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C2) Local Knowledge

Implementing forest biodiversity policies and programmes: the role of actor networks and knowledge

Daniela Kleinschmit
Doctoral researcher: Philipp Mack (since 2019)

University of Freiburg, Faculty of Environment & Natural Resources, Chair of Forest & Environmental Policy



The implementation of measures to achieve biodiversity conservation goals on managed forest areas is carried out by the responsible forest practitioners of different ownership structures (private forest owners and their employees, forestry service staff, contractors). When implementing these measures, forest practitioners often face a process of weighing up different forest functions.

Social science studies show that (forestry) practices are characterised by a complex interaction of various factors. The attitudes of the forest actors involved (private forest owners and forest manager of the public administration) have already been subject of several studies. However, systematic analysis of other factors influencing the process of balancing between the different forest functions have received only minor attention. C2 makes an important contribution to various factors influencing forest practices, including local knowledge, societal discourses as well as the networks of the involved actors.

Results of C2 in phase I show that private forest owners receive their knowledge from different sources. Knowledge about forestry is gained from practical experiences and their private network while knowledge about nature conservation measures is often received from journals (Joa et al. 2018).



Study questions and hypotheses

    C2 deals with the implementation of biodiversity conservation measures by forest practitioners. Following the overall structure of ConFoBi, project C2 is also divided into two phases and three PhD projects. The first phase focuses on the description of local knowledge, its creation and its implementation in practice. The second phase complements this question by examining how knowledge is generated within the actor networks regarding the implementation of forest biodiversity. Furthermore, the aim of the second phase is to integrate the acquired knowledge with other ConFoBi projects in an interdisciplinary exchange. The three PhD projects are aligned with each other to enable the transition between the phases.

    The first PhD project is based on the concept of local knowledge in relation to values, social institutions and management systems that are deeply connected to a local and situated context of forest practitioners. The following research questions are addressed:

    • What characterizes the local ecological knowledge of forest practitioners?
    • How do forest practitioners put their local ecological knowledge into practice?
    • What does this mean for the implementation of biodiversity conservation objectives in forest management?


    Due to the current challenges of forest management resulting from drought and bark beetle outbreak and the associated uncertainties, the research questions of the second PhD project focus on societal discourses and their impact on forest practitioners and the implementation of forest biodiversity:

    • How is biodiversity and the related management practices constructed in the storylines of the societal discourses on forests facing the current challenges?
    • What power relations and attributions of legitimacy are revealed through the storylines, knowledge systems and dominant actors that appear in the discourses?
    • How does the current societal discourse influence forest practices related to the conservation of biodiversity?


    Actor networks of the responsible actors for forest biodiversity implementations (especially forest practitioners of the political administrative system) are central to the third PhD project, particularly focussing on the network interactions concerning knowledge.



    Approaches and methods

    Various analytical perspectives and a combination of quantitative and qualitative social empirical methods are used to analyse the importance, acquisition and dissemination of knowledge in the implementation of forest biodiversity conservation.

    In the first PhD project a systematic literature analysis and standardized surveys are conducted in order to understand the relationship between conservation practices and local knowledge of private forest owners. Furthermore, participatory observations and group discussions are applied during silvicultural exercises on experimental training sites (marteloscope) to investigate the decision-making processes of forest practitioners and nature conservationists.

    In PhD project 2, central and dominant storylines on biodiversity are analysed based on a media analysis of the current challenges facing the forest (drought, bark beetle infestation). The media analysis is supplemented by a document analysis of position papers and qualitative interviews with central actors identified in the public discourse. Subsequently, using qualitative interviews with forest managers of the ConFoBi plots and with private forest owners, the impact of these discourses on the management practices of local forest practitioners will be investigated.

    The third PhD project within C2 will apply a two-step network analysis to answer the research questions. The first step comprises semi-structured interviews with 5-10 actors responsible for the implementation of forest biodiversity (actors of the political administrative system). In a second step, these will be supplemented by quantitative online surveys in order to depict as complete a network as possible for the implementation of biodiversity conservation measures.




