All images are copyright to the Natural History Museum, London
The first year of research has been divided between a range of different
but connected activities. First, It has been important to familiarise
ourselves with the relevant biodiversity science and policy domains
and the associated literature. We have also been interested to explore
the ways in which academic literature in the fields of Sociology of
Scientific Knowledge, Science and Technology Studies and Anthropology
of Science contributes to our understanding of the biodiversity science
and policy domains in the UK and in particular to the EN-NHM knowledge
harnessing initiative. The research has been dominated by multi-sited
ethnographic fieldwork (participant observation and semi-structured
interviewing), combined with the processing of some preliminary results
and reflections in the form of academic papers . We expect to continue
fieldwork into the second year, selecting certain salient issues for
deeper, or broader, frames of analysis.
at planned amateur/volunteer naturalist events:
- British Bryological Society: Arable Bryophyte Survey Workshop (November
2002), Spring Meeting (June 2003) ,
- River Fly Identification Workshops (River Test, Hampshire - June 2002,
River Dove, Derbyshire, April 2003, River Leader, Scotland, July 2003)
- Brambling identification meeting (Hampshire, July 2003)
interviews with a selection of individuals contacted at the above events
in a range of coordination and planning meetings involving the NHM,
English Nature, Volunteer Naturalist Groups, Riverfly Interest Group,
individuals at the following science / policy institutions:
- Natural History Museum
- English Nature
- Biological Recording Centre
Specific Issues Arising
This year of research has proved fascinating for the research team.
The following bullet points present a number of reflections and questions
which have emerged from the research so far. We expect the following
year of research to focus upon these issues.
Amateurs and Professionals (knowing nature and biodiversity policy):
We have been intrigued by the multiple and overlapping identities of
amateur naturalists and professional biodiversity policy actors alike.
Some questions arising from this phenomenon are:
- What defines the boundaries and intersections between the two domains?
- How does expertise in the different domains differ?
- What defines expertise in each (or overlapping) domains?
- What expectations do individuals from both domains entertain regarding
data contributions to biodiversity policy?
Upgrading Amateur Naturalists and Teaching Methods
One of the tasks undertaken by the NHM biodiversity coordinators has
been to 'upgrade' amateur naturalists in a way which ensures that data
contributed to the biodiversity policy domain meets the expected validation
and standardisation requirements. As a group of social scientists interested
in the coexistence of different and overlapping knowledge systems, we
find ourselves asking:
- By placing a particular emphasis upon teaching amateur naturalists
with a visibly 'top-down' or scientific method, what status does this
afford what we might call 'local' or 'lay' knowledge?
- What might an exploration of such local knowledge hold in store for
national-scale biodiversity knowledge and policy-making?
Data Validation and Standardisation:
During the process of understanding the UK biological recording network(s),
our attention has been drawn to the importance of data validation and
standardisation both within amateur societies and at the amateur/professional
intersection as data is contributed to national level data bases and
decision-making contexts. In order to attain a fuller understanding
of the way in which data is collated, circulated and exchanged within
and between amateur and professional circles, we find ourselves asking
the following questions:
- What role does data validation and standardisation play both within
amateur society/recording and biodiversity policy circles?
- Is the amateur concern with data validation and standardisation extended
naturally to the policy domain or do standards and expectations change?
- Does the amateur and professional concern with data validation / standardisation
in any way serve an exclusionary function? In other words, do those
data collators who do not reach expected standards not classify as contributing
Biodiversity Data and People-in-Nature
The research initially highlighted the BAP process as the context within
which harnessing new knowledge was important. It has become clear to
the research team over the year that the EN-NHM partnership in fact
extends beyond a preoccupation with biological records for the BAP.
The partnership and the participtory exercise is partly about enthusing
wider audiences in relation to biodiversity conservation in general.
This realisation has led the research team to reflect upon the following
- What implications might the EN-NHM initiative have for future understanding
and development of EN's 'People and Nature' programme?
- How might BAP recording ambitions, on the one hand, and wider People
and Nature aims to engage more people in a meaningful relationship with
nature, on the other, overlap?
Knowledge ownership and control
Our attention has been increasingly drawn to a concern shared by some
but not all naturalists regarding knowledge ownership and use. We are
interested in the way in which knowledge is and has historically been
exchanged within the amateur/volunteer naturalist domain and by the
way in which an 'ethics of reciprocity' may, or may not, be altered
as naturalists pass their data into professional biodiversity policy
circles. As part of a more general concern with knowledge ownership,
some naturalists express anxiety over 'losing touch' with the knowledge
they contribute to policy and especially with the ends to which their
knowledge may serve.
