Holistic Vision

Innovations to Bridge the Gap Between Knowledge and Action in Restoration

Brancalion, P. H., and J. van Melis. 2017. On the need for innovation in ecological restoration. Annals of Missouri Botanical Garden 102:227-236.


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Equipped with a tape, paper sheets, and a pencil, a restoration practitioner goes to the field early in the morning to gather ecological data on restoration project that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. By the end of the day, the data is typed into an electronic file by another professional and used the next day to calculate aboveground biomass stocks. But something is wrong with the results. After several hours, the professionals find that some tree diameter data were mistyped. The situation described above happens today in restoration projects all over the world, where technology is rarely applied to improve restoration activities. The lack of appropriate technologies or the maladaptation of existing ones to a restoration context has held back the  potential of restoration as an efficient and cheap activity to provide tree cover to millions of hectares.

To advocate for innovation for advancing with ecological restoration globally, two PARTNER researchers combined the literature on innovation and ecological restoration to identify opportunities, case studies, and lessons learned. By synthesizing these results, the researchers offer proposals to close the gap between knowledge and action in restoration. The case studies and proposals were organized around four major fronts of action in restoration: science, practice, capacity-building, and governance, as well the links among these fronts. Advancing in these lines will not only be important for restoration, it will be essential to create a proper business environment and attract young people to this activity.

There is a clear opportunity to apply an innovation approach to bridge the gap between knowledge and action in restoration. A “low hanging fruit” for innovation in restoration is the adaptation of solutions developed in other fields of activity, for which market forces have historically supported programs of research and development. The agriculture and forestry sectors provide prime examples of these more mature fields, with apps, equipment, machines, and software already developed to promote farmer and forester decision-making, resulting in improved performance and reduced costs. Some of these technological advances could likely be adapted for restoration. However, restoration innovations do not need to rely only on technological tools that require high investments for start-up. Rather, there are many opportunities for making better use of existing funds,if restoration science and practice are reframed and integrated. Altogether, the researchers point out that large-scale restoration will not be achieved by the simple sum of small-scale projects implemented by traditional restoration approaches, and describe the need for  innovation to fulfill the decades-old promise of restoration to reverse degradation at the landscape scale.


The PARTNERS connection
This paper was inspired by discussions during PARTNERS workshops about the existing need to upscale restoration. One of the key gaps observed was the high costs of restoration activities, limited financial return to farmers, and reduced capacity of restoration organizations to implement the business as usual restoration approach at much larger spatial scales. This paper was developed with the specific aim to promote the innovation paradigm in restoration and has been the basis for establishing innovations in Brazil, as part of the strategies of the Atlantic Forest Restoration Pact to restore 15 million hectares by 2050.