Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Interview with Christopher Cvitanovic #oceanoptimism

Dr Chris Cvitanovic is an Interdisciplinary Research Fellow specialized in knowledge exchange, stakeholder engagement and the governance of marine resources, working at the Centre for Marine Socioecology at the University of Tasmania. Contrarily to most researchers we interview, Chris also has experience working for the government, which gives him a unique approach and understanding of science and policy making, which he certainly shares with enthusiasm and a good dose of humor.

FEME: How do you think that social sciences could better interact with environmental sciences?

Chris: I think that both disciplines already have an appreciation of each other, but unfortunately, this doesn’t always translate into more integrative and interdisciplinary research.  I think that researchers need to work towards understanding what each discipline can do by accepting their own limitations, by respecting their differences, and by trying to negotiate the way that the individuals can work together. I think if science is going to be interdisciplinary, the individuals really need to drive it. People need to step out of their comfort zones and collaborate as broadly as possible.  

FEME: We heard that you worked for the government for a while, so, what was your main motivation to quit this job?

Chris: Ah, good question! I joined the government wanting to make a difference for conservation, but over time I became disillusioned with how the government used scientific information and the way that decisions tended to be politically driven, opposed to environmentally driven, or socially driven. I became really interested in how to change that relationship so that we make decisions based on evidence instead on a political will. So I left the government because there weren’t a lot of people doing research in that space and I thought it was a good space for me due to my background. So I left the government to try to improve the way the governments use science in their decision-making processes.

FEME: What was the main lesson you learned when you worked for the government?

Chris: My main lesson was that government employees are people, just like you and I. There is this big cultural gap between scientists and decision makers, and often we think quite negatively about decision makers. My biggest lesson was that decision makers and policy makers are very passionate, they are just like scientists, they want the best outcome. There are things that stop them; political agendas or institutional factors such as bad leadership. However, I think that on roots levels everyone wants the same: a better marine environment. And I think we can harness that passion that everyone has, that passion for conservation. The thing I learned is that we can actually work together as a scientific and a management community to achieve really good things. 

FEME: And how can you apply these lessons in science?

Chris: I like to share what I have learned with people like yourself and students who have not had that sort of exposure to the government. I think a lot of the way we train our students, we don’t expose them to policy or management; they know it is there, but they do not understand it. So, for me, it is what I am trying to give back to the next generation of scientists; to help them understand how they can influence it. I think for me it is about still trying to do research on how we make it better and about pushing the case for trying to do things better and using the energy of the next generation of scientists who are trying to improve things.

FEME: What changes you would like to see in scientific community in the future?

Chris: I would like to see a greater appreciation for everybody, a more inclusive research culture.  I think that there is still a lot of negativity towards certain disciplines or the way certain disciplines operate, there is still a lot of negativity towards the government and the government officials.  We need to embrace our differences, and work together to solve the worlds big problems.

I also think we need to be a lot more positive and I would like to see more ocean optimism, instead of always saying the negative story. As a scientific community there is a lot of good stories to be told. And I think if we tell the good stories, as much as the bad stories, if not more, I think we can actually get a lot more of the public interested, engaged and excited about trying to influence their behaviour. So I think as a scientific community we need to try to engage with the community and, make them feel positive about what they can do to help ocean conservation. #oceanoptimism 

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