Human Ecology Forum
If We Build It, People Will Want to Help:
The Management of Citizen Participation in
School of Natural Resources and Environment,
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109 USA
Saunders presents an excellent agenda for maturing the
emerging field of conservation psychology (CP). One com
ponent is greater cooperation between researchers and practi
tioners — an essential, if all too familiar, element in the evo
lution of new fields. But there is a fascinating attribute that
sets us apart from many other new environmental fields. The
animal of most interest to conservation psychologists not
only can talk back, it’s motivated to do so.
CP must concern itself with practitioner and researcher
needs but it is important that we also meet the needs of every
day people, their desire to be listened to, to be respected, to
make a difference. Within CP we must insure that people are
not treated merely as the target of interventions nor as mere
ly the subject in experiments. They are in fact participants,
with us, in crafting the future. What CP is adding to their
many pursuits is the constraint of sustainability.
We could claim that including citizen participation is an
unfair burden. But is this true? What I’d like to suggest is that
CP gains an enormous advantage by closely attending to
people’s urge to be involved, and we gain the benefit of high
ly motivated co-workers.
But while people want to participate, they are not passive
recipients of information or goals. They have their own reasons
for being involved. Humans are striving, goal-directed crea
tures motivated to seek, use and generate information in pursuit
of their own plans. White (1959, 1971) characterized this
notion as one of competence, a fundamental inclination to
develop the capacity to effectively participate. In White’s con
ceptualization, competence has attributes of both skill and
motivation. The skill involves having the procedural knowledge
needed to act effectively. The motive is a basic part of human
nature: a tendency to continually develop competencies.
Half a century after White, the positive psychology
movement is making much the same argument. Fredrickson
(1998), in studying the functional role of positive emotions,
found that such emotions motivate the building of physical,
intellectual, and social competencies. McGregor and Little
(1998) report that people pursue tasks that provide pleasure
and personal meaningfulness. Yet they also report that people
actively seek new tasks that broaden their competence.
Seligman (1999) examined the effect of different types of
behavior on well-being. His ingenious experiment involved
participation in one pleasurable and one helpful activity.
Seligman found that helpful actions made the entire rest of
the day go better while the pleasure of pleasurable acts faded
fast. What is most fascinating is that, to work, helpful acts
must call upon one’s personal competence.
If we accept the urge toward participation as innate, par
ticularly when calling upon one’s competence, then we are
well advised to use this inclination. That said, we face the
truth that avoidance of citizen participation in our projects is
pervasive. This isn’t entirely our fault; methods for obtaining
participation seem to bring out the worst in everyone, justify
ing initial reservations. Procedurally we might follow
Lewin’s (1952) use of citizen meetings to present problems
and develop solutions. An excellent update, targeted for CP,
was recently done by Matthies and Kromker (2000).
When envisioning how CP might use this procedure
three themes emerge:
• ?Use multiple motives. People participate for many
reasons, and CP should use them all. Significant
among these is self interest, including human fascina
tion with problem-solving, the drive to broaden our
competence, the clarity gained from direct action, and
the sense of purpose derived from meaningful work.
Whatever else CP uses to motivate participation, it can
leverage the effect by also working with (rather than
against) these various forms of self-interest. We will
increase citizen involvement when we are sensitive to
the multiple goals people strive for, creating settings
that allow for simultaneous pursuit of these goals
within the constraint of sustainability.
• ?Capitalize on local knowledge. Useful knowledge is
not exclusively held by researchers and practitioners.
The knowledge held by citizens is no less applicable
than ours. In fact, their competence with regard to
local issues can exceed ours. This issue is succinctly
captured in Scott’s (1998) summary of why efforts to
improve the human condition so often go awry, “...I
would say that the progenitors of such plans regarded
themselves as far smarter and farseeing than they real
ly were and, at the same time, regarded their subjects
as far more stupid and incompetent that they really
were” (343). For CP to progress we need to under
stand that undervaluing local knowledge will impede
our goal of sustainability.
• ?Anticipate lifelong participation. People are motivated to
participate long after we have done our job and left.
People have lifelong involvement in whatever changes
are made to their behavior and environment. Therefore
CP must design interventions that expect to be modified
and adapted. In fact, we need designs that take advantage
of the tendency in humans to tinker with their world.
