Using perceptions as evidence to improve conservation and environmental management.

The conservation community is increasingly focusing on the monitoring and evaluation of management, governance, ecological, and social considerations as part of a broader move toward adaptive management and evidence-based conservation. Evidence is any information that can be used to come to a conclusion and support a judgment or, in this case, to make decisions that will improve conservation policies, actions, and outcomes. Perceptions are one type of information that is often dismissed as anecdotal by those arguing for evidence-based conservation. In this paper, I clarify the contributions of research on perceptions of conservation to improving adaptive and evidence-based conservation. Studies of the perceptions of local people can provide important insights into observations, understandings and interpretations of the social impacts, and ecological outcomes of conservation; the legitimacy of conservation governance; and the social acceptability of environmental management. Perceptions of these factors contribute to positive or negative local evaluations of conservation initiatives. It is positive perceptions, not just objective scientific evidence of effectiveness, that ultimately ensure the support of local constituents thus enabling the long-term success of conservation. Research on perceptions can inform courses of action to improve conservation and governance at scales ranging from individual initiatives to national and international policies. Better incorporation of evidence from across the social and natural sciences and integration of a plurality of methods into monitoring and evaluation will provide a more complete picture on which to base conservation decisions and environmental management.