What drives the use of scientific evidence in decision making? The case of the South African Working for Water program

14 August 2015

Academic scientific literature abounds with critique of natural resource managers for not utilising scientific evidence when making decisions in their day-to-day operations. Little regard is given by the critics to the practical constraints on the use of research findings, as experienced by managers in their work environments. To explore these issues, we conducted a case study of the Working for Water (WfW) program, a government-funded invasive alien plant (IAP) management program that has been operational in South Africa for nearly two decades. We investigated the extent to which decision makers in WfW use scientific evidence to inform their decisions pertaining to the clearing of IAPs and also identified opportunities for, and constraints to, evidence-based practice. Our results indicate that the use of scientific evidence is limited by the fact that the management of natural resources involves much more than science. The social context within which decisions are made, which includes organizational structure, priorities and capacity, plays an important part in the extent to which science informs practice. On the basis of our findings, we highlight the importance of generating evidence in practice through an iterative process of implementation, monitoring, learning and reflection, and subsequent feedback into the planning of restoration projects.