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Recognizing reflexivity among conservation practitioners



When deciding how to conserve biodiversity, practitioners navigate diverse missions, sometimes conflicting approaches, and uncertain trade‐offs. These choices are based not only on evidence, funders’ priorities, stakeholders’ interests, and policies, but also on practitioners’ personal experiences, backgrounds, and values. Calls for greater reflexivity—an individual or group's ability to examine themselves in relation to their actions and interactions with others—have appeared in the conservation science literature. But what role does reflexivity play in conservation practice? We explored how self‐reflection can shape how individuals and groups conserve nature. To provide examples of reflexivity in conservation practice, we conducted a year‐long series of workshop discussions and online exchanges. During these, we examined cases from the peer‐reviewed and gray literature, our own experiences, and conversations with 10 experts. Reflexivity among practitioners spanned individual and collective levels and informal and formal settings. Reflexivity also encompassed diverse themes, including practitioners’ values, emotional struggles, social identities, training, cultural backgrounds, and experiences of success and failure. Reflexive processes also have limitations, dangers, and costs. Informal and institutionalized reflexivity requires allocation of limited time and resources, can be hard to put into practice, and alone cannot solve conservation challenges. Yet, when intentionally undertaken, reflexive processes might be integrated into adaptive management cycles at multiple points, helping conservation practitioners better reach their goals. Reflexivity could also play a more transformative role in conservation by motivating practitioners to reevaluate their goals and methods entirely. Reflexivity might help the conservation movement imagine and thus work toward a better world for wildlife, people, and the conservation sector itself. [HTML Open Access:]
Received: 7 July 2022 Revised: 3 October 2022 Accepted: 6 October 2022
DOI: 10.1111/cobi.14022
Recognizing reflexivity among conservation practitioners
Thomas Pienkowski1,2Laur Kiik1,3,4Allison Catalano5Mirjam Hazenbosch1
Santiago Izquierdo-Tort6Munib Khanyari1,7,8Roshni Kutty9,11 Claudia Martins10
Fleur Nash12 Omar Saif13 Chris Sandbrook12
1Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science, Department of Zoolog y, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
2Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London, London, UK
3Tokyo College, The University of Tokyo Institutes for Advanced Study, The University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan
4School of Anthropology & Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
5Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London, Ascot, UK
6Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City, Mexico
7Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore, India
8School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
9Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Bangalore, India
10Institute for the Conservation of Neotropical Carnivores, São Paulo, Brazil
11Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), Manipal, India
12Department of Geog raphy, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
13School of GeoSciences, Institute of Geography, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
Thomas Pienkowski and Laur Kiik, Interdisciplinary
Centre for Conservation Science, Department of
Zoology, University of Oxford, Zoology Research
and Administration Building, 11a Mansfield Road,
Oxford OX1 3SZ, UK.
Email: and
Thomas Pienkowski and Laur Kiik contributed
equally to this work.
Article Impact Statement: Conservationists’
self-reflection on their values, background, and
emotions shapes conservation practice.
When deciding how to conserve biodiversity, practitioners navigate diverse missions, some-
times conflicting approaches, and uncertain trade-offs. These choices are based not only on
evidence, funders’ priorities, stakeholders’ interests, and policies, but also on practitioners’
personal experiences, backgrounds, and values. Calls for greater reflexivity—an individual
or group’s ability to examine themselves in relation to their actions and interactions with
others—have appeared in the conservation science literature. But what role does reflexivity
play in conservation practice? We explored how self-reflection can shape how individuals
and groups conserve nature. To provide examples of reflexivity in conservation practice,
we conducted a year-long series of workshop discussions and online exchanges. During
these, we examined cases from the peer-reviewed and gray literature, our own experiences,
and conversations with 10 experts. Reflexivity among practitioners spanned individual and
collective levels and informal and formal settings. Reflexivity also encompassed diverse
themes, including practitioners’ values, emotional struggles, social identities, training, cul-
tural backgrounds, and experiences of success and failure. Reflexive processes also have
limitations, dangers, and costs. Informal and institutionalized reflexivity requires allocation
of limited time and resources, can be hard to put into practice, and alone cannot solve
conservation challenges. Yet, when intentionally undertaken, reflexive processes might be
integrated into adaptive management cycles at multiple points, helping conservation prac-
titioners better reach their goals. Reflexivity could also play a more transformative role in
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is
properly cited.
© 2022 The Authors. Conservation Biology published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Society for Conservation Biology.
Conservation Biology. 2023;37:e14022. 1of12
conservation by motivating practitioners to reevaluate their goals and methods entirely.
Reflexivity might help the conservation movement imagine and thus work toward a better
world for wildlife, people, and the conservation sector itself.
adaptive management, biodiversity conservation, conservation practice, positionality, reflexivity, transformative
change, values, well-being
Reconocimiento de la reflexividad entre los practicantes de la conservación
Resumen: Cuando se decide cómo conservar la biodiversidad, quienes la practican sortean
varias misiones, algunas veces con enfoques contrastantes y compensaciones inciertas.
Estas elecciones no se basan solamente en las evidencias, prioridades de los financiadores,
los intereses de los actores y las políticas, sino también en las experiencias personales, for-
mación y valores de los practicantes. En la literatura sobre las ciencias de la conservación
han surgido llamados para una mayor reflexividad la habilidad individual o grupal para
examinarse a mismo en relación con sus acciones e interacciones con otros. Pero ¿cuál
es el papel de la reflexividad en la práctica de la conservación? Para responder esto, explo-
ramos cómo la autorreflexión puede determinar cómo ocurre la conservación individual
y grupal de la naturaleza. Realizamos una serie de talleres de discusión e intercambios vir-
tuales durante un año para ejemplificar la reflexividad en la práctica de la conservación.
Durante estas sesiones examinamos casos de la literatura gris y revisada por pares, nuestras
propias experiencias y conversaciones con diez expertos. La reflexividad de los practicantes
abarcó niveles individuales y colectivos y escenarios formales e informales. La reflexividad
también comprendió diferentes aspectos de los practicantes, como los valores, conflictos
emocionales, identidad social, preparación, contexto cultural y experiencias exitosas y fall-
idas. Los procesos reflexivos también tienen limitaciones, riesgos y costos. La reflexividad
informal e institucionalizada requiere la distribución de tiempo y recursos limitados, puede
ser difícil de poner en práctica y no puede resolver los retos de conservación por sola.
