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Suggested Citation:"7 Considerations for Developing Key Elements of a Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Integrating Public and Ecosystem Health Systems to Foster Resilience: A Workshop to Identify Research to Bridge the Knowledge-to-Action Gap: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26896.
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7

Considerations for Developing Key Elements of a Research Agenda

One goal for this workshop was to identify example elements of a knowledge-to-action research agenda for integrating public health and nature to foster resilience in these interconnected systems. To identify and explore new ideas and think creatively about how to advance the knowledge generation that integrates public health and nature to foster resilience, the second day of the workshop concluded with the participants working in breakout groups to discuss these two questions:

  1. What research areas do you view as most important for improving understanding of public health and nature interconnections and for advancing solutions that incorporate knowledge into policy and practice?
  2. What other considerations are important when developing a research agenda aimed at strengthening public health and nature interconnections to move us from knowledge to action.

After an hour of discussion, the workshop participants reconvened and reported on their deliberations.

BREAKOUT GROUP REPORTS

Moderated by Jessica LeClair, University of Wisconsin–Madison Report-outs delivered by Benis Egoh, University of California, Irvine; Shanondora Billiot, Arizona State University; Rodolfo Dirzo, Stanford University; and Katie Arkema, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Example Research Areas

Egoh’s group noted the importance of institutions to fund interdisciplinary research and produced the following list of areas that could benefit from more research:

  • How nature can heal people and the importance of nature and mental and physical health.
Suggested Citation:"7 Considerations for Developing Key Elements of a Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Integrating Public and Ecosystem Health Systems to Foster Resilience: A Workshop to Identify Research to Bridge the Knowledge-to-Action Gap: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26896.
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  • The nexus of food, water, and energy and how they affect public health.
  • How extreme heat and extreme weather are affecting public health.
  • How ecosystems degradation is affecting the nutritional value of agricultural products.
  • The health benefits of specific common plants that local communities use and how to use them to treat various conditions.
  • The monetary value of the health impact of protecting and restoring natural ecosystems and of degraded natural ecosystems.
  • A gap analysis of the mandates of different federal agencies.

Dirzo reported that his group raised the importance of research on how land use change is affecting human health via plant pathogens. Monocultures that emphasize revenue and short-term economic gains may affect human health in a way that more diversified, biodiversity-friendly agricultures do not. It may be that biodiversity-friendly agriculture is less productive in the short term but more effective at protecting human health and more productive in the long term. Another research question the group identified was about the extent to which ecosystem restoration and regeneration can affect human health and human well-being.

One of the last topics Dirzo’s group discussed was the challenge of bringing together the different drivers of global change beyond climate change, such as the introduction and spread of invasive species or land use changes related to industrialization. It may be possible to address the complex interactions among these different drivers via modeling exercises and multiple types of observations and experiments.

Billiot’s group noted that transformational change likely involves human behavior change. Thinking about behavior change incudes identifying and understanding the values such as inclusivity and trust currently driving human behavior. Trust, said Billiot, builds when researchers show up consistently, listen carefully, and act in ways that show consistent support for the local community. Human behavior change also involves understanding the complexity of community opinions and knowing when to step forward with an idea and when to hold back. Attention to power means using multiple processes to de-center privileged voices and including knowledge from dominated populations.

Arkema reported that her group discussed pluralism in research approaches when tackling issues of ecosystem and human health. In that regard, it is important to incorporate social sciences into solutions and to think about what accessibility to nature means, who has access to green space, and how this is heterogeneous across different populations or even different neighborhoods. For example, anthropologists or ethnographers have collected much of the information about how people access nature and what it means to them to be part of nature.

The group noted engaging and assessing at this granular level takes a great deal of capacity, investment, and time, leading to a discussion about systems-level thinking and approaches and the use of surrogates to reduce complexity arising from granularity. For example, from an ecosystem services perspective, it might be useful to consider certain contributions that nature provides for human health and well-being as representatives for categories of “ecosystems services benefits” rather than attempting to determine individual valuations of all the ways that nature helps support human populations.

Arkema’s group spent considerable time discussing data. The group noted that there may be many reasons for collecting data, including that it might encourage participation by groups or people with data they believe could contribute to a project. Data can also serve as a way of linking with industry and the private sector and communicating the importance of a community’s and ecosystem’s interconnections with industry and the private sector. In that regard, data can help determine returns on investment. At the same time, it is important to consider the data needed to address the problem at hand.

Suggested Citation:"7 Considerations for Developing Key Elements of a Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Integrating Public and Ecosystem Health Systems to Foster Resilience: A Workshop to Identify Research to Bridge the Knowledge-to-Action Gap: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26896.
×

Arkema asked, “If we are exploring tradeoffs in terms of different interventions, what kind of information can be brought to bear on that?” It is important, too, to look for synergies and interconnections among data and solutions.

Approaches and Engagement

Egoh’s group raised the need to use bottom-up rather than top-down approaches in defining and carrying out research agendas (i.e., start with the local community where problems and issues exist). However, the group also discussed that top-down approaches can be valuable to identify the problem, such as performing a gap analysis and understanding the problem landscape before engaging the local community. Some of the discussion, said Egoh, included the importance of thinking about the target audience and what success will look like from the beginning of the planning stages for a project while recognizing that success may not come in the ways expected.

Egoh’s group also discussed the importance of thinking about how to present and report results in a way that the information is useful and understandable to the community. This discussion raised the issue that the technology researchers use can be a barrier for communicating results and for cross-disciplinary interactions.

Dirzo reported that his group emphasized the importance of having local communities guide and define, to a large extent, the questions or priorities that research needs to examine. This approach has the advantage of facilitating the ability of academic researchers to accommodate community research agendas and questions. One aspect of involving the community in setting research agendas is engaging in conversations with local governments that can play a role in guiding research. In the same vein, talking with local leaders—many communities have their own governance system—can be important for identifying research priorities.

