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The nature and role of experiential knowledge for environmental conservation

  • DOI:
  • Published online: 26 May 2006

Understanding the nature and role of experiential knowledge for environmental conservation is a necessary step towards understanding if it should be used and how it might be applied with other types of knowledge in an evidence-based approach. This paper describes the nature of experiential and expert knowledge. It then discusses the role of experiential knowledge as a complement to scientific knowledge and explains the interplay between experiential knowledge with conservation research and practice using a simple conceptual model of how individuals learn. There are five main conclusions: (1) because experiential knowledge will always play a role in decision-making, enhancing ability to learn from experiences (including research) will have a significant influence on the effectiveness of conservation outcomes; (2) while experiential knowledge is qualitatively very different from quantitative information, both are important and complementary; (3) some experiential knowledge can be expressed quantitatively, but experiential knowledge can be difficult to isolate as single facts or propositions and qualitative methods will therefore often be required to elicit experiential knowledge; (4) because each person's expertise is unique, when using experiential knowledge the extent of a person's experience and its relevance to a particular problem need to be specified; and (5) as with any form of knowledge, there are limitations to that derived from personal experience. Synthesis and communication of research is therefore essential to help prevent erroneous thinking and, where possible, experiential knowledge should be used in conjunction with other types of information to guide conservation actions.

Corresponding author
Correspondence: Dr Ioan Fazey Tel: +44 (0)1970 624471 e-mail:
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Environmental Conservation
  • ISSN: 0376-8929
  • EISSN: 1469-4387
  • URL: /core/journals/environmental-conservation
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