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Appendix 1: Summary of Results from Assessing Networking Needs for Conservation Biology in Africa: A Survey
In 2000, SCB and AAAS launched a collaboration to explore (1) how SCB can further internationalize itself, with special reference to Africa, and (2) more broadly, how to improve access to and exchange of information by the conservation biology community in Africa.
To inform this collaboration and ensure that it would be driven by African needs, AAAS distributed a survey to SCB and non-SCB members working on conservation issues in Africa. Because initial recipients were invited to circulate the survey, we do not have a precise count of recipients, but it is several hundred. Staff from the Zoological Society of Southern Africa, World Wildlife Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society, Smithsonian Institution, and Blackwell Science also assisted with distribution.
The survey had two parts. SCB members were asked to answer questions regarding African participation in SCB. They were asked to rank constraints to membership and more active participation, as well as ideas for SCB to become more Africa-relevant. All recipients were asked to answer questions regarding networking needs, preferences, and capabilities. Why do they network, how do they currently access and exchange information, and how would they like to network?
One hundred and twenty-eight surveys were received, 36 from SCB members. Importantly, respondents included individuals managing existing networks like BioNet-International, EAFRINET, and SAFRINET. These respondents helped offer a "reality check" on whether an initiative like that being considered by AAAS and SCB is necessary.
Of the SCB members, 16 are U.S.-based, while the remainder are based in South Africa (9), Kenya (5), Namibia (2), and Uganda, Madagascar, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe (1 each). Ninety-two non-SCB members returned surveys. Twelve are based outside Africa (U.S., Canada, or Europe), while the remainder are based in South Africa (40), Kenya (26), Tanzania (3), Madagascar (3), Zimbabwe (2), Uganda (2), and Zambia, Congo/Brazzaville, Botswana, and Nigeria (1 each). More than half of the respondents describe themselves as researchers and/or university professors/lecturers. About one-quarter are employees of public agencies (parastatals included), while a smaller number are NGO-based.
What follows are summaries of the survey results; first, those from SCB members regarding ways to globalize SCB with specific reference to Africa, followed by those from all respondents regarding networking.
SCB and Africa
The response rate for SCB members based in Africa approached 50%, an unusually high figure attributable to our efforts to reach members by multiple channels (post, FAX, email, web). Their motivation for joining SCB is overwhelmingly to subscribe to Conservation Biology and to support/participate in a professional conservation biology organization. Very few mentioned participating in the annual meetings or receiving the newsletter as motivating factors. When asked why few African members participate in the annual meetings, the most common constraint cited was financial limitations. Several also stated that the issues covered were of little relevance to their own work and/or that SCB is perceived as not African or not relevant to Africa concerns. One respondent suggested changing the format of SCB meetings from an annual global meeting to annual regional conferences supplemented by global meetings every 2-3 years, to ensure local relevance while maintaining global partnership within the organization.
To explain the limited participation by African members in SCB, a majority again cited a perceived lack of relevance and dominance by North America. One wrote:
"There is an issue of relevance, but it is not that the issues covered aren't relevant, or that we're not interested in participating -- rather the problem is that the society is perceived as primarily American and almost exclusively first world and is thus perceived as inaccessible and disinterested in African ideas and issues."
A majority of respondents favored creating an Africa section within SCB as one way to make the organization more international and relevant to African members. Suggestions for increasing SCB's profile in Africa included: distributing Conservation Biology to libraries in Africa, holding meetings in Africa and networking with African organizations, offering complimentary memberships, making a more proactive effort to reach African professionals, and putting Conservation Biology online with free subscriptions to some African countries. While not mentioned in the survey, SCB's new magazine, Conservation Biology in Practice is another forum well suited to address African issues.
Respondents lauded the usefulness of an Africa regional body for conservation biology, in particular, an Africa section affiliated with SCB and open to anyone working on conservation issues in Africa. A web site for collaboration, annual meetings in Africa, increased focus on the social/human dimensions of conservation, and increased representation (with funding) on the editorial board and governing board were highlighted as priority actions for the Africa section.
Networking for conservation biology
African respondents were clear in expressing their needs, desires, and constraints relating to networking for the promotion of conservation biology. There was unanimous support for establishing a regional body (or bodies) in Africa for conservation biology in order to fulfill functions such as publishing a newsletter, establishing a website, organizing meetings, and serving as liaison or affiliate to SCB.
Current networking needs are being partially met through an ad hoc combination of discipline-specific resources, with respondents indicating reliance upon meetings (to the extent they are able to attend them), mailings of reports and newsletters (to the extent they happen to receive them), journals (to the extent they can afford them), and email/websites (to the extent they enjoy Internet access).
Few respondents reported being a member of an existing network, none in the field of conservation biology per se. In rating the importance of desired network benefits, respondents overwhelmingly indicated that their top two priorities were receiving information, including news and research articles, and having a forum in which to discuss issues of common concern. Strong interest in exploring opportunities for collaboration was also expressed.
Nearly all respondents reported having access to email. Web access was reported to be somewhat more problematic, with some 20 percent of respondents indicating no web access, and a significantly larger percentage indicating access with some degree of constraint. The main constraints indicated are high costs and unreliable connections, and to a lesser degree slow connections, limited software, and the need to share a connected computer within a group. However, overall there appears to be some, if not an ideal, infrastructure in place to support an effective conservation biology network, and an "under-served market" of willing members.