How Do Professionals Find the Science They Need?

The Society of American Foresters held seven small group dialogues throughout the United States.  One of the questions discussed was how natural resources professionals—resource managers and policy-makers—find the science they need to do their jobs.  66 people attended the dialogues.  Over half represented non-governmental organizations and public agencies.  Elected officials, university faculty and industry practitioners were also represented.

Six Key Findings Emerged

Figure 1. Word cloud of the 68 coded and indexed major points that emerged from all seven dialogues.

On-line searches are the most popular approach.  Google Scholar and ResearchGate are the favored applications.  Google Scholar is a web-crawler, indexing content across most peer-reviewed on-line academic journals and many other technical documents.  ResearchGate is a networking site for researchers, who upload publications to share, seek and provide answers to questions, and search for potential collaborators.

Some professionals lose the ability to read scientific journal articles as they progress in their careers.   Because daily calendars get filled and unplanned activities pop up, many later-career professionals no longer can have the uninterrupted block of time needed to read newly published scientific journal articles.  So they either assign subordinates to read and provide a summary or they contact the scientist directly to discuss the findings.

Watching hour-long webinars is declining in value to professionals; shorter videos are much preferred.  Hour-long webinars are difficult to fit into crammed daily schedules—even for early-career professionals.  Many are too stiff, formal, and uncreative to retain viewers’ full attention.  Often, multi-tasking starts after 6-8 minutes.  Dividing their attention limits learning and retention and reduces the quality of multi-tasked work.  Shorter videos have emerged as much more useful and helpful, particularly when they are well-prepared yet presented using informal formats (e.g., TED Talks1).

Professionals like to talk directly with researchers—at meetings, on field trips, by phone.  Away from the office, later-career professionals can give their undivided attention to the speaker.  Meetings also offer opportunities to discuss science both with the researchers presenting papers or posters and with one’s peer network.  Learning from one’s network is vitally important to experienced professionals.  Science users later in their careers and at higher levels of organizations don’t hesitate to contact scientists directly.

Electronic newsletters have devoted followers because they compile, digest, and translate complex science findings into simpler language that is more easily understood.  Scientists earlier in their careers read e-newsletters to see recent results they might have missed and find others doing work like theirs (expand their networks).  They also send articles to editors to get reviewed and hopefully boost their reputation.  Scientists later in their careers read e-newsletters because the editor does much of the hard work of digesting, synthesizing, and translating the scientific findings into simpler, more comprehensible language.

Journals’ fees and embargo policies can restrict access to fresh science and delay its usage and impact.  Journal articles that are inaccessible unless a fee is paid (“pay-per-view”) have less impact than science that is openly accessible and able to be read on-line.  Many public agencies and non-governmental organizations can’t afford the fees.  “Green” open access policies provide better and cheaper accessibility than “Gold” open access.

Journal embargo policies—often 12 to 24 months—limit the ability of authors to circulate printed versions of their articles, forcing interested readers to either be journal subscribers or pay a fee to read the article.  Researchers desiring to create the largest, fastest impact of their new scientific findings on resource management and policy decisions need to use additional dissemination methods besides publishing journal articles.

Management and Policy Implications

Science-producing institutions need to rethink strategies, approaches, and business models for disseminating the results of their researchers’ projects.  Changing technologies support different online search preferences and science delivery mechanisms.  Professionals early in their careers are using approaches that are different from those later in their careers.

Publishing in peer-reviewed journals, although important to verify quality, is insufficient as the sole science dissemination tactic because paywalls and embargo policies limit the accessibility of science to important segments of the population of natural resources professionals who use science daily.  Communications professionals, who know how to use cutting-edge technologies, can help by putting science into easy-to-understand formats and in places where natural resources professionals and curious, interested members of the public can quickly find it.

Traditional approaches to disseminating science are falling out of favor and into obsolescence—perhaps more quickly than many researchers, research communicators, and research leaders realize.

See also: Guldin, Richard W.  2018.  How do professionals find the science they need?  Jour. For. 116(5):451-459.  doi: 10.1093/jofore/fvy036.


1 See and the TED Commandments at

Spotlight #63 – What’s in the future for Non-Timber Forest Products?

PDF for download


The roots of many forest plants are harvested for their medicinal values. Changes in climate and lack of management may imperil their long-term sustainability and the people who depend on them. Photo credit: James Chamberlain, USDA Forest Service.

The Forest Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has recently published “…the most comprehensive assessment covering the production and management of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) and resources – as well as the cultural, social, economic, and policy dynamics that affect them.” The assessment covers every state in the U.S.

