IUFRO-SPDC Pre-Congress Training Workshops

29 September - 3 October 2014 in Snowbird, Utah, USA

The Special Programme for Development of Capacities (IUFRO-SPDC) of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) has a long history of organizing Training Workshops on pertinent subjects relevant to forest scientists from developing countries in conjunction with large IUFRO conferences and congresses. To this end, a one-week training event was organized at Snowbird, a mountain summer and winter resort near Salt Lake City, prior to the IUFRO World Congress from 29 September to 3 October 2014.

Participants were selected from a pool of more than 300 scientists applying for both sponsorship to the Congress Scientist Assistance Program and participation in the pre-congress training week. The selection of participants were based on aspects such as approved abstract for the congress, preference for a pre-congress training module as well as regional and gender balance. A total of 75 early and mid-career forest scientists from 32 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America were selected. Because of visa denial to enter the USA or delay in arriving in Salt Lake City a total of 71 scientists participated in the training week.

The participants could choose between the following two main training modules:

•    Workshop 1: Training in Research Methods prepared and moderated by Rolfe Leary, Research Scientist (retired), USDA Forest Service, USA; and John Kershaw, Dean and Professor, University of New Brunswick, Canada;

•    Workshop 2: Communicating Forest Science: Making Science Work for Policy and Management lead by Cindy L. Miner, US-FS Pacific Northwest Research Station, USA, Bastiaan Louman, CATIE, Costa Rica, and Michael Kleine, IUFRO, Austria.

These two training workshops were concurrently held for four days from Monday to Thursday.

On Friday participants attended a short workshop on “Introduction to the Global Forest Information Service (GFIS)” lead by the GFIS Team -Eero Mikkola, Juha Hautagangas, and Michael Huck (Workshop 3), followed by a Knowledge Café moderated by Bastiaan Louman and John Kershaw as wrap-up session of the training week.

Workshop 1: Training in Research Methods

This training workshop with 41 participants from Africa, Asia, and Latin America was co-led by Dr. Rolfe Leary, U.S. Forest Service (retired), and Dr. John Kershaw, University of New Brunswick.
The workshop presented the scientific process using Gowin’s Vee as a model. Topics included problem identification, question formulation, effective literature reviews, hypothesis development, scientific inference, sampling theory, experimental design, statistic inference, strong inference, and research ethics. Training materials included lectures, student discussions, in class exercises, interactive worksheets, and student presentations. A website for the training session is found at:
Each participant was asked to bring a question or problem statement related to research they are currently undertaking. Lectures incorporated examples and ideas related to the various topics presented by the participants.

Dr. Leary’s presentations focused primarily on the left-hand side of Gowin’s Vee dealing with the conceptual aspects of research methods, while Dr. Kershaw’s presentations focused primarily on the right-hand side of Gowin’s Vee dealing with methodological aspects of research methods. The workshop was structured so that aspects of concepts and methods were interspersed so that participants understood the connections and parallels between philosophical and conceptual constructs of science and the mechanics of doing science.

Day 1  of the workshop provided time for the participants to introduce themselves and the types of projects they are working on. The formal presentations focused on the bigger picture of science – what science is, the relationship between science and philosophy, the kinds/styles of science, how to ask effective scientific questions, and included a complete example dissecting a relevant forestry-related scientific problem.

Day 2  focused on philosophy of science and introduced participants to scientific concepts, propositions, and theory. Margenau’s perception plane and the Lakehead framework where used to frame these ideas around a real forestry research example. The participants had a chance to apply the Lakehead framework to their problem. A session on effective literature reviews showed participants how to use keywords and various search tools to identify potentially relevant literature.  In the afternoon, the card game Eleusis was used as an exercise in training participants how to identify patterns and process in scientific research. In the evening a session on using Zotero to organize and categorize literature was presented.

Day 3  focused on sampling theory, statistical inference, and scientific inference. Sampling theory was presented using the “Sampling in a Nutshell” by Solinim and an interactive Excel spread sheet. Results from simple random sampling, systematic sampling, and stratified sampling were compared and implications for blow-up estimation discussed. Statistical inference was approached using statistical hypothesis testing and focused on the nature of statistical hypotheses, power of hypothesis tests, and meaning of statistical significance. Scientific inference focus on the concepts of multiple working hypotheses and strong inference and parallels between statistical and scientific hypotheses were illustrated. In the evening, participants had a chance to present examples of their projects and the work they developed throughout the workshop.

Day 4  introduced the concepts of designing experiments versus experimental design. The session on designing experiments utilized Roger Green’s 10 rules of designing experiments and incorporated examples from the participants’ projects as well as examples from Dr. Kershaw’s and Dr. Leary’s experience. The session ended with Dr. Leary presenting on research ethics and the personal qualities of scientists.
Based on the student presentations, questions, and interactions with participants, the workshop materials were well received and the participants made great progress on their individual problems.

Workshop 2: Communicating Forest Science: Making Science Work for Policy and Management

A total of 30 participants from Africa, Asia, and Latin America participated in this workshop led by Cindy Miner, U.S Forest Service, USA with focus in the first part on training on communicating to nonscientists.  This session (14.5 hours) provided basic and advanced concepts in communications as context for communication strategy and methods. Participants varied widely in their skills and learned from one another in the large group and many small break-outs. A learning environment was created for symmetrical communications so each person felt free to share unique and meaningful knowledge. Teaching materials included a PowerPoint presentation, a manual entitled Communicating Forest Science, and handouts.