Aun así, cuando se realizan intencionalmente, los procesos reflexivos pueden integrarse a
los ciclos de manejo adaptativo en varios puntos, lo que ayuda a quienes practican la con-
servación a lograr sus metas de mejor manera. La reflexividad también podría tener un
papel transformador en la conservación al motivar a los practicantes a reevaluar completa-
mente sus metas y métodos. La reflexividad podría ayudar al movimiento de conservación
a imaginar, y por lo tanto trabajar para tener, un mundo mejor para la vida silvestre, las
personas y el propio sector de la conservación.
bienestar, cambio transformador, conservación de la biodiversidad, manejo adaptativo, posicionalidad, práctica
de la conservación, reflexividad, valores
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 :;:
Conservation practitioners routinely make complex decisions,
balancing the interests of diverse actors with uncertain trade-
offs between multiple priorities (Ausden & Walsh, 2020;
McShane et al., 2011). Numerous factors inform these choices,
including practitioners’ personal experiences, knowledge, and
values, as well as evidence, funding constraints, stakeholder
interests, legislation, and other considerations (Cundill &
Fabricius, 2009; Pascual et al., 2021). For instance, practitioners’
attitudes toward trophy hunting as a conservation tool are likely
to be partly informed by their ethical stance. Or, practition-
ers’ political opinions regarding free-market capitalism might
influence their choices to promote market-based conservation
approaches, such as payment for ecosystem services (Sandbrook
et al., 2019). Moreover, conservation decisions are rarely made
by individuals alone; the attributes and values represented in
teams, organizations, and movements collectively influence the
direction of conservation efforts. For example, Mace (2014)
describes how changing views of the relationship between bio-
diversity and people shape mainstream conservation practice,
with a shift from safeguarding nature for its own sake to pro-
tecting it for people, toward a more recent focus on supporting
relational interactions.
In recent qualitative conservation social science literature,
researchers are encouraged to evaluate and report how their
attributes and outlooks influence their research (e.g., Beck et al.,
2021; Bennett et al., 2017; Boyce et al., 2022; Brittain et al.,
2020; Montana et al., 2020; Moon et al., 2019; Ramesh, 2020;
Staddon, 2021; Staddon et al., 2021). For instance, researchers
might examine how values affect their choice of research ques-
tions, how identities frame their interactions with others, or
how their science affects the world (Beck et al., 2021). But this
process of self-reflection about actions and interactions with
others—sometimes termed reflexivity—may also be important
for conservation practice. Specifically, reflexivity may enable
“flexibility, adaptation, and innovation, and—if required—
transformation, in the face of change” in conservation practice
(Wyborn et al., 2021).
We examined how some practitioners self-reflect on their
values, identities, emotions, training, and other characteristics
and how this shapes the ways they do conservation. We also
considered where reflexivity is present in the conservation
sector; the themes and contexts it spans; potential limitations,
dangers, and costs; and its possible roles in adaptive and trans-
formative conservation. By sharing real-life examples and their
associated benefits and limitations, we aimed to encourage
individuals and groups to explore the role of reflexivity in their
conservation work.
Drawing on Sandbrook (2015), we define conservationists as peo-
ple who intend to establish, improve, or maintain good relations
(as subjectively perceived) with nature. This definition could
encompass farmers who set aside land for wildlife, interna-
tional policy makers, accountants in conservation organizations,
scientists who develop conservation evidence, and many oth-
ers. However, we focused on those who might self-identify as
conservation practitioners and considered some examples from
applied conservation science.
We use the term reflexivity to mean an individual or group’s
ability to examine their feelings, identities, reactions, behaviors,
motives, and other attributes and how these influence what
they do or think in a situation (Cambridge Dictionary, 2021).
Reflexivity can be a confusing term, particularly because scholars
across disciplines have defined it in multiple ways (Lynch, 2000;
Montana et al., 2020). Furthermore, the word reflex also means
an automatic and unconscious response, which is almost the
opposite of conscious self-reflection. Moreover, self-reflecting
on what one thinks and does is a routine part of daily life
for most people (Archer, 2007), including conservation prac-
titioners, even if they do not use the term reflexivity.Assuch,
reflexivity might seem like unnecessary jargon. Yet, naming this
process might help individuals intentionally engage in it, find
and share resources, and promote it as a legitimate part of con-
servation practice. For this reason, we intentionally use reflexivity
and synonymously use the more relatable nontechnical term
For social anthropologists, reflexivity implies exploring how
their identity, behavior, and thinking influence human rela-
tionships in ethnographic fieldwork, data interpretation, and
writing. Many conservationists are concerned with human and
human nature (Sandbrook et al., 2019). Thus, conservationists’
self-reflections might examine their relationships with wildlife
and with their fellow humans. Furthermore, many disciplines
emphasize the role of reflexivity in the research and writing
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process (Whitaker & Atkinson, 2019). However, conservation
is action oriented, so reflexivity in this context concerns both
practice and research.
We are a mix of 11 academics and practitioners from different
backgrounds and professions, studying and working in different
countries around the world. Most of us have connections to the
United Kingdom. Six of us are from European countries, 2 from
North America, 2 from Asia, and 1 from South America. Five of
us are women, 6 of us are men, and at the time of writing, 7 of us
were doctoral students. All (aside from T.P., L.K., and C.S.) were
chosen from a pool of over 100 applicants following an invi-
tation to collaborate (available from
was shared through networks and social media and that tar-
geted at early-career conservationists. Applicants were asked to
describe their role, location, background, interest in the topic,
and what they thought they could contribute to a workshop
series on reflexivity in conservation. These applications were
evaluated by T.P. and L.K., who aimed to select conservation-
ists from a range of backgrounds and geographical locations
with a demonstrated interest and relevant experience related to
reflexivity in conservation.
This essay was developed through seven 3-h workshops
and ongoing online discussions involving all coauthors through
2020 and 2021 as part of the Interdisciplinary Conservation
Network event. Reflexivity is an enormous topic and is some-
times written about in relatively abstract terms and not named
explicitly (making it difficult to study systematically). For these
reasons, we sought to provide real-world examples and present
only the most illustrative of the numerous cases we found.
Each workshop centered on a specific question, includ-
ing What is reflexivity in nature conservation? What topics
might conservationists self-reflect on? When or where do
conservation practitioners self-reflect? What might reflexiv-
ity in conservation look like in the future? These workshops
accompanied structured activities, such as discussions through
an online forum and searching for and examining relevant
peer-reviewed and gray literature. We also drew on our own
experiences with reflexivity. Furthermore, we invited 10 experts
(5 from government agencies, 2 from nongovernmental organi-
zations, and 3 from academic institutions) from our readings
and networks to share examples of reflexivity. These experts
were named with their permission and reviewed and approved
this submission. We documented all workshop and online
forum discussions and literature reviews in notes and record-
ings. We split into groups, each tasked with reviewing notes
and workshop recordings to consolidate points around a set of
predefined topics (corresponding to the essay sections), to iter-
atively revise the boundaries of emergent themes and examples
within them.
We found numerous examples of reflexivity, spanning multi-
ple levels, from that of individuals and organizations to the
wider conservation movement. These examples suggest that
conservation practitioners self-reflect on diverse topics, which
we grouped into the themes of values and views; emotions,
well-being, and psychology; social identities and relations; cul-
tural traditions and religions; training; and success, failure, and
wrongdoing. We mapped these themes (Table 1) and pro-
vided related questions to encourage and guide individual and
collective reflexivity.
