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Tacit working models of human behavioural change I: Implementation of conservation projects

Abstract

The “human dimension” of conservation is increasingly recognised as critical for success. Most conservation research involving people is based not on explicit “theories of change”, but tacit local knowledge or folk theories guiding programme design.In this study, I propose a schematization of the local socioecological knowledge and folk theories about the “human dimension” of conservation into tacit working models, comprised of individual factors and systemic factors influencing human behaviour in conservation contexts. These are called the Persuasion, Normative, Involvement and Uniformity tacit working models. I review a set of conservation interventions and programmes, in order to assess which of the implicit working models inform their design. I argue that in order to better understand how a project may arrive at different outcomes, the underlying assumptions about human behaviour and the implicit “theory of change” that went into programme design need to be made explicit. This schema does not evaluate different approaches to conservation, but it can help point out the underlying assumptions that structure interventions and that may be more or less suited to particular situations. This can allow researchers to recognise their own assumptions and test them explicitly, leading to the formulation of more reflective and explicit theories, and improving the quality of both discourse and practice in conservation.

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Acknowledgements

Countless people have listened to me try to express versions of these ideas over several years, and their feedback has been helpful in refining my argument; particular thanks go to Anne-Caroline Prevot for her supportiveness and Colin Hoag for an introduction to anthropology of bureaucracy. I acknowledge funding from a Marie Curie FP7 COFUND Agreenskills Plus Fellowship, and support from the Center of Applied Ecology and Sustainability (CONICYT PIA/BASAL FB0002) during the preparation of the manuscript.

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Root-Bernstein, M. Tacit working models of human behavioural change I: Implementation of conservation projects. Ambio (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-019-01298-4

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Keywords

  • Conservation
  • Folk theories
  • Human behaviour
  • Human dimension
  • Tacit knowledge
  • Theory of change