Restoring ecosystem health : - can science communication make a difference?

Thomas, Nicola Jane Reid. (2005). Restoring ecosystem health : - can science communication make a difference? PhD Thesis, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland.

       
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Author Thomas, Nicola Jane Reid.
Thesis Title Restoring ecosystem health : - can science communication make a difference?
School, Centre or Institute School of Biological Sciences
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2005
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Prof Christa Critchley
Total pages 542
Language eng
Subjects 06 Biological Sciences
Formatted abstract

This thesis is a pluralist, action research study to understand and restore estuary ecosystem health in the Tweed valley, northern New South Wales, Australia. It combines quantitative and qualitative methods, and is informed by 'post-normal' science methodologies. Its inquiry methods were iteratively implemented and guided by a restoration model, specifically developed for this transdisciplinary study. Ecosystem Health (EH) monitoring outcomes provided the catalyst for this study and its overarching research question: Can science communication make a difference with catchment householders in restoring ecosystem health?

Ecosystem health diagnostic and reporting outcomes were a literal construction, born out of triangulated methods; its emergent story is iteratively based on expert opinion, community observations and aggregated EH indices. Contrasting positivist and constructivist-based 'realities' revealed a broad consensus between opinions. Moreover, disseminating EH report cards generated further consensus within the community. In brief, community feedback alerted the investigator to masked ecosystem health symptoms, validated expert findings and improved its communication effect with target audiences. 

A representative catchment-wide survey highlighted a widespread concern and responsibility for local water quality; these observations, however, did not translate into widespread engagement in water-friendly practices. Whilst the catchment population perceived ecosystem health impacts, many people lacked in-depth EH understanding. Those individuals, however, who valued the ecosystem for recreation and held a greater 'sense of place', demonstrated increased EH understanding and sustainable behaviours. 

The restoration tool, action-researched in this study, involved a series of science communication booklets. Waters of the Tweed. Direct mailing this tool to every catchment household proved fairly successful, relative to traditional State of the Environment reports and reporting in the mass media in general; at least 50% of the whole catchment audience received exposure. Evaluating exposure outcomes revealed some significant successes and unmasked some communication failures. 

Significant differences were detected in raising catchment awareness, extending EH understanding, and motivating behavioural changes. Fixed beliefs, though, were difficult to shift using the adopted communication approach. Communication barriers included the use of technical language, a failure to match information needs and lacked the necessary motivational appeal to instil widespread behavioural changes. 

To target communications more effectively in the future, an examination of EH communication 'ingredients' was undertaken. This revealed that science communication could make a greater difference; EH understanding, a person's endorsement of a waterways vision and a sense of empowerment, as well as the scientific data's emotive objectivity, significantly contributed to endorsed sustainable practices. A unique behavioural antecedent with universal predictive power was also discovered; a reliable construct measuring an active awareness of consequences. 

To better meet information needs, four reliable, unidimensional constructs of waterway-valued uses were detected. Discriminatory analyses revealed that those who valued ''sustenance' (seafood and drinking water quality) tended to reject the content, whereas those more concerned with nutrient loading, digested and appreciated the information diet. Future EH monitoring and its associated reporting needs to better reflect egocentric, rather than biocentric orientated values, to effectively reach and inspire the whole community. 

A revised approach was taken to produce the final edition of Waters of the Tweed; its content, whilst constrained by monitoring data outcomes, was informed by its niche target audience. Its formative process embraced a 'bottom-up', rather than a 'top-down' imposed approach. Mutual dialogue developed a common language (CL) between communicator and audience; CL indicators use compatible terms of reference belonging to lay and technical audiences. This approach proved significantly more effective in increasing comprehension, motivation towards restoration, as well as encouraging advocating to others. This communication approach demands extension to the whole catchment community to achieve social change; market segmentations revealed that most residents behave as 'opportunists', many act as 'free-riders', and few are 'champions'. 

Critical reflection and community participation proved indispensable steps to this study's processes and outcomes. Whilst significant changes were detected, science communication will remain a key constraint on ecosystem health, unless its policy instruments, commissioned monitoring and associated communication, reflects and reports on basic values and valued waterway uses. Final reflections produced a theoretically underpinned, conceptually sound tool to address these needs; an integrative EH measure to report on everyone's 'quality of life' is proposed. If championed effectively, restoration could well be within our society's reach. 

Keyword Restoration ecology -- New South Wales -- Tweed Valley
Communication -- Social aspects

Document type: Thesis
Collection: UQ Theses (RHD) - UQ staff and students only
 
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Created: Tue, 30 Oct 2012, 10:22:17 EST by Erica Wei on behalf of Scholarly Communication and Digitisation Service