Many of our examples describe informal processes rather
than self-reflections that were intentionally integrated into indi-
vidual and collective practices. Furthermore, most did not
clearly show how the insights gained from self-reflection trans-
lated into practical or documentable steps. Equally, many of
our examples suggest that self-reflections are rarely discrete
events with a clear start, end, and outcome. Instead, it can
be an ongoing process, contributing to personal develop-
ment, management, and perhaps wider conservation trends over
Values and views
We identified several examples of how conservationists’ per-
sonal values and views, and their self-reflections on these,
influenced conservation practices. For instance, T.P. previously
worked in a project development and fundraising role at a non-
governmental organization. He valued biodiversity because of
its contributions to human well-being and described how this
shaped the kind of conservation projects he promoted, such
as advocating for sustainable use of biodiversity through agro-
forestry. Similarly, recognizing that values can underpin choices
about actions, South African National Parks surveyed its staff to
determine whether their views aligned with the organization’s
vision and those held by other actors (I. Smit, personal com-
munication). This work is ongoing; the results are intended to
inform the organizations’ strategic planning and activities.
In several examples, we encountered the idea that value-
aligned work contributes to motivation. For example, results
of surveys among conservationists suggest that many people
choose to work in the sector because of their values related
to biodiversity and the feeling of making a difference was
a source of motivation (Papworth et al., 2018; Pienkowski,
Keane, Castelló y Tickell, Hazenbosch, et al., 2022). In con-
trast, a lack of alignment between values and work activities
can be uncomfortable and demotivating. For instance, Suarez
(2017) conducted ethnographic fieldwork among conservation-
ists involved in the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity
and Ecosystem Services initiative. He observed how many
practitioners used the concept of ecosystem services, for
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TAB L E 1 Themes that conservationists might self-reflect on and associated potential benefits, accompanied by sample questions to prompt self-reflection
among individuals and groups
Theme Individual-level questions
Group-level (teams, organizations,
movements) questions Potential benefits
Values and views How do my values inform my
conservation practices?
Do my activities align or conflict with
my values?
How do my values align or conflict
with others?
How should I engage with those with
different values?
Which values are represented in our
group, with what implications?
How do our values align or conflict;
can they be reconciled or respected?
How do the values held between
different groups align and conflict?
Understanding others’ values may help find
cooperative strategies that benefit both
people and nature.
Individuals might ask if their activities align with
their values, helping them find fulfilling and
motivating roles in conservation.
Acknowledging the ethical stances of others
might lead to more fruitful debates around
controversial topics among conservationists.
Such self-reflection can also reveal whose voices
are underrepresented and thus perhaps need
to be promoted in conservation practice.
Emotions, well-being,
and psychology
What are my emotional experiences
and motivations?
What strategies might support my
What are the challenges and rewards
that I face?
What are the emotional experiences of
people in our group?
How do these affect our efforts to
meet conservation goals?
Are institutions (e.g., employers)
fulfilling legal and ethical duties?
Who are at most at risk, why, and what
can be done?
Employers might promote the positives and
manage the challenges of working in
conservation, perhaps supporting
conservationists’ mental health, satisfaction,
and productivity (Pienkowski, Keane, Castelló
y Tickell, de Lange, et al., 2022;Singhetal.,
Organizations and others might think about
how framings affect those in the sector,
including the risks and benefits associated
with optimistic and gloom-and-doom
narratives (Swaisgood & Sheppard, 2010).
Addressing workplace stressors might help
simultaneously tackle sources of
organizational instability and inefficiency
(Pienkowski, Keane, Castelló y Tickell,
Hazenbosch, et al., 2022).
Social identities and
How do my social position and
identities affect my conservation
What privileges do I enjoy?
How can my practices address
What is my relationship with the
history of conservation?
Who is represented in our group?
How do experiences vary by identity
and social position?
What are the aspirations and ideals for
how people should be treated
within and beyond our group?
What steps can we and others take to
improve equity and justice?
Conservationists and conservation groups
concerned about discrimination and
inequality might assess how their activities can
support efforts to tackle these issues. For
example, Jones and Solomon (2019) outline
issues (e.g., salary and advancement
inequalities) that could be addressed and
support (e.g., training opportunities) offered
to tackle gender discrimination.
Rudd et al. (2021) outline steps to help address
racism in conservation science (e.g.,
educational curricula representing past and
present relationships between people and
conservation) and practice (e.g., fair
dissemination of funds to organizations led
by Indigenous representatives).
Cultural traditions and
How do my culture and religion affect
how I relate to people and other
How do these factors influence my
How do these aspects align and
conflict with others?
What cultural traditions shape how the
conservation movement
understands nature and humanity?
Which worldviews are represented (or
not) within our group?
How does this representation
influence our conservation practices
and agenda?
There have been calls for conservation
approaches that simultaneously protect both
cultural and biological diversity (e.g., Agnoletti
& Rotherham, 2015). Practitioners might
assess how their worldviews align and diverge
from those living in biodiverse landscapes.
Doing so might help identify practices
harmful to local cultures.
Employers might assess how their staff’s cultural
background influences the approaches and
strategies they adopt. Hiring or engaging
individuals from relevant cultural
backgrounds might offer more socially just
approaches supporting biological and cultural
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TAB L E 1 (Continued)
Theme Individual-level questions
Group-level (teams, organizations,
movements) questions Potential benefits
Training How has my training prepared me to
work in different roles?
How is my training influencing how I
do conservation?
How do I prioritize different sources
of evidence?
What competencies, skill sets, and
knowledges are represented within
our group?
What gaps and shortages exist, and
what competencies are needed?
Which knowledges and sources of
evidence are we prioritizing?
What competencies should training
institutions be offering?
Individuals entering careers in conservation
might find it useful to explore the
competencies required in practitioner roles.
Employers and training providers might work
together to identify and address skills
shortages. This could be forward-looking,
preparing the conservation workforce to meet
the challenge of reversing biodiversity loss.
Employers might examine their recruitment
practices. Appleton (2016) compiled a list of
competencies useful for protected areas
practitioners. Such registers could be
extended to other conservation roles, helping
employers choose suitable candidates or
address gaps through training.
Success, failure, and
What was my role in influencing
What can I learn from these
How can I create a culture of
accountability and learning?
How do we respond when things go
right and wrong?
How do we balance recognizing
success, ensuring accountability, and
learning from failure?
How do we talk to others, such as
funders, about problems?
Learning from failures in conservation can help
avoid them and do better in the future
(Catalano et al., 2018, 2019).
Fostering accountability can support procedural,
retributive, restorative, and other forms of
Strengthening performance reporting may build
funders’ confidence and thus willingness to
invest in conservation (M. Smith, personal
example, when engaging with policy makers but felt uncom-
fortable emphasizing the instrumental value of biodiversity. In
another example, one of us left an organization because this
person felt that its activities, which involved displacing local
communities from forests, were unethical.
