Issue #4:Influencing Conservation Behavior 
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Influencing Conservation Behavior
A note from Natalie...

"If only people truly understood the issue, saw the data, read the brochure, or valued the resource like we do, we could really affect change or get people to do the right thing." Sound familiar? I certainly have had these thoughts before! Unfortunately, social science research tells us that data and information alone rarely change behavior. Any of you who have kids or aging parents and have tried to convince them of something know this is a "no-brainer!" However, because of our training, most of us still default to the information and the data to convince people. 

In our
last issue of Conservation in HD, we focused on values and attitudes and the cognitive hierarchy model that explains how values and attitudes influence behavior. In this issue, we go a little deeper into other factors that can influence behavior. Getting people to "think,"  "feel," or "do" is hard work and there's no silver bullet. Yet, people's actions are key to conservation success. As natural resource practitioners, it is in the best interest of the resource to understand human behavior and some techniques to influence it. We provide a few tips for you.   

- Natalie

Natalie Sexton
Chief, Human Dimensions Branch
Natural Resource Program Center


Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence
Learn to recognize emotions, create meaningful connections, handle challenges more effectively. Provided by NCTC multiple times per year, the next offering is April 16-17 in Sacramento, CA.  

What is Social Marketing?
This two-day workshop provides a comprehensive introduction to community-based social marketing and how it is being applied to foster sustainable behavior. June 1-2 in Denver, CO. 

Strategic Communication for Strategic Conservation Podcast
Listen to an interview with Dr. Jessica Thompson of Northern Michigan State University as she share tips and best practices for understanding and communicating with diverse audiences to make our messages STICK! Also available on iTunes.
How to Change People Who Don't Want to Change!

This 5-minute video provides a classic example of how providing people with information doesn’t always motivate them to change a behavior. Consider smoking, texting while driving, and littering. Education alone does not lead to behavior change, and knowledge does not lead to action. In fact, information overload can sometimes cause people to feel smothered and defensive, especially if they feel that their choices are being limited. Watch the video to see how asking "influential questions" provides a safe environment for people to explore their own motivations to change. 
What Influences Behavior?

Values and Attitudes: In the last issue, we introduced the Cognitive Hierarchy Model to illustrate how values, beliefs, attitudes, and behavior are linked. While values are few in number and slow to change, behaviors are numerous and situation-specific. Focusing on shared interest rather than changing values may be a more productive way to influence behavior.  

Awareness & Appreciation: While knowledge alone usually does not change behavior, it does contribute. Developing shared understanding and appreciation of a resource or issue can influence behavior. 

Barriers: Economics, politics, culture, and access to resources may prevent an individual from participating in a given behavior, even though they have the intention to do so.
Skills & Experience: Education and experience can influence a person's ability or desire to engage in a behavior.

Personal Responsibility: A deeper sense of moral responsibility to the environment can influence ecologically sensitive lifestyle and behavior choices.

Social Norms: Perceived social pressure to perform a behavior can have significant influence (for example: say please when you ask for something, turn the light off when you leave a room). 

*Graphic adapted from the Action-Awareness Paradigm, and the Conservation International Targeting Behavior Model
   Techniques to Influence Behavior  

1. Know your audience and what makes them tick. This is the "A-number-1" strategy! How many times have you made assumptions about someone and later realized you were way off base? The same can happen when you think about your target audience(s) for influencing conservation behavior. Ground truth assumptions and get into their minds. What are their interests and needs? What do they value? Where are mutual interests and benefits? Answering "what's in it for them" can go a long way. See Tool # 17: Getting Buy-in and Support in Tools of Engagement.

2. Frame the issue. How something is presented (the "frame") influences the choices people make. Frames organize and structure social meanings and influence perceptions. By carefully deciding how we present information, we can have some control over its perception. Consider these techniques:
  • Metaphors--give new meaning to an idea by comparing it to something else more familiar to your audience.
  • Stories--frame an issue in a vivid and memorable way through a story.
  • Contrast--describe a subject in terms of what it is not.
  • Spin--cast a concept in a positive or negative light. 
Speaking of spin, which messages are better received--positive or negative ones? Survey says! depends. The environmental issues that attract the most attention often center around fear. Fear of loss (for example, clean water or money) can be a good short-term motivator, if not overdone. Hope is also a powerful motivator. Positive messages are better received by young people, as well as those who already support your issue. Bottom line: keep messages connected to the audience. The most powerful frames provide a moral context for action. See Influencing Conservation Action and Why it Matters How We Frame the Environment for more ideas.

