A bit of background on WILDSENS

In order for states, municipalities, communities and individuals to be able to effectively manage dynamic, wild landscapes in a changing world, we need to rethink our policies of conservation and development at many different levels. In particular, one of the greatest challenges to effective management has been the task of effectively and inclusively incorporating the diverse – and at times conflicting – values and needs of land users in local communities. Models of management known as “multi-criterion” are good at integrating empirical ecological, economic and agricultural data. Meanwhile, participatory research methods have gained popularity because they allow for accessing the attitudes and ecological knowledge of local community members. But few initiatives seek to integrate the two – in part because quantitative researchers (and their data) rarely sit alongside one another, and in part because it’s just plain difficult.

What we have sought to do in our INTERACT-funded research is to develop a new comprehensive way to do participatory mapping that succeeds not just in capturing stakeholders’ perceptions of, knowledge about and attitudes towards wild landscapes, but in enabling integration of that information with other existing forms of data relevant to land mapping. Our hope is that coming up with new research methods to this end will offer new and more comprehensive insights into the impact of environmental change on local communities. By better capturing and using local knowledge, we can help support sustainable strategies for managing dynamic wild landscapes in the future, around the planet.

So-called walking methods (or mobile methods) has been gaining in popularity in recent years, particularly among scholars who want to better understand people’s experience of and relationship with landscapes. Topics such as cultural land values are rich with qualitative complexity and cannot easily be measured, assessed or understood through surveys or quantitative data points. These kinds of mobile methods can inform landscape conservation efforts, particularly for the management of protected areas. What we have proposed – combining mixed methods approaches that map spatial data and qualitative information onto how humans understand place – can advance understanding of the complex interactions between society, environment and place in modern conservation approaches. Our main initiatives are twofold: 1) to integrate acoustic methods that link subjective, experiential human data with empirical ecological data; and 2) to introduce into participatory mapping work a comprehensive participatory ethnographic component that brings stakeholders into the research process as knowledge co-creators (as opposed to merely subjects or interviewees). This way, instead of being uni-directional, information is actually exchanged between researcher and researchee.

Our INTERACT project is intended to develop and apply a new methodology for work on multi-sensory participatory mapping that integrates various human knowledge of and attitudes towards dynamic wild landscapes. Most work in environmental cartography typically relies on tools from human and physical geography, such as PPGIS. We wanted to find a way to integrate quantitative participatory mapping methods with qualitative ecological, anthropological and phenomenological data. Our hope is that we could synthesise such diverse data so as to develop a replicable, multidisciplinary framework for capturing a full range of information relevant to creating maps of the natural world. While most maps these days are created top-down with, for example, satellite information and multiple quantitative data points, few maps pay any substantive attention to how the users of maps (e.g. humans) actually perceive, feel about or experience the world. We all believe that such information is important and relevant for cartographic scholarship that is comprehensive, inclusive and ethical. Our hope is that doing such multi-sensory research and coming up with innovative research methods that cut across disciplines and types of data will help with public and private management of wild spaces – and species.

What’s next for us on the INTERACT project? Have a read in our next blog post…

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