There were several examples of how practitioners’ values
influenced collective conservation efforts. The draft post-
2020 Global Biodiversity Framework includes plans to greatly
increase the current extent of conserved areas by 2030 (CBD,
2021). This plan has been influenced by Half-Earth, which
stresses the intrinsic value of biodiversity (Wilson, 2016). This
plan is controversial partly because it discounts the value some
ascribe to interactions between people and biodiversity (Coetzee
et al., 2022; ICCA Consortium, 2021). This apparent conflict
around the weighting of different values in decision-making
relates to broader concerns about who sets the conservation
agenda. For example, Tallis and Lubchenco (2014)andKothari
(2021) argue that global decision-making is disproportionately
influenced by the views and values of senior Western conserva-
tionists. Recognizing this and seeking a broader understanding
of the views held across the conservation movement, Sand-
brook et al. (2019) surveyed more than 9000 professionals from
149 countries. They found large geographic variability; respon-
dents from Africa, Asia, and South and Central America are
more likely to endorse people-centered conservation than those
from Europe, North America, and Oceania.
Emotions, well-being, and psychology
Several examples illustrated the role of emotions, psychology,
and well-being among conservationists. A survey of over 2300
conservationists showed that many did not expect pressures on
biodiversity to lessen or its overall status to improve over the
next 10 years (Pienkowski, Keane, de Lange, et al., 2022). In this
context, many conservationists, who are often passionate about
the state of nature (Sandbrook, 2019), may feel grief at witness-
ing biodiversity loss and the prospect of this loss continuing
(Fischer & Riechers, 2021). Perhaps in response, movements
such as conservation optimism, earth optimism, and vikalp
sangam have emerged. These movements seek to provide exam-
ples of conservation success to motivate people to act for
biodiversity (but see “Success, failure, and wrongdoing” below).
Multiple studies have been conducted on conservation work-
place challenges, such as rangers’ poor safety conditions,
isolation from family, inadequate compensation, and precar-
ious employment (Anagnostou et al., 2022). In one of the
largest such studies, Singh et al. (2020) surveyed over 1740
rangers across 40 countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin Amer-
ica. Among these, 79.9% said they had faced a life-threatening
situation during their careers, 68.1% were not provided with
adequate equipment to ensure their safety and do their jobs,
and 26.5% saw their families for fewer than 5 days a month.
Recognizing the challenges rangers face, participants at the
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2019 World Ranger Congress endorsed the Chitwan Declara-
tion (IRF, 2019). This declaration calls for improved health and
safety conditions, adequate life insurance, and work–life balance
among rangers. However, challenging working conditions in the
conservation sector are not unique to rangers. For instance,
among 2311 conservationists (primarily with university-level
education and desk-based roles), 27.8% reported moderate or
severe psychological distress, and workplace challenges, such
as heavy workloads, job demands, and organizational instabil-
ity, were associated with higher distress (Pienkowski, Keane,
Castelló y Tickell, de Lange, et al., 2022). Other examples of
conservationists reflecting on these challenges can be found
on, for example, the Lonely Conservationists blog, where stories
recounting the challenges faced by conservationists, particu-
larly at early career stages, are shared (Lonely Conservationists,
Practitioners may also evaluate other psychological aspects
beyond conservationists’ well-being. For instance, experts at
the U.K. government’s Joint Nature Conservation Committee
spoke to us about their experiences building teams with diverse
cognitive profiles (sometimes termed neurodiversity [C. Maggs,
B. Trippier, & M. Smith, personal communication]). They were
motivated to do so because of the ethical imperative to provide
equal opportunities and the value of having team members who
might approach problems from different perspectives.
Social identities and relations
One common theme in our discussions was the examination
of identities and social positions, including class, race, ethnicity,
gender, sexuality, age, geographic location, and insider–outsider
status (Merriam et al., 2001). Examples included self-reflection
of how conservation actions can propagate or diminish inequal-
ities. For instance, one expert we spoke with was involved
in participatory research with Nepali conservationists, where
participants reflected upon the risks of perpetuating and the
opportunities to challenge inequalities around gender, caste,
class, and religion (S. Staddon, personal communication).
Another expert attended a study circle held by a grassroots
conservation organization in India (N. P. Broome, personal
communication). This session evolved into a critical discussion
of patriarchy and caste hierarchies and the organization’s role in
addressing these dynamics.
Conservationists also often described their experiences of
feeling discriminated against by peers and those outside the
conservation sector. Several recently published blog entries by
Black African conservationists describe experiences of racism
and exclusion by nonblack colleagues. For instance, Duff (2020)
collected stories describing the discrimination more than 20
African female conservation leaders faced. These included cases
where African professionals received lower wages and fewer
career development opportunities than equally or less qualified
White counterparts. Similarly, F.N. described how she and other
White coworkers were invited to social events organized by the
director of an organization, but her Black colleagues were not.
An expert from Asia described how caste discrimination con-
strained data collection. So-called lower caste team members
could not access food and accommodation in certain upper
caste villages, so the team avoided surveying such areas (M.
Ramesh, personal communication).
Several examples focused on the status of professionals as
insiders and outsiders in relation to the groups they engaged
with through their work. For example, one of us worked in
a conservation organization in Central America, staffed pre-
dominately by residents. This organization often employed
local, former hunters familiar with the landscape, wildlife, and
hunter behavior. However, several of these rangers told this
author how this sometimes put them in difficult positions. They
faced conflicting responsibilities and loyalties between their
employers and friends, families, and neighbors (similar tensions
have been reported elsewhere [e.g., Dutta, 2020; Moreto, 2016;
Sudha, 2002]).
A vast body of research explores conservation’s links with
state making, military conquest, and colonialism. For instance,
Kashwan et al. (2021) discuss how exclusionary protected areas
were promoted across Asia, Africa, and elsewhere during Euro-
pean colonial rule. Peluso (1993) explores how conservation
activities may facilitate state elites to broaden their power
through military violence against resistant populations. These
themes are often in the background of many of the exam-
ples we provide. For example, these themes played a role in
the experiences of conservationists in postcolonial countries
(e.g., Duff, 2020; M. Ramesh, personal communication) and the
support and opposition for protected areas reported by Sand-
brook et al. (2019). As a result, many questions around values,
identities, well-being, culture, training, and responses to success
and failure relate to the history and political economy in which
conservation occurs.
Cultural traditions and religions
Global biodiversity conservation involves many cross-cultural
encounters, and much has been written (including by cultural
anthropologists) about how these shape conservation prac-
tices (Kiik, 2018). Conservation is done in places spanning
humankind’s cultural, philosophical, and spiritual diversity, and
several of us have reflected on how our spiritual traditions and
religious beliefs have shaped our approach to conservation.