- In a context of knowledge exchange, what do naturalists feel they
receive in return for their data contributions either to the BAP or
other policy uses?
- In a context of internal naturalist knowledge exchange, which elements
of a reciprocal exchange network may be defined as sustaining the network?
- Would EN and other policy actors be interested in exploring ways of
engendering a sense of knowledge ownership amongst contributing naturalists
in a way which would make explicit the way in which the data is processed
- Is there a role for data producers (volunteer naturalists) at the
level of decision making involving the data they have produced?
Knowing Nature - what will and will not be included
As we become more familiar with naturalist circles, we are drawn into
understanding the very different ways in which naturalists could be
said to 'know nature'. These include an interest in systematic biology,
perfecting visual observation skills, relationships of apprenticeship
between novices and experts, affect (belonging, wonder, passion), and
a concept of a human-nature contract which implicitly binds human 'knowers'
to preserving the natural environment. As researchers also interested
in the policy uptake of amateur knowledge we ask:
- What are the various ways of knowing nature? Which ways of knowing
nature are exclusive to particular communities, and which are shared
- What elements of amateur ways of 'knowing nature' are deemed appropriate
and of use to the policy context?
- What happens to the aspects of knowing nature which are not deemed
Multi-Sited Ethnographic Research Methods and our role in Triangulation
Our role as multi-sited ethnographers exposes us to a range of perceptions
of the biodiversity amateur and professional worlds within which we
are moving. We realise that this potentially places us in an important
position from which to triangulate information between all the parties
concerned. As of yet, mechanisms for such triangulation have not been
fully established. We expect during the following year of research,
together with the NHM and EN to find the most suitable and fruitful
ways of sharing our observations with the range of actors involved in
the research project. This may involve writing more joint pieces with
our partners and publishing more in the natural science/natural history
/conservation journals and periodicals involved.
- In the coming
year we hope to build on the initial fieldwork we have done, deepening
our knowledge of volunteer naturalists and the societies to which they
belong. This will mean extending the breadth of our analysis to societies
we have not yet been introduced to. We aim to do this in both the invertebrate
and cryptogamic plant domains.
- Building on the
work of the NHM invertebrate co-ordinator, Bridget Peacock, we hope
to trace the progress and negotiations between the NHM and the Ramblers
Society in their collaborative work on Elm-Map. We would like to build
in some triangulation of our observations from fieldwork so that we
might play a role in 'feeding back' Ramblers' experiences of monitoring
elm trees into the evolving design of the process.
- We hope to continue
our work in understanding the interactions and relationships being successfully
built between the NHM and river fly recorder partners, on the one hand,
and angling communities on the other. We are interested in issues of
'scale' in this process, the role of manuals in increasing the scope
of the field-based exercises, and in issues to do with anglers' understanding
of the rivers they fish - how their knowledge can be elicited and used.
- New societies
we hope to do fieldwork with are the British Lichen Society and Entomological
Society as well as the North Lancashire Naturalists Society. Amongst
the issues we will be exploring with individuals in such societies is
the question of data creation: what naturalists create records for;
how, and with which technologies, they store data; and which bodies
naturalists are happy to hand data over to. This has implications for
the NHM-EN approach as well as for related data issues arising in, for
example, the National Biodiversity Network (NBN).
- It will also be
important in the next year to continue our discussions with NHM, English
Nature, the BRC and NBN and to deepen our understanding of the national/international
picture through interviews with JNCC and DEFRA.
Networking , communication and research planning
- A research meeting
is planned for the EASST/4S meeting (on social studies of science and
technology) which will be held in Paris in 2004. This meeting will bring
together researchers from the UK, Europe, USA and Australia to talk
about naturalists and other social groups and their involvement in record-creation
and policy making.
- Discussions are
underway with Natural History Societies in other EU countries (Germany,
Sweden, Netherlands) to create a research network on the experiences
of enrolling naturalists into broader policy frameworks.
- A proposal to
discuss Biodiversity Science at a conference in London, 2005, has been
sent to the Royal Society.
- Plans to investigate
potential relationships between farmers and ecological scientists in
Cumbria are being prepared in the form of a research proposal to a combined
research council programme.