I’m running a short workshop at the Conservation Optimism conference on 21 April 2017. The workshop aims to demonstrate how background knowledge from different experts, both stakeholders and scientists, can be quantified and used to complement other data sources from more formal scientific studies.
In the last 20 years, as Bayesian methods have flourished, statisticians and psychologists have developed formal elicitation processes that make it possible to describe both the knowledge people have and their uncertainty about it. In statistical analyses this can then be set alongside other data sources. Where views differ the consequences or not of these different views can be easily explored.
I thought this could be an interesting topic for a conference about being optimistic about conservation. Many conservation problems are complex and difficult. Data collection may be impossible and scientific literature limited. Yet, we may often have more information than we think and elicitation methods can help us quantify existing knowledge.
The elicitation process can also enable different voices and diverse points of view to be included in the conservation discourse. For example, in many situations it is only data from formal scientific studies that are used to address a specific conservation problem. Alternatively, interviews, surveys and different types of participatory methods may be used to garner local stakeholder views. But it can be difficult to combine these into one analysis. It can be even more difficult when there are very different views about the same problem and to examine how conclusions/decisions might (or might not) differ depending on these different views. Elicitation techniques provides a mechanism for doing this and so makes it easier to include different voices and views in to the decision-making process.
Furthermore, elicitation processes are generally positive, exciting exercises that can help everyone clarify their (lack of) understanding about a problem.
This will be an interactive workshop for a small number of people. Participants will be introduced to the general motivation and the basic concepts of elicitation and probability. Most of the workshop will be taken up by the participants carrying out a facilitated joint elicitation process to experience (or at least get a flavour of) how such a process works.
A problem will be outlined and, working with the facilitator, participants will then be required to elicit their own values for the problem. These are then shared with the group to motivate a group discussion where values are agreed upon (or not) together. The facilitator then turns this into a distribution to represent their uncertainty about the problem and final discussion reflects what they think.
After the elicitation process is finished the participants will then see how these results can be used in an analysis and will be able to reflect, in discussion, on the benefits and difficulties of this approach. The aim is that participants will leave with an appreciation of how knowledge from different people can be quantified and used in analyses and the pitfalls and advantages of doing so.