One high-profile example of practitioners assessing how their
cultural background influences how they do conservation
comes from the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity
and Ecosystem Services, an advisory body of conservationists
worldwide. Since its establishment, it has recognized the need
to embrace a cross-cultural understanding of the nonhuman
world (Díaz et al., 2015). However, Suarez (2017) illustrates how
participants in the process struggled to reconcile concepts of
biodiversity, nature, and Mother Earth represented in different
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The literature on how conservationists’ training shapes their
work is growing. For instance, Gardner (2021) examined the
descriptions of undergraduate conservation degrees in the
United Kingdom, finding that many did not offer dedicated
social science training and were largely biocentric. He concluded
that many graduates may be ill-prepared to work in interdis-
ciplinary conservation practice. Similarly, another recent study
identified 5 areas critical to contemporary conservation practice:
collaboration, leadership, policy, practice, and interdisciplinarity
(Elliott et al., 2018). The authors evaluated 650 postgraduate-
level capacity development initiatives in 54 countries relative to
these 5 areas, finding gaps in leadership and policy-related train-
ing. They suggested that practitioners are often called upon to
do work for which they have not been adequately trained.
We also found examples of conservationists assessing how
their training influenced their beliefs about what conserva-
tion approaches should be taken. For instance, a global survey
of conservationists showed that those trained in social and
interdisciplinary sciences were more likely to endorse people-
centered conservation approaches than those trained in the
natural sciences (Sandbrook et al., 2019). Cleary (2018)high-
lights how the definition of conservationist has grown to include
lawyers, business managers, social scientists, and others not
trained in the natural sciences. He suggests this shift has side-
lined activities directly focused on supporting biodiversity, to the
frustration of some trained in ecology and related disciplines.
Success, failure, and wrongdoing
Conservation outcomes are rarely clearly a success or a failure,
and one key theme that emerged was the way conservationists
reflect on these terms and their meanings. Individuals can face
incentives to deny poor outcomes and organizational norms
that discourage reflection (Catalano et al., 2019; Wahlén, 2014).
For example, a culture focused on sharing good-news stories in
WWF may have discouraged the reporting within the organiza-
tion of alleged human rights abuses in conserved areas (WWF,
2020). Similarly, many of us have experienced conservation
organizations “selling success” to help secure future funding
(Büscher, 2014).
Acknowledging and reflecting on failure and success can
offer valuable learning opportunities (Catalano et al., 2018).
Recognizing this, Fauna & Flora International drew on the
concept of after-action reviews (initially developed by the U.S.
army) in its projects in Kenya and elsewhere (C. Hodgkinson
& A. Komen, personal communication). This process involves
asking what happened, why, what seems to be working, and
what could be done differently. This structured debriefing pro-
cess may reveal alternative ways individuals and groups might
approach a given conservation situation. In general, examining
attitudes and practices that enable or discourage frank discus-
sion of success and failure could help move the conservation
movement toward a culture of transparency, accountability, and
learning (Catalano et al., 2018).
Although we provide examples of the benefits of reflexivity,
we also identified several associated challenges (Table 2).
These include the potential trade-offs between taking action
and investing resources and time in reflexivity; the frustra-
tions of self-reflection in situations resistant to change; and
acknowledging that putting reflexive principles into practice
is often easier said than done. Equally, reflexivity alone will
not solve many pressing conservation problems and can be
an uncomfortable process (though this is not necessarily a
bad thing) that might uncover or foster differences in groups
that are hard to reconcile. These challenges might be most
pronounced in group or collective settings, such as institutions.
As such, reflexivity alone is not a panacea for solving conser-
vation problems, but it can be integrated into individual and
organizational practices.
Our methods did not allow us to determine whether con-
servation is now having a reflexive turn, akin to that which
has occurred in social anthropology and related disciplines.
However, multiple recent articles call for greater reflexivity in
conservation science (e.g., Beck et al., 2021; Bennett et al., 2017;
Boyce et al., 2022; Brittain et al., 2020; Montana et al., 2020;
Moon et al., 2019; Ramesh, 2020; Staddon, 2021; Staddon et al.,
2021). Moreover, many of our examples from the peer-reviewed
and gray literature were published in the last few years. Con-
sequently, we believe there is growing interest in the role of
reflexivity in conservation practice, at least among researchers.
This attention might have emerged from the increasing use
of social science approaches and ideas (Bennett et al., 2017;
Moon et al., 2019). It might also have arisen from increasing
recognition that current conservation strategies have failed to
reverse the loss of nature, prompting some to question under-
lying values, beliefs, and perspectives held in the sector (e.g.,
Wyborn et al., 2021). Regardless of the cause, we believe that
conservationists who take a metaphorical look in the mirror
might gain insights into how, why, and for whom conservation
is done and if there are more suitable alternative approaches.
Reflexivity might be more likely to lead to tangible action
when intentionally built into practices and processes. For
instance, some researchers encourage conservation scientists
to present positionality statements, describing how their iden-
tity and worldview influence their research (Moon et al., 2019;
Ramesh, 2020). Practitioners might find it instructive to gener-
ate similar statements when advocating for and implementing
conservation actions. Or, job seekers might examine potential
employers’ mission, values, and activities when making career
choices. Equally, reflexive processes could be usefully integrated
within adaptive management and monitoring, evaluation, and
learning cycles in organizational settings, as we illustrate through
the example in Table 3.
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TAB L E 2 Potential limitations, dangers, and costs associated with reflexivity in conservation
Limitations and costs Description Mitigation
Trade-offs between thinking and doing
when time and resources are limited
Self-reflection takes time, but many conservationists report being
overworked (Campos-Arceiz et al., 2013; Pienkowski, Keane,
Castelló y Tickell, Hazenbosch, et al., 2022). Therefore,
practitioners may face trade-offs between self-assessing and
doing. Practitioners may be particularly reluctant to engage in
reflexive processes mandated by others (e.g., bosses and
funders) or if it is an onerous reporting requirement.
Reflexivity does not have to be time-consuming.
For instance, after-action reviews can be a
quick way to de-brief and learn from
Reflexivity, where change is unlikely,
might be exhausting and frustrating.
Reflexivity in situations where change is unlikely may be
exhausting—of time, resources, and emotional
commitment—and frustrating. These costs may be
particularly likely when individuals have limited influence over
the practices of wider groups. For instance, employees might
raise issues that employers cannot address, harming morale
and employer–employee relations.
Practitioners need to consider how likely it is
they can change practices.
Organizations encouraging reflexivity should be
willing to act on findings.
Reflexivity is easy to discuss in theory
but can be hard to put into practice.
Reflexivity is easy in theory, but it can be challenging to translate
these abstract concepts into real practices that lead to positive
change. For instance, an organization might examine the
values held by its staff. However, it may be unclear how to
turn these insights into actions.
Those engaging in reflexive processes might
plan for how to integrate them into practices.