This group also discussed the evidence needed to define the relevant actions to take. The group talked about the complexity of and tradeoffs in running randomized trials with experimental replicates and experimental designs that are scientifically sound but almost impossible to conduct in the field. There is a conflict between realism and precision, said Dirzo, so it is important to pay attention to the tension between the types of obtainable evidence and the extent to which it will be possible to combine different approaches to get usable and relevant outcomes. Scaling research findings, the group noted, can be challenging.

Dirzo’s group touched on the importance of taking an ecocentric approach to research versus an egocentric approach; whether there are mechanisms to have different stakeholders review research findings in a way that would be useful to the community and go beyond the typical peer-review process; and the importance of where funding comes from, given that corporate desires and goals may not be compatible with research on human and ecosystem health.

One member of Arkema’s group pointed to the importance of using an assets-based framework rather than a needs-based framework. That means focusing on the positive assets in local communities, the existing social infrastructure, and the expertise of the community rather than on the challenges the community faces. The group discussed the importance of having different disciplines and ways of knowing at the table to accommodate the different types of communities that interact with nature, such as rural, peri-urban, or agriculture-based. One suggestion was to adopt a mechanism that the U.S. national laboratory technical assistance programs use that enables local communities to propose and apply for funding to address their research needs.

Arkema’s group also discussed the role that technology can play in creating connections and allowing for engagement between different groups of people and different institutions. Sometimes, this

Suggested Citation:"7 Considerations for Developing Key Elements of a Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Integrating Public and Ecosystem Health Systems to Foster Resilience: A Workshop to Identify Research to Bridge the Knowledge-to-Action Gap: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26896.
×

will be personalized technology such as an app that encourage users to go outside for their health rather than relying on their physician to prescribe spending time in nature.

Billiot’s group discussed the challenges of transdisciplinary research, acknowledging that the individual areas are easy to define but transdisciplinary work to connect them is difficult to identify and fund, and even more difficult to understand how to translate into action within the local and scientific communities. The group noted that a great deal of knowledge exists, including Indigenous knowledge, children’s perspectives, and knowledge from the Global South that is not known widely in the Global North. The challenge is knowing how to connect the dots across these different knowledges and aggregating and interpreting the rapidly growing data and evidence from these different sources of knowledge. The group cautioned that the results from data aggregation and analyses can be misleading if the50ehaveioral aspects of those data are not included. In that vein, operationalized behavioral research is challenging. A methodological challenge is meeting the scientific need for replication versus the realistic need for science to be centered on the local community. Billiot added that pilot projects can serve as small steps toward building trust with the community.

Some considerations beyond research include creating clear, viable career pathways for the next generation; developing long-term plans for data collection and analysis; and addressing external actors who may be comfortable with the status quo or who are profiting from how business is conducted today. One participant in the group said not to let the fear of getting things wrong lead to inaction.

CLOSING REMARKS

LeClair concluded by noting an overarching theme to the day’s discussions: the revolutionary way the research community represented at the workshop talked about doing their research by incorporating different world views from the outset, developing authentic and deep partnerships built on trust, and informing funding sources how the research team is seeking to implement this work collectively at the small scale while considering the urgency for scaling this work and incorporating systems change approaches.

Suggested Citation:"7 Considerations for Developing Key Elements of a Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Integrating Public and Ecosystem Health Systems to Foster Resilience: A Workshop to Identify Research to Bridge the Knowledge-to-Action Gap: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26896.
×
Page 47
Suggested Citation:"7 Considerations for Developing Key Elements of a Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Integrating Public and Ecosystem Health Systems to Foster Resilience: A Workshop to Identify Research to Bridge the Knowledge-to-Action Gap: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26896.
×
Page 48
Suggested Citation:"7 Considerations for Developing Key Elements of a Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Integrating Public and Ecosystem Health Systems to Foster Resilience: A Workshop to Identify Research to Bridge the Knowledge-to-Action Gap: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26896.
×
Page 49
Suggested Citation:"7 Considerations for Developing Key Elements of a Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Integrating Public and Ecosystem Health Systems to Foster Resilience: A Workshop to Identify Research to Bridge the Knowledge-to-Action Gap: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26896.
×
Page 50
Next: 8 Crafting a Research Agenda to Facilitate Knowledge Generation That Informs Action »
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Ecosystems form the foundation upon which society can survive and thrive, providing food, water, air, materials, and recreation. These connections between people and their environments are under stress from human-driven climate change, pollution, resource exploitation, and other actions that may have implications for public health. The integral connection between nature and human health is recognized and has been explored through different bodies of work; however, because of the breadth of this issue, many implications regarding public health are not well characterized. This has created a gap in understanding the interconnections between public health and ecosystem health systems and how ecosystem resiliency may affect public health.

To inform the development of a research agenda aimed at bridging the knowledge-to-action gap related to integrating public and ecological health to foster resilience, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine held a workshop across three days that brought together interdisciplinary researchers and practitioners from the public health, natural resource management, and environmental protection communities to exchange knowledge, discuss critical gaps in understanding and practice, and identify promising research that could support the development of domestic and international policy and practice. Day 1 of the workshop, held on September 19, 2022, addressed the following question: What has been learned about how to integrate public health and nature into research, policy, and practice to foster resilience? Days 2 and 3, held on September 29 and 30, 2022, explored advancement opportunities in transdisciplinary and community-engaged scholarship to improve integration of public health and nature and inform policy and practice and opportunities to bridge the knowledge-to-action gap with strategies to translate knowledge into policy and practice. This publication summarizes the presentation and discussion of the workshop.

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