    The results of C2 highlight the diversity and heterogeneity of local knowledge and its close relation to forest practices. It becomes evident, that forms of knowledge are perceived and recognised differently by different actors. In the decision-making process, forest practitioners usually rely on a combination of factual knowledge, intuition and experience. While the local ecological knowledge of small private forest owners is based on informal sources of knowledge and knowledge exchange as well as on heterogeneous forest-related values and motives, the local ecological knowledge of professional foresters is largely shaped by their professional socialisation and the prevailing, comparatively homogeneous values and norms of their institutional context. What all practitioners studied have in common is their sense of responsibility and caring for the forest and their interest in forest conservation. Yet the latter is conceptualized rather heterogeneously. Diverging views exist on what should be preserved and how.

    The second phase allows bringing together results from phase I and II reconstructing knowledge exchange from the local practitioners. In the final synthesis, C2 will closely cooperate with C1, D1 and D2 to describe the human dimensions of forest biodiversity conservation, and the societal prerequisites for successful implementation.



    Future projects

    Next PhD project (starting 1 July 2022)

    Results of C2 in phase 1 have identified local ecological knowledge on forest biodiversity conservation as a great promise for biodiversity conservation, however uncovering that practical implications of including this knowledge into forest and conservation management are mixed (Joa et al. 2020; Joa & Schraml, 2020). Results from scholarly work show, that political decision makers tend to act on policy-related information when it is perceived as relevant, credible, and legitimate (Cash et al. 2002; Clark et al. 2016). It is assumed that an essential part of the information received by forest managers (and in particular of the political-administrative system) originates from their networks (Petty et al. 2018). While research has mainly focused on policy networks so far, it has already been acknowledged that networks involving diverse actors are essential for the implementation of nature conservation policies (Borrass et al. 2015, Sotirov, 2017), including those at the local level. These network interactions go beyond traditional administrative borders and include public as well as societal and  private actors and their expertise (Blondet et al., 2017). 

    The next PhD in C2 focuses on those actors responsible for implementing forest biodiversity programmes and their networks. More specifically C2 addresses the following research questions:

    • Within which networks do actors responsible for the implementation of forest biodiversity conservation interact and how are these characterized through their preferences, power resources and interactions relevant for biodiversity?
    • How and what form of knowledge do the actors responsible for the implementation of forest biodiversity conservation gain through their networks?
    • Which knowledge do the actors responsible for the implementation of forest biodiversity conservation perceive as relevant, credible, and legitimate and how far is this reflected in forest practices?

    Further issues addressed are the differences between different types of forest ownerships, the role of formal and informal networks, and whether changing background conditions have changed the role of networks and the forms of knowledge involved.

    Skills required for PhD3 applicants in C2:

    In addition to the general requirements described in the job advertisement, applicants who wish to apply for C2 should bring knowledge in social science methods (possibly qualitative and quantitative) and good knowledge of theories of social sciences, possibly political science.  


    ConFoBi-publications by C2

    Cosyns, Hannes; Joa, Bettina; Mikoleit, Ronja; Krumm, Frank; Schuck, Andreas & Winkel, Georg et al. (2020). Resolving the trade-off between production and biodiversity conservation in integrated forest management: comparing tree selection practices of foresters and conservationists. Biodivers Conserv, 29, 3717–3737.

    Frey, Julian; Joa, Bettina; Schraml, Ulrich & Koch, Barbara (2019). Same Viewpoint Different Perspectives—A Comparison of Expert Ratings with a TLS Derived Forest Stand Structural Complexity Index. Remote Sensing, 11, 1137.

    Joa, Bettina; Paulus, Anne; Mikoleit, Ronja & Winkel, Georg (2020). Decision Making in Tree Selection – Contemplating Conflicting Goals via Marteloscope Exercises. Rural Landscapes: Society, Environment, History, 7.

    Joa, Bettina & Schraml, Ulrich (2020). Conservation practiced by private forest owners in Southwest Germany – The role of values, perceptions and local forest knowledge. Forest Policy and Economics, 115, 102141.

    Joa, Bettina; Winkel, Georg & Primmer, Eeva (2018). The unknown known – A review of local ecological knowledge in relation to forest biodiversity conservation. Land Use Policy, 79, 520–530.