Reflexivity alone will not solve many
conservation challenges.
Conservation is underfunded, poorly resourced, and often
contends with powerful actors (Barbier et al., 2018;
Sandbrook, 2017), presenting barriers that reflexivity alone
cannot address. Also, attributing links between reflexivity and
positive outcomes can be challenging. So, it may be hard to
identify instances where reflexivity indirectly helps resolve
conservation problems.
Conservationists should be realistic about
linking reflexivity to precise outcomes and
flexible about the types of evidence (e.g.,
personal narrative) and time horizons
Reflexivity can be uncomfortable and
highlight issues that some might
want to hide, but is this a bad thing?
Reflexivity may be uncomfortable for individuals, organizations,
and the conservation sector. For instance, individuals may be
reluctant to examine their role in practices that harm others.
Equally, organizations might be cautious in acknowledging
failures if disclosure jeopardizes reputations and future
funding or invites criticism (Wahlén, 2014). Although there
are perhaps no easy solutions to this, the conservation sector
needs to find ways to balance accountability against learning
from failure (Catalano et al., 2018).
Some of us coauthors contend that feeling
uncomfortable is expected in some contexts,
like when trying to “decolonize” conservation
(Trisos et al., 2021).
Collective reflexivity may uncover
differences that are hard to
reconcile, but is this a bad thing?
When groups engage in collective self-reflection, individuals may
hold differing perspectives and come to different conclusions
(J. Montana, personal communication, 13 October 2020).
However, diverging opinions can be valuable. For instance,
disagreement can help interrogate assumptions and reveal
different approaches to problems.
Those engaging in collective reflexivity should
avoid artificial consensus (Matulis & Moyer,
Reflexive processes may have a role in conservation beyond
the adaptive management of projects and programs. Dis-
cussing reflexivity in conservation, Borie et al. (2020) distinguish
between instrumental (i.e., to better achieve objectives) and
transformative (i.e., questioning the objective itself) learning.
Expanding on this distinction, instrumental or adaptive reflex-
ivity might help adjust a process or project to better achieve an
established goal. In contrast, transformative reflexivity might
involve questioning and revising the goal or discarding it
entirely. Table 3outlines a hypothetical situation in which
there are opportunities for transformative reflexivity in day-
to-day decision-making. Transformative reflexivity might play
a more fundamental role in reimagining mainstream conserva-
tion paradigms. For example, the Biodiversity Revisited project
examined whether inherent problems in how biodiversity is
conceptualized hinder its conservation (J. Montana, personal
We did not agree on whether there was a clear distinction
between adaptive and transformative reflexivity or if a process is
only truly reflexive if it is transformative. We also disagreed on
whether to advocate for reflexivity toward specific outcomes.
For example, some of us believed our essay should call for
reflexivity toward social justice (e.g., as done by Staddon et al.
[2022]), whereas others thought this was too prescriptive. Our
friendly disagreements emphasize that there is no single way to
practice reflexivity and that reflexivity will not lead everyone to
the same conclusions.
We sought to encourage individuals and groups to explore
ways reflexivity can help shape how they do conservation. How-
ever, our approach has limitations. Those not in networks and
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TAB L E 3 Hypothetical situation in which reflexivity could be integrated into adaptive and transformative conservation
Adaptive management steps*Reflexivity in adaptive management scenario Opportunities for transfor mative reflexivity
Assess: “involves determining the
purpose of the planning, identifying
who will initially be part of your
project team, and articulating your
project’s geographic and/or
thematic scope, your vision of what
you hope to achieve, and the
conservation targets on which you
will focus”
Yayasan Hutan Sumatera is a hypothetical Indonesian
conservation nongovernmental organization (NGO) that
collaborated with local residents. Local leaders identified
several representatives to work with key staff at the NGO.
This comanagement team recognized that there were no
participating subsistence farmers, so they invited members of
this group to join. This team then shared their vision for the
project and how these aligned and conflicted. The team found
several areas of consensus, which was the basis of the next
Yayasan Hutan Sumatera might ask on what
basis they have the right to intervene in the
lives of others and if they should even be the
ones leading local conservation efforts. Are
they prioritizing the needs of local residents
or nature conservation? Why?
Plan: “involves defining and
developing your project’s goals,
strategies, and objectives, and
identifying your team’s assumptions
about how you believe your
strategies will achieve your project’s
Core group held a series of meetings on the project’s goals,
outputs, and actions, focusing on agroforestry. They shared
their experience, identifying 2 members knowledgeable about
suitable tree species. Attending subsistence farmers were
encouraged to share their opinions on the project. They
pointed out how the project would harm poorer households
and offered solutions.
The NGO might ask how power
dynamics—shaped by who has access to
funding, political influence, land claims,
knowledge, and other factors—influenced the
choice of project goals.
Implement: “involves developing and
implementing specific work plans
while ensuring sufficient resources,
capacity, and partners”
One of the staff at the NGO struggled with burnout, affecting
how he interacted with colleagues and community members,
his performance, and the project’s progress. His supervisor
spoke with him to understand why he was struggling, what
was important to him in terms of work–life balance, and how
he might work differently from others in the team. They also
discussed the broader work culture of the organization and
how it could be altered to support all staff better.
The NGO might explore why employees are
under pressure and if it is a consequence of
dependence on short-term grants. They
might ask if the project should have been
initiated if there was no long-term funding.
Analyze and adapt: analyze “project’s
results, core assumptions, key
uncertainties, and relevant
operational and financial data, and
then adapt your work plan as
The NGO staff had designed a logical framework to monitor
and evaluate the project, which focused on outcomes for
participants and the forest. But one resident highlighted that
they needed to evaluate the impacts on the community as a
whole as the project was displacing subsistence farmers. So,
the comanagement team updated the monitoring process,
changed where the project would be implemented, and sought
to compensate those who lost land.
The NGO might critically examine the process
used to develop the logical framework. After
learning that the project displaced subsistence
farmers, they might reevaluate their overall
approach to working with residents.
Share: “involves sharing lessons and
formal products with key internal
and external audiences”
By the end, some subsistence farmers remained angry about how
the project was implemented. The NGO decided to hold a
community meeting to discuss what could have been done
differently. The NGO decided not to report these issues to
the funder for fear of losing follow-up support.
The NGO might ask how concealing these
issues affected residents and the
organizational culture and created a risk of
being blacklisted by funders.
*Following Conservation Measures Partnership (2021).
on social media platforms where the workshop invitation was
shared were not given the opportunity to collaborate. The
selection process was based on T.P. and L.K.’s subjective eval-
uations of who offered relevant experience and diversity. Many
of us had connections to the United Kingdom, where 6 of our
invited experts also worked. As a result, most of our networks,
case studies, and information came from the United Kingdom,
its former colonies, the English-speaking world, and English-
language literature. Many of our invited speakers worked in
desk-based roles; only 2 were from nonprofit organizations.
