to gain insight on the sources from which they derived information (which were found to vary dramatically among different types of institution), and to map the flows of funding and information among the organizations (which placed IUCN as the international organization perceived as most important in providing information).

Lynn Dicks from the University of Cambridge gave examples of two approaches to bridging the science-policy interface: problem-based (with the example of research prioritization for pollinator conservation) and partnership-based (with the example of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative). Steven Dessein from the National Botanic Garden of Belgium talked about tactics for accelerating plant Red Listing, with examples from Brazil and the Congo. And I talked about the application of knowledge products mobilized through IUCN to inform policy and practice.

Congratulations to the Belgian Biodiversity Platform for convening an excellent meeting. I’m certain that it will be useful for advancing conservation in Belgium and it got me thinking about how similar approaches could be applied elsewhere in the world.