3. Consider the Authority of the Resource. Undesirable behaviors on public lands can disrupt wildlife and habitats and may interfere with the others' experience of the outdoors. The Authority of the Resource Technique transfers the authority from the manager to the resource. It de-emphasizes the regulation and re-emphasizes nature's requirements. Consider a visitor with a dog running free on a refuge. Approached from authority of the agency, we would talk to the visitor about the off-leash regulation and perhaps issue a fine. Authority of the resource approach would instead focus on mule deer dropping their fawns this time of year and the stress that free-running dogs put on them. While our work is never quite that simple, the proponents of this approach suggest that desirable behavior is more likely to occur if people understand how their actions affect the way nature works. See also
A Behavioral Intervention Tool for Recreation Managers.
HD in Action: Stories of Integration from the Field

Alaskans Love their Salmon!
By Jimmy Fox

I was rambling down a long stretch of highway between Palmer and Fairbanks, Alaska, in the middle of a conversation with an assemblyman from the Fairbanks North Star Borough. The topic was streambank restoration. As I described our Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program projects with landowners along the Chena River, which flows through Fairbanks, he asked me, “Why should Borough residents care about the Chena River?” 

The question was like a slow pitch right over home plate. “Salmon!” I replied. I told him that for Chinook salmon that swim the mighty Yukon, the Chena River is home to the 2nd largest run in Alaska. However, the fish go mostly unseen. Slightly turbid waters in the lower Chena hide them from the thousands of residents and tourists every July. As a result, even lifelong residents are unaware salmon are here or how important the river is to this iconic species. And Chinook salmon in Alaska are in trouble. Biologists believe there are several factors at play, from changes in the marine environment to warming temperatures in streams. One thing is for sureChinook habitat in the Chena has taken a hit. As the city’s population has increased, so too has polluted runoff. Landowners desiring manicured lawns and river vistas have innocently removed shoreline cover. 

Thankfully, there is growing awareness in the conservation profession that data alone will not solve our conservation challenges. Perhaps our greatest opportunity to improve conservation is integrating our science into society and local policy (Manolis, et al. 2008). I like to think of that integration space as the socio-ecological mixing zonethe interface between conservation biology and human psychology. It’s a messy place to be! We have to listen to people, to learn what they value, believe, and feel. And then we can use that understanding to make connections between the things they care about (clean water) and the resources we are charged to protect (salmon). 

To that end, the Service is building relationships in Fairbanks with people that value salmon, clean water, and a healthy community. For the last three years, we have listened and talked about the ecological, economic and social values the Chena River can provide. These core values seem to resonate with most everyone. At the National Wildlife Refuge System Vision Conference, Doug Brinkley shared an observation we keep in mind: "If I tell my regular buddies where I grew up in Ohio that I want to save the whooping crane, they laugh at me. If I show them whooping cranes and how majestic they are, they say, ’We've got to save them.’"

We are working hard to show people that a healthy river raises property values, nurtures wildlife, and improves recreational opportunities. Our conversations are paying off; folks want to help. Last month, many partners joined a conservation action planning process aimed at successfully implementing conservation strategies. Upon completion we will have some answers for people in Fairbanks that say, “We love salmon. What can we do to help?” We believe the plan will be a springboard for more listening and more conservation.
So how did the conversation with the assemblyman end? I think he was hookedha! Two months later he publicly supported  the Service’s plan to restore a degraded stream that will help young Chinook salmon and provide a place for residents to paddle. He proposed a resolution that  passed unanimously. It might seem a tiny victory, but I believe it is helping us develop stronger, deeper relationships in the community. And those relationships will help us integrate our science with people’s values, attitudes and beliefs in order to influence behavior. And I believe that’s how you get community conservation done.

Jimmy Fox is the deputy field supervisor for the Fairbanks Fish and Wildlife Field Office. In his spare time he and others chat about conservation leadership at
Hot off the Press!

This new report describes the diverse fields of conservation social science (or human dimensions) and how they can help us understand relationships between humans and nature. While there is increased recognition of the importance of the social sciences in conservation, a clear understanding of these fields is lacking. What types of questions can different disciplines answer? What methods can be applied? Check out this report for the answers. 
     Quote of the Day

“We own so little of the landscape, if we don't understand why people make the decisions that they do, and we don't appeal to people in a manor that speaks to them, much of our effort is for not. It is critical for us to ‘sell’ conservation in the broader landscape as well as get people fired up about ‘their’ natural resources.”

Stacy Salvevold
Deputy Project Leader, Detroit Lakes Wetland Management District
*photo credits: USFWS; dbfphotos