So, overall, our examples and discussion cannot represent the
diversity of paradigms, experiences, and ways of thinking and
working in conservation worldwide. Moreover, the number of
invited experts was constrained by the time available in the
7 workshops. Inviting more experts may have yielded a wider
range of examples.
Nevertheless, our examples suggested that reflexivity might
be common within conservation practice, particularly in infor-
mal settings. We found comparatively fewer cases where
reflexive practices were explicitly integrated into institutional
or group processes (although we may have missed relevant
examples with our approach). By examining examples from
individuals, organizations, and across the conservation move-
ment more broadly, we identified a diverse range of issues
that conservation practitioners self-reflect on, including train-
ing and cultural backgrounds, values, emotions and well-being,
social identities, and success and failure. Although reflexiv-
ity in conservation can offer insights and benefits in some
cases, it is not without challenges, particularly in group set-
tings (e.g., organizations). Nevertheless, proactive adoption of
reflexive processes could enhance both adaptive and trans-
formative conservation practices. Ultimately, reflexivity may
help conservationists imagine and, with a deeper under-
standing of everyone’s differences, work together toward a
better world for biodiversity, people, and the conservation
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We thank the key informants for sharing their experiences and
insights and for the constructive comments from 2 anonymous
reviewers. We thank the Oxford Martin Programme on the Ille-
gal Wildlife Trade (University of Oxford) for financial support.
We thank the Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Sci-
ence and the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (University
of Oxford) and researchers at Oxford Brookes University for
organizing the Interdisciplinary Conservation Network.
Thomas Pienkowski
Laur Kiik 2552-8971
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... Complex decisions made by individuals and groups determine what is conserved, how it is conserved, and for whom it is conserved. Whom or what benefits are informed by practitioners' experiences, values, motivations, capabilities, social identities, partner interests, legislation, organizational norms, large-scale conservation movements, and more [1][2][3]. Within the field of conservation, researchers have largely focused on the values that underpin conservation goals, as value systems regarding views on the relationship between people and nature have implications for conservation planning and prioritization [4]. ...
... Among natural resource managers, there is the potential for divergences in conservation priorities given unique individual backgrounds, histories, and values. Recent literature points to the need for practitioners and researchers to evaluate and articulate their values [5], as well as practice reflexivity in how experiences, identities, motivations, and values shape their work [1]. ...
... experiences, social networks, etc.) that influence practitioners' motivations and values, describe the relationship between these motivations and values, and explore how values and motivations influence decision-making, career pathways, and personal fulfillment in natural resource management contexts. therefore cannot be separated from the underlying value systems and motivations on which they are based [1,5,8]. The concept of values is used across disciplines with varying definitions and applications [9]. ...
Full-text available
Values and motivations can shape natural resource management decision-making as individuals set conservation goals based on diverse, unique backgrounds, histories, and experiences. Recent literature points to the need to understand, evaluate, and articulate practitioner values to make explicit how experiences shape their work. Our research responds to calls to explore a diverse range of values and motivations among conservation practitioners. We used a qualitative approach grounded in phenomenology to advance an in-depth understanding of how conservation and stewardship practitioners experience, acknowledge, and make sense of conservation decision-making in Maine, USA. We interviewed 21 conservation and stewardship practitioners. Our results indicate the presence of complex value systems, including strong biospheric, altruistic, eudaimonic, as well as egoistic values. These values interact and intersect with motivations for participants’ careers in conservation in unique ways, driving participant actions and decision-making. Within Maine specifically, our results highlight the many areas for convergence of broad values among seemingly diverse groups that can inform opportunities for collaboration. Participants expressed various pathways to careers in conservation, where their work enables them to make a meaningful contribution to the environment and society. However in situations where personal and organizational values are misaligned, the role of organizational transparency, employee empowerment, and agency are key. Our results have implications for conservation groups seeking to achieve high employee satisfaction, as well as researchers, policymakers, and practitioners who hope to inspire individuals to take on conservation careers to create sustainable and transformative action for the future. Fostering early experiences in place, including interactions with the non-human world and local community, are important for influencing and reinforcing values and motivations for conservation action.
... This analysis will allow me to contribute new knowledge to the broad literature about the persistence of exclusion and paternalism in conservation management, especially by adding to the relatively scarce literature about people who do conservation (Kiik, 2018a). So far, research about conservation practitioners' perspectives has focused on the diversity of their values (Sandbrook et al., 2011), the complexity of their positionalities (Haenn, 2016;Kiik, 2018), and their [un]awareness about the inequities of conservation (Archer et al., 2022;Pienkowski et al., 2023). However, this body of literature has fallen short from exploring how the meanings that the spaces conservation practitioners seek to protect affect their perspectives and actions, and how contestations between experts with different perspectives affect place-making. ...
... However, this body of literature has fallen short from exploring how the meanings that the spaces conservation practitioners seek to protect affect their perspectives and actions, and how contestations between experts with different perspectives affect place-making. Moreover, this type of analysis responds to recent literature that highlights the need for reflexivity in the conservation sector (Montana et al., 2020;Pienkowski et al., 2023;Quarshie et al., 2021). Understanding these perspectives and actions more deeply could also be a way to untangle the contestation that underlies the continued reproduction of exclusionary notions among conservationists in contemporary conservation practice. ...
... Therefore, rather than a static binary or even a spectrum, the diverse subjectivities of conservation practitioners are more clearly understood as a fluid and overlapping patchwork of the various factors of understanding that prompt the agency of these actors. The fluidity of these factors and overlap between them generates space for the reflexivity that recent research suggests conservation practitioners should engage with (Montana et al., 2020;Pienkowski et al., 2023;Quarshie et al., 2021). ...
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Conservation is, among other things, a way of making places. By intervening in spaces to attempt to form and reform an ideal state of nature, conservation reflects and sustains discourses about nature and the social structures that these discourses emanate from. As part of these place-making processes, people working in conservation play vital roles in navigating various discourses and structures within complex political dynamics. From a postcolonial and political ecology perspective, this thesis examines the relatively under-explored views of conservation practitioners, the people who do conservation, to unpack how they make sense of their experiences in conservation spaces. Grounded in the case study of the Manu National Park in the Peruvian Amazon, this exploration highlights the ways in which conservation practitioners understand this space and navigate the tensions inherent in conservation interventions by exercising their power and agency within the existing structures of conservation institutions. Despite persistent Indigenous presence, the Manu National Park is frequently portrayed by the conservation movement as a pristine space where nature without people can be studied to facilitate the restoration of disturbed areas of Amazonia. This questionable characterization of place has significantly influenced the relationship of conservation institutions and the local and Indigenous communities of Manu. So, how do conservation practitioners shape conservation places in Manu and beyond? Answering this question, this study argues that the politics of place-making in Manu are key in the way conservation practitioners understand their work and positions in this conservation space. To unpack the multiple ways in which these politics are enacted and reworked by conservation practitioners, this thesis engages with current debates around wilderness, knowledge hierarchies and environmentalities. Using critical discourse analysis to interpret online interviews and archival data, this thesis highlights the urgency of facing and addressing colonial legacies within the conservation sector, as well as the multiple ways in which individuals’ discourses and practices intersect with, and can disrupt, structural forces and processes.
