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Benefits and limitations of using decision analytic tools to assess uncertainty and prioritize Landscape Conservation Cooperative information needs

March 3, 2016

The Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) are a network of partnerships throughout North America that are tasked with integrating science and management to support more effective delivery of conservation at a landscape scale. In order to achieve this integration, some LCCs have adopted the approach of providing their partners with better scientific information in an effort to facilitate more effective and coordinated conservation decisions. Taking this approach has led many LCCs to begin funding research to provide the information for improved decision making. To ensure that funding goes to research projects with the highest likelihood of leading to more integrated broad scale conservation, some LCCs have also developed approaches for prioritizing which information needs will be of most benefit to their partnerships. We describe two case studies in which decision analytic tools were used to quantitatively assess the relative importance of information for decisions made by partners in the Plains and Prairie Potholes LCC. The results of the case studies point toward a few valuable lessons in terms of using these tools with LCCs. Decision analytic tools tend to help shift focus away from research oriented discussions and toward discussions about how information is used in making better decisions. However, many technical experts do not have enough knowledge about decision making contexts to fully inform the latter type of discussion. When assessed in the right decision context, however, decision analyses can point out where uncertainties actually affect optimal decisions and where they do not. This helps technical experts understand that not all research is valuable in improving decision making. But perhaps most importantly, our results suggest that decision analytic tools may be more useful for LCCs as way of developing integrated objectives for coordinating partner decisions across the landscape, rather than simply ranking research priorities.