Human Ecology Review, Vol. 10, No. 2, 2003 162
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I truly believe that humans can be reasonable, clever, and
decent under certain conditions. And I believe that CP knows
something about those conditions. I also think that human tal
ent is a vastly under-used resource. But to use this resource
well requires that we turn our ingenuity into engaging long-
term citizen involvement.
It is humbling to learn that we are not the sole source of
expertise and that our designs will not remain unchanged. But
perhaps a new field is better starting from a humble position
than to end up there after a host of failed schemes.
Some researchers and practitioners have shown a sensi
tivity to the need for citizen participation. They’ve under
stood that success derives from plans that are compatible
with not just environmental constraints but also with the pre
cious resource of human motivation.
Fredrickson, B.L. 1998. What good are positive emotions? Review of
General Psychology 2, 300-319.
Lewin, K. 1952. Group decision and social change. In G.E. Swanson, T.M.
Newcomb and E.L. Hartley (eds.), Readings in social psychology,
459-473. New York: Holt.
Matthies, E. and D. Kromker. 2000. Participatory planning. Journal of
Environmental Psychology 20, 65-74.
McGregor, I. and B. Little. 1998. Personal projects, happiness, and mean
ing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 74, 494-512. ?
Scott, J.C. 1998. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the?
Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Seligman, M.E.P. 1999. Teaching positive psychology. APA Monitor,
White, R.W. 1959. Motivation reconsidered: The concept of competence.
Psychological Review 66, 297-333.
White, R.W. 1971. The urge towards competence. American Journal of
Occupational Therapy 25, 271-274.
Conservation Psychology: Challenges and
Michael B. Mascia
American Association for the Advancement of Science
Washington D.C. 20002 USA
In a recent editorial in Conservation Biology, several
colleagues and I argued that “to preserve the earth’s natural
heritage, the social sciences must become central to conser
vation science and practice” (Mascia et al. 2003). Although
appreciation for the social sciences is growing within the
conservation community, psychology remains on the margins
of conservationists’ consciousness. Carol Saunders’ extreme
ly valuable paper should help to catalyze conservation-ori
ented psychological research and its integration into conser
vation policy and practice. As the field of conservation psy
chology matures, however, its adherents will likely find
themselves revisiting the issues of epistemic identity and
research focus discussed by Saunders. New challenges are
also likely to emerge as conservation psychologists increas
ingly engage in conservation research and policy processes.
The epistemic boundaries of conservation psychology
may evolve or shift dramatically in the coming years. As
conservation psychology and environmental psychology both
mature, for example, these intellectual traditions may con
verge into a single academic literature or diverge into two
very distinct fields of study. Epistemic evolution may simi
larly determine whether conservation psychology is ultimate
ly considered a multidisciplinary field of study or a subdisci
pline of psychology. My hunch is that conservation psychol
ogy (and analogues like conservation biology) will eventual
ly be seen as a branch of “conservation science,” best viewed
as a problem-oriented field that draws upon the full range of
academic traditions within psychology.
Ultimately, conservation psychology’s research foci will
define its epistemic identity. Saunders identifies two princi
pal areas for conservation psychology research: 1) how
humans behave towards nature, and 2) how humans care
about/value nature. To the extent that these two research
areas do not already capture it, conservation psychologists
should also explore a third research area: 3) how humans
learn/develop beliefs and knowledge about nature. Such
research would provide conservationists with a better under
standing of the basis for traditional or indigenous knowledge,
help practitioners to develop more effective conservation
education programs, and enable both scientists and practi
tioners to assess critically their own assumptions about the
environment. Perhaps more importantly, while human-nature
relationships clearly merit inquiry, many of the critical issues
in conservation concern a fourth and fifth research area: 4)
conservation-relevant human-human relationships, and 5)
the relationships between humans and social institutions.1
Indeed, the primary purpose of most conservation organiza
tions is to modify existing social institutions to change indi
vidual behavior and thus conserve biodiversity. Conservation
practitioners would benefit from conservation psychology
research examining how and why new social institutions
emerge and evolve over time, shape individual and collective
behavior, and vary across cultures. Given that conservation
ists frequently work in unfamiliar cultural settings, there is a
tremendous need for cross-cultural studies in all five research
areas mentioned here.
Despite the widespread opportunities for new conserva
tion psychology research, existing theory and knowledge
probably provide the greatest potential for near-term
Human Ecology Review, Vol. 10, No. 2, 2003 163