Engaging People in Conservation Action

Think about the greatest challenges to bird and habitat conservation. What pops into mind? Habitat loss, invasive species, direct mortality, limited water resources, or any other number of threats. In thinking about the conservation solutions necessary to address each challenge, what is needed? Not changes in bird behavior… we’re not trying to get birds to require less habitat, or prefer invasive species for their food source, or fly away from towers, or consume less water.

Instead, our conservation solutions require changes in human behavior. For the threats mentioned above, human behavior solutions might be putting land under a conservation easement, removing or controlling invasive species, wisely siting wind towers, or restoring wetland function.

Given that effective conservation solutions largely require human action, it is critical that we devote as much energy to strategically engaging people in conservation as we do to the biological components of conservation. Strategically engaging people in conservation is sometimes easier said than done. It often requires changing knowledge, attitudes, skills, and ultimately, behavior. However, strategic communications provides a well-tested approach to undertake such an effort.

Thus, in 2010 the Intermountain West Joint Venture (IWJV) Management Board and Staff became involved in a strategic communications planning process. Underlying the planning process was a shared understanding that communications plays a key role in the Strategic Habitat Conservation (SHC) approach, which guides the work of Joint Ventures. SHC includes phases of biological planning and research, conservation design, program delivery, and monitoring. Communications can be considered a part of the conservation delivery activities of SHC. Further, the strategic communications approach itself can be thought of as following a similar process to SHC with the phases of communications planning and social science research, communications design, communications delivery, and evaluation.

During the strategic communication planning process, the conservation goals of the Joint Venture were prioritized. The key audiences (many of whom are also key partners) were identified, along with exploring what potential these audiences could have in helping to achieve conservation goals in the Intermountain West. After laying this foundation, we outlined communications objectives, unique to each audience, to help communicate about conservation priorities and opportunities in a way that considers where each group may be in terms of knowledge, attitudes, and skill set.

We then defined which communications tactics and tools might be most appropriate for incorporating the messages necessary to accomplish these objectives. Finally, the communications plan charts a course for delivering these communications efforts in the next five years. And, we’ve already begun this work! Highlights this year include:

  • Brochure: IWJV staff and Board members shared a newly crafted IWJV brochure with Congressional members and staff in March.
  • New writer. A new voice for our communications – Laura Kammermeier—took the helm as the IWJV Technical Writer/Editor in July.  Read her article on the North American Deserts biome, next.
  • New website: We began a re-design of our website, which will feature state-of-the-art functions to communicate with the IWJV partner network.
  • E-newsletter: And now you’re reading our newly designed e-newsletter, which we hope will help us communicate in a more compelling and interactive way with you. Let us know what you think!.

Now that our planning phase is complete, our new Strategic Communications Plan will guide IWJV staff, Management Board, and State Conservation Partnerships to design and deliver innovative and targeted communications over the next five years.

We look forward to working with you to make some further progress at addressing our greatest bird habitat conservation challenges.

View the IWJV’s new Strategic Communications Plan 2011-2015 online.

Ashley Dayer is a Strategic Communications Consultant for the IWJV.