To make conservation happen, opinions matter. People involved in a conservation projects can include researchers, managers, policymakers, farmers and a long etcetera. Notoriously, for those involved, it is often hard to agree unanimously on the best way forward. For example, in deciding what to do about peatland fires in Borneo, some might think that agroexpansion should be banned, others that the key is to empower firefighting, and still, others, that smallholders should be paid to stop using fire. While we might disagree with some opinions, we cannot disregard them because they may be from someone influential and who might not be persuaded differently. And, after all, who are we to say that ours is the only truth?
Understanding human views is the sort of knowledge often left to our intuition or personal experience. However, opinions have long been the subject of inquiry for researchers in other fields so they have developed tools to formally understand them, such as surveys or interviews. Among these tools, Q methodology stands out for it combines quantitative and qualitative data, allowing researchers to compare opinions systematically whilst uncovering nuances and richness.
Understanding the nuances of value positions is important. For example, we might think that agroexpansion needs to stop, but how should it happen? Who should bear the negative consequences? What alternatives should be enabled? A tool that uncovers the nuances of each perspective can be very useful to mediate conflicts (e.g. wildlife controversies) or to develop policies. It is also useful for collective self-reflection, such as when the conservation community asks itself what are the views about paying people for conservation and this may in turn influence scholarly arguments.
In this paper, we present the usefulness and caveats of Q methodology for conservation research. We synthesise the lessons learnt from the few but increasing applications of Q in conservation (n = 52). We discuss the sort of conservation questions for which it can be useful, namely: addressing conflict, devising management alternatives, understanding policy acceptability, and critically reflecting on the values that implicitly influence research and practice. We also outline the research process and highlight how this outline can be used as a checklist for reporting Q studies. We proposed this as a reporting checklist because in our review, we found that several studies either did not explain some critical features or did not adequately justify some research decisions that are infrequent and these can prevent the research community from fully understanding the strength of the study. Finally, we provide recommendations on how to conduct and communicate such studies.
Link to full article: https://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.13123