This paper argues that what we do to conserve biodiversity depends on how we know biodiversity. The former Chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is concerned that national policymakers may not take the findings of this global assessment (GA) seriously because of ‘squabbling scientists.’ The paper explores the contentious issues in IPBES, about presenting knowledge to policymakers, and about the integration of indigenous and local knowledge (ILK) into this global scientific knowledge creation. It asks why IPBES fights shy of addressing the dialectical relationship between how we know and how we act on the environment. Given that biodiversity is best understood and conserved by local communities, we present a case study of the protocols or policies of the Maldhari community in the Banni grasslands in India. The institutions or norms of the Maldhari ‘way of life’ govern and co-create their knowledge and policy decisions or protocols for biodiversity and livelihoods. The IPBES conceptual framework places these institutions that govern knowledge generation and policy-making outside and distinct from the direct drivers of nature and human well-being. If IPBES findings are to be taken up by nation states, we need astute policy makers who understand institutions and are capable of public engagement and co-creation of knowledge and policy. The paper makes a plea for building on the IPBES report with national and local public engagement, to enable knowledge-policy relationships of co-ownership and action for biodiversity conservation. © 2020, Springer Japan KK, part of Springer Nature.