But the findings can be utilized far beyond the U.S. borders. Read more…

Spotlight #62 – How and why criteria and indicators have changed forest management since the Rio Summit

PDF for download


Regeneration is also covered by indicators for SFM. Photo: S. Linser.

Sparked in part by the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, the use of criteria and indicators (C&I) for sustainable forest management (SFM) has become an ever more present aspect of forest management.

Since that ’92 summit, “the focus of academic attention has been mainly on global forest governance with a research gap regarding regional (or international) forest related processes,” said Dr. Stefanie Linser of the European Forest Institute, who is also co-ordinator of IUFRO Working Party 9.01.05 on research and development of indicators for SFM. Read more…

Spotlight #61 – Digging into soil and what it means to earth’s survival

PDF for download


The new living structures are the result of the re-elaboration of the old ones. Soil plays the main role in the process. So, humans who endanger life on our planet express a severe disagreement with a natural harmony that risks triggering negative feedback for the species. This always occurs to other species, why shouldn’t it happen to us? In: Zanella et al., 2018. Humusica 1, article 1: Essential bases – Vocabulary. Applied Soil Ecology, 122 (Part a), pp. 10–21.

Most people think of soil simply as something that grass, trees and other plants grow in and on.

But nothing could be further from the truth, says Dr. Augusto Zanella. Below in quotes, some key concepts gathered during an IUFRO Spotlight interview.

“Soils – in the forest and elsewhere – involve and affect ‘normal life’. They modify the air we breathe, they influence the climate, impact the food we eat and the water we drink”.

“Soil is not a substrate or a source of nutrients. It is a living matrix that sustains the functioning of every ecosystem”.

“It works like an efficient bank. It capitalizes energy and nutrients to be delivered for building and sustaining more complex and efficient ecosystems. It is a source of new materials, continuously generated from biodegradation and re-elaboration of dead structures”. Read more…

International Knowledge-Sharing Workshop “Best Practices for Implementing FLR in South Asia”

Chilaw, Sri Lanka, 15-17 August 2018

As follow-up to the 2017 consultations in India, the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, Sri Lanka, in cooperation with the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) organised a knowledge-sharing workshop on best practices in implementing forest landscape restoration (FLR) in South Asian countries. Around 60 experts contributed to the workshop, including partners from governmental and non-governmental institutions in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka as well as international expert organisations of the Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration (GPFLR) such as FAO, IUCN, TROPENBOS and CIFOR.

Generous funding for the workshop was provided by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety; The Global Environment Facility; National Institute of Forest Science, Republic of Korea; and the United States Forest Service.

Read more…

Spotlight #60 – Creating a virtuous circle in forest operations

PDF for download


A newly published study entitled Sustainable Forest Operations (SFO): A new paradigm in a changing world and climate, indicates that “climate change, as well as the increasing demand for forest products, requires a rethinking of forest operations in terms of sustainability.”

The complex system of relationships involved in the SFO concept and its five performance areas including: Economics; ergonomics; environment; quality optimization; and people and society. (Credit: Enrico Marchi, Florence University, Italy)

The study suggests that the SFO concept provides integrated perspectives and approaches to effectively address ongoing and foreseeable challenges while balancing forest operations performance across economic, environmental and social sustainability objectives.

This new concept emphasizes that forest workers’ ergonomics, health and safety, and utilization efficiency and waste management are additional key elements that enrich the understanding of the sustainability in SFO.

In addition, through the promotion of afforestation and reforestation, improved forest management, and green building and furnishing, the SFO concept further emphasizes the role of wood as a renewable and environmentally friendly material. Read more…

Spotlight #59 – Shifting forest development discourses

PDF for download


Conservation provides employment for local inhabitants at Dzanga Ndoki National Park, Central African Republic. ©Peter Prokosch,

Many centuries ago, a Greek philosopher noted that change is the only constant in life.

And change is brought about, in many instances, through discourse.

Discourse has been described in part as: “an ensemble of ideas, concepts and categories through which meaning is given to social and physical phenomena…”

According to this definition, discourse refers to a particular set of related ideas, which are shared, debated and communicated using different formats.

Through various discourses, we can discover fresh information and be introduced to new and different perspectives. We are able to gain experience and insight. As a result, our thinking, our attitudes, and our approaches toward various issues can evolve and change.

Certainly the ways in which forests are viewed, managed and developed have changed as the discourses concerning them have evolved. Read more…

IUFRO - The International Union of Forest Research Organizations