Concepts explored included one-way and two-way communications—the latter including symmetrical and asymmetrical approaches, negotiation, and symbiotic changes in attitudes and behaviors. For formulating communications strategy, the following were explored: SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis, diffusion of innovations theory (including stages of the innovation decision process, types of adopters, and change agents), and social network analysis. The session resulted in the participants collectively creating a new model called Scientist and Community Dialogue for Joint Benefit.   Each participant developed a communications strategy that included purpose and scope, objectives, audience, key messages, methods, and measurement of success. Emphasis was given to communicating with purpose, understanding audience, and key message development particularly in context of narrative.

The news media section explored what shapes news, types of media, and ways to get published. Each participant developed a press release based on a reverse-pyramid format and key messages already prepared in participant’s strategic plans. Media interviews were used to continue developing skills in delivering key messages.  Breaking out in pairs, each participant role played as a journalist and a scientist. Beforehand, discussion focused on how to prepare for an interview as a scientist, techniques for getting the science story out, and how to stay out of trouble in speaking to the press. 

The Internet and social media section emphasized participants experiences and skills.  Topics included the benefit and challenges of emails, electronic newsletters, websites, content development, providing access with various apps and tools, Twitter, Facebook, and blogs.  Examples of these approaches were viewed and discussed.   Each participant developed a blog, some of which later were posted by the IUFRO Congress or the individuals themselves.

Participants were given opportunity to reflect on science communications throughout.  For example, they were asked to read a journal article on communication of science in highly politicized environments the first day.  The night before this topic was to be covered, they were given opportunity to read reader friendly magazine story for nonscientists.  The next day, most participants had not read the journal article but had read the magazine story, which proved to be a teachable moment.  Finally, small groups explored communicating in highly politicized environment and reported out to the full group as they transitioned to a new theme of communicating science to policy makers.

Following the communications session, a session was held on the interface between forest science and policies. This was based on the results of the forest science and policy working groups that finished its work in 2005 through the publications of the best practice guidelines for working effectively in this interface. After an introduction to the guidelines and several examples from different parts of the world, participants were requested to form regional groups to discuss the application of one or more of the guidelines in an example of their region.

The group work highlighted the overall application of some of the guidelines, in particular in relation to identification of the research topics. Most of the time, this has resulted more or less in a relation of demander and provider, rarely in a relation of integration of policy makers in research. While for some research, such as an example from India of applied research on the presence of insects, impacts were immediate and legislation was adapted; in general impacts of the research were not as much as expected and a lively discussion was held on which guidelines could increase the overall impact of the research examples from the four regions (ASEAN, India-Pakistan-Bangladesh, Latin America and Africa). It was felt that an increased collaboration between researchers and policy makers in different phases of the research (requiring also a greater understanding of each other’s objectives and needs) would improve impacts. Also it was felt that communication strategies needed to be improved, translating research into more amenable messages, while at the same time building greater trust among the public.

One of the ways to achieve closer involvement of policy makers and other stakeholders into research was exemplified by the case of the Andean-Patagonian Research and Extension Centre (CIEFAP), where they form part of the board and are responsible for setting the research agenda of the center. The same example also showed that to be able to address a country’s research needs, forest research organizations need to have, or have access, to staff formed in different disciplines, whereas many are lacking in particular socio-economic scientists.

Workshop 3: Introduction to the Global Forest Information Service (GFIS)

On 3 October 2014, the Global Forest Information Service (GFIS) Coordination Unit led a half-day workshop for all 71 participants of the pre-congress training week aimed at promoting the GFIS gateway and addressing the challenges to scientific information sharing across different scales.

Eero Mikkola, GFIS Coordinator opened the workshop with a description and history of the GFIS gateway. Participants learnt how the GFIS website interacts with partner-organizations' websites to harvest and store information for third-party information access.

GFIS Communications Officer, Michael Huck, instructed participants in the evolution of online information management; the changing nature of the information search, scope of content found online; evolving nature of dissemination; as well as best practices for readying information for online upload including introduction to web-ready standards.
The GFIS gateway was used as an example of the challenges to communicating research on a global scale. Participants were introduced to the different strategies used to overcome access barriers GFIS has employed and discussed examples from their own regions of failure and success stories in communicating science.

Knowledge Café

The pre-congress training week concluded with a knowledge café for all 71 participants aiming to share the information and insights obtained in the different training workshops discussing particular real-world cases likely to be encountered in practice. Six interregional groups were formed and these were grouped in pairs to each discuss one of two cases, each of them taking place within the context of science-policy interfacing but with different capacities to implement high quality research. In one case the groups were requested to increase research impacts without affecting research quality, and in the other case to increase quality but maintaining impact. Each partner looked at one case first, after which the partner groups switched table and discussed the other case building on the inputs of their partner group for that particular case. To be able to do so, reporters and moderators did not change tables. Towards the end of the discussions, the reporters presented the work derived at their tables.

Discussions were lively and with good involvement of all participants from the different regions and backgrounds. Regarding the first case, participants highlighted the appropriate engagement of multiple stakeholders in the research process, in particular during topic identification; interdisciplinary research; and a series of different communication strategies beyond that of publishing in scientific journals. For the second case, they highlighted the need for partnerships (including public-private ones); strengthening of capacities of local researchers in particular in scientific writing and research methodologies; standardized high quality research protocols; research ethics; protocols on data sharing and networking.

These results show that the previous training sessions on communication of research, the science-policy interface, GFIS and research methodology were very opportune and addressed felt needs in the (sub)-tropical countries. They also show the need by the forest science community to increase efforts in training and networking, in order to achieve a greater impact of forest research in these countries.