Jakopak, Rhiannon P., Jessica Western, & Kevin L. Monteith (2021, July). Embracing complexity and context to improve science communication. Journal of Wildlife Management. 12 pp. (ePub in advance of print) (doi: 10.1002/jwmg.22106) (Open Access: https://wildlife.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jwmg.22106)

Abstract: Members of the public play a primary role in successful implementation of wildlife management plans, making communication between scientists and the public a vital component of wildlife management. Although there is substantial public interest in the health of ungulate populations, stakeholder perspectives can vary widely, rendering a single approach to communication ineffective. To improve science communication, we characterized perspectives regarding issues negatively affecting mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) in Wyoming, USA. We used Q methodology, a mixed quantitative‐qualitative approach where participants ranked a series of statements followed by semi‐structured interviews, to identify shared perspectives. We interviewed individuals (n = 37) representing prominent stakeholder groups (e.g., ranchers, hunters, conservation non‐profits) in Wyoming. We identified 3 perspectives (52% of variance explained) that captured shared views regarding what factors are negatively affecting mule deer: bottom‐up (n = 17 participants; 26% variance), human contributions (n = 9; 14% variance), and top‐down (n = 8; 12% variance) perspectives. Most participants shared the idea that mule deer are being negatively affected, but participants diverged in views as to the primary issues. Perspectives ranged from being focused on bottom‐up factors (e.g., habitat fragmentation, condition of winter ranges) to top‐down factors (e.g., predation, disease) to factors focused on human contributions (e.g., human activity, public and political interests). Based on how participants diverged in perspectives and their interest in mule deer management, we discuss opportunities for scientists to improve communication by incorporating ecological complexity and nuance, moving towards a 2‐way dialogue of communication, and sharing their own first‐hand experiences in future communications with stakeholders.

Rhiannon P Jakopak <rjakopak@gmail.com> is in the Department of Zoology and Physiology, Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources, Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY, USA.