ICCB 2021: Innovations in behavioral science for conservation

It was my pleasure to participate in a panel discussion on Innovations in Behavioral Science for Conservation at the International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB) last night, December 16th 2021.

The panel was organised by Dr Erik Thulin, the behavioral science lead at the Rare’s Center for Behavior and Environment, and other participants were Dr Ganga Shreedhar (LSE), Dr Philipe Bujold (Rare), and Dr Kira Sullivan-Wiley. We had a really active discussion with our audience covering many issues at the cutting edge of conservation behaviour change.

The first question was about the ethics of behaviour change. We discussed the colonial and very coercive history of conservation, and how behavioural science is an opportunity for bring neglected perspectives into the design of programmes through co-production. In the end, I believe behaviour change can only be successful in the long-term when it expands autonomy and opportunities to make good decisions.

Another audience member asked about the role of ‘key influencers’ and how these can be identified in network studies or using cheaper methods. In my response, I briefly summarised some of the other ways that key influencers can be identified (i.e. sampled surveys, key informants, using proxy indicators – but these are very context specific). We then highlighted that key influencers are crucial for driving widespread change, but are often risk-averse and have social positions to maintain. This means they rarely are at the forefront of new innovations. Initially, it might be more fruitful to build relations amongst others who are willing to take risks and empower them to influence others.

Are all behaviour changes gradual and dependent on the painstaking work of building and changing social norms? Dr Philipe Bujold pointed out some of the ways in which providing simple decision tools or changing the context in which decisions are made can have big and immediate impacts. For example, they provided fisherfolk with a tool to identify crabs that are too small to catch. Given that the fisherman were already interested in maintaining the sustainability of their crab stocks, the tool was quickly adopted and ensured the crab population could keep reproducing.

A recording of the discussion may be available soon, and you can view my recorded presentation at the top of this page.

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