Framing Conservation Messages

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By Alex Kusmanoff

Myself and a number of esteemed colleagues have recently published a paper, Framing the Private Land Conservation Conversation: Strategic framing of the benefits of conservation participation could increase landholder engagement in Environmental Science and Policy. In it we look at how the benefits of private land conservation are currently being framed.It can be found here: http://authors.elsevier.com/a/1Sun05Ce0rOEt3

For those of you who don’t have time to read it, I shall provide a synopsis.

First, some context.

Private land is home to some amazing and important species and ecological communities, some of which are only found on private land. And the success of our efforts to conserve nature on private land is intrinsically linked to the engagement of willing landholder participants.

Despite much research the influences on landholder participation, studies show that only a small proportion of landholders tend to participate in private land conservation (PLC) schemes (these include things like management agreements, conservation covenants and stewardship payments). And although there has been widespread implementation of PLC policy instruments, success at engaging rural landholders in conservation initiatives has been mixed.

Presumably, convincing landholders as to why they should participate in private land conservation is an important part of getting more people involved.

So we looked at how contemporary communications from the sector currently communicate the benefits of participation to landholders to see how this was currently done.

We used a value orientation framework to analyse how the participation benefits of Australian PLC schemes are framed. Value orientation refers to the way that people weigh different interests when making decisions. These consist of egoistic, social-altruistic and biospheric orientations.

Egoistically oriented people tend to weigh the cost and benefits to themselves personally; social-altruistically oriented people tend to weigh the costs and benefits to others; and biospherically oriented people tend to weigh the costs and benefits to the biosphere as a whole. Of course people do not act perfectly according to any particular orientation, but in this case it serves as a useful framework to understand what’s currently happening.

By analysing the way benefits of PLC are framed in communications, we can gain insight into the breadth of the audience likely to be engaged. So we analysed the website content of 20 of the most notable Australian PLC schemes and categorised the benefits mentioned on these websites as being either benefits to the landholder, to society, or to the environment (these categories corresponding to the value orientations described above). Although landholders get their information from a range of sources (neighbours, extensions officers, field days), websites are often visited to get more detailed information about specific programs.

Our thinking was if PLC communications are to be relevant and engaging to as broad a range of landholders as possible, these three different kinds of benefits should all be well represented across these websites.

And what did we find?

Our results suggest a heavy reliance on environmentally-themed messages which is unlikely to engage landholders who are more egoistically oriented. This was particularly the case with market-based schemes, that you can imagine ought to appeal to production-focussed landholders and those not already involved in conservation.

So what does this mean, I hear you think.

We argue that perhaps framing the benefits of PLC more broadly (covering the different value orientations) would engage a greater diversity of landholders, aiding PLC recruitment. In particular, increased use of landholder and society benefits may be advantageous in engaging a wider range, and greater number of landholders.

However, we caution that any promised benefits must be achievable; over-promising and under-delivering could be a sure-fire means of permanently deterring the participation of many landholders.

We also need further research about the potential for unintended feedback effects, for example, the potential for motivational crowding in messages that focus on landholder benefits.

This is not a definitive statement on how PLC benefits are framed, or even how they ought to be framed, but a first step in understanding how they might be strategically re-framed for better effect.

As a first step, we simply urge PLC programs to be aware of the value orientation frame implicit in their messages, and to consider whether this is a good match for their audience and their program’s goal. Best practice in any case will be determined by the context.

Reference:

Kusmanoff, A., M., Fidler, F., Hardy, M., Maffey, G., Raymond, C., Reed, M., Fitzsimons, J., and Bekessy, S. (2016) Framing the Private Land Conservation Conversation: Strategic framing of the benefits of conservation participation could increase landholder engagement. Environmental Science and Policy. 61: 124 – 128.

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