... Ours is the first large study examining mental health and its workplace predictors in an international sample of conservation professionals. Our findings contribute to a growing number of studies focusing on conservationists themselves, shedding light on possible new approaches to help protect nature (Pienkowski, Kiik, et al., 2022). Our sample is unlikely to be representative of conservationists globally. ...
Biodiversity conservation work can be challenging but rewarding, with potential consequences for conservationists' mental health. Yet, little is known about patterns of mental health among conservationists and its associated workplace protective and risk factors. A better understanding might help improve working conditions, supporting conservationists' job satisfaction, productivity, and engagement, while reducing costs from staff turnover, absenteeism, and presenteeism. We surveyed 2311 conservation professionals working across 122 countries, asking about experiences of psychological distress, working conditions, and personal characteristics. Over half were from and worked in Europe and North America, and most had university-level education, were in desk-based academic and practitioner roles, and responded in English. Heavy workload, job demands, and organizational instability were linked to higher distress, but job stability and satisfaction with one's contributions to conservation were associated with lower distress. Respondents with low dispositional and conservation-specific optimism, poor physical health, limited social support, women, and early-career professionals were most at risk in our sample. Our results flag important risk factors that employers could consider, though further research is needed among groups under-represented in our sample. We suggest ways employers and others might promote the positives and manage the risks of working in the sector, potentially supporting conservationists' mental health and abilities to protect nature. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
... These findings highlight the need for employers to understand and offer tailored support to different groups within organizations. This research adds to a growing number of studies looking at how practitioners' personal characteristics and experiences might influence their contributions to conservation outcomes (Pienkowski, Kiik, Catalano, et al., 2022). Ultimately, alleviating potential workplace sources of psychological distress could help employers meet their duty of care while supporting conservationists' efforts to reverse the loss of nature. ...
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Workplaces can be sources of both stress and support, affecting employees' mental health and productivity. Yet, little research has investigated variability in workplace risk factors for poor mental health in conservation. We aimed to explore how patterns of psychological distress—a state of emotional disturbance—and associated workplace risk factors vary between conservation job roles. Working with three case study organizations in India, South Africa, and Cambodia, we surveyed 280 field‐based, office‐based, and research staff. Moderate or severe psychological distress was reported by 28.9%. Field‐based practitioners reported a greater imbalance between workplace efforts and rewards (0.35 standard deviation (SD), 95% credibility interval (CI) 0.03–0.67) than their colleagues, which was associated with greater psychological distress (0.24 SD, 95% CI 0.10–0.39). After controlling for this mediated relationship, researchers reported greater psychological distress than field‐based practitioners (0.37 SD, 95% CI 0.02–0.72). However, when accounting for all direct and indirect effects, there was no overall difference in distress between roles. Employers, funders, professional societies, and other institutions seeking to support conservationists' mental health should understand and offer support tailored to role‐specific challenges. Doing so might enhance conservationists' wellbeing while strengthening their ability to reverse global nature loss.
Biodiversity, which is essential for the provision of ecosystem services, is in decline. However, knowledge about how biodiversity is perceived and appreciated is scarce. This gap is addressed using priority species for conservation in the Pisloy community, Jipijapa, Manabí, Ecuador. The interviews with the experts (N = 56) allowed us to calculate the Local Conservation Priorities Index (IPCL). The collaborators (N = 152) contributed knowledge, attitudes, responsibility and community participation. A total of 45 species were registered, belonging to the biological groups of Birds (25 species), Liliopsida (13) and Insects (8) priority for their conservation. The collaborators only recognized 40%. The species with the highest conservation priority were the Aves Brotogeris pyrrhoptera, Chaetocercus berlepschi, Pachyramphus spodiurus and Pseudastur occidentalis, followed by the Brassia jipijapensis, Encyclia angustiloba and Oncidium estradae. Insects obtained the lowest IPCL. To conserve the species, it is proposed to carry out training for the local population, the creation of protection areas and continue with the activity of community tourism. This information is necessary to improve the relationships between biodiversity and the management of biodiversity within natural ecosystems.
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Biodiversity conservation work can be challenging but rewarding, with potential consequences for conservationists’ mental health. Yet, little is known about patterns of mental health among conservationists and its associated protective and risk factors. A better understanding may help improve working conditions, supporting conservationists’ job satisfaction, productivity, and engagement, while reducing costs from staff turnover, absenteeism, and presenteeism. We surveyed 2311 conservation professionals working across 122 countries, asking about experiences of psychological distress, personal characteristics, and workplace conditions. Over half were from and worked in Europe and North America, and most had university-level education, were in desk-based academic and practitioner roles, and responded in English. Moderate or severe distress was reported by 27.8% (Kessler Psychological Distress Scale scores over 24). Respondents with low dispositional and conservation-specific optimism, poor physical health, limited social support, women, and early-career professionals were most at risk in our sample. Heavy workload, job demands, and organisational instability were linked to higher distress, but job stability and satisfaction with one’s contributions to conservation were associated with lower distress. We suggest ways employers and others might ‘promote the positives’ and manage the risks of working in the sector, potentially supporting conservationists’ mental health and abilities to protect nature.
Full-text available
The concept of the “wilderness ethic” is at an impasse. Despite calls for action to conserve wilderness, any notion of wilderness thinking still resides outside of most major global environmental policy mechanisms. We posit the wilderness ethic must evolve with haste, to better reflect contemporary conservation framings; that is a “people and nature” focused approach. Only once the central role and rights of people are incorporated into the traditional wilderness ethic, will policy better allow the navigation of pathways towards sustainability.
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In the face of unprecedented biodiversity loss, the belief that conservation goals can be met could play an important role in ensuring they are fulfilled. We asked conservationists how optimistic they felt about key biodiversity outcomes over the next 10 years; 2341 people familiar with conservation in 144 countries responded. Respondents expressed optimism that enabling conditions for conservation would improve but felt pressures would continue, and the state of biodiversity was unlikely to get better. Respondents with greater general optimism about life, at early‐career stages, and working in practice and policy (compared to academia) reported higher conservation optimism. But most of our biodiversity and conservation status indicators were not associated with conservation optimism. Unbounded optimism without appropriate action would be misguided in the face of growing threats to biodiversity. However, supporting those struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel could help sustain efforts to overcome these threats.
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Protecting wildlife and other natural resources requires engaging and empowering local communities, ensuring compliance with rules, and ongoing monitoring and research. At the frontline of these efforts are rangers. Despite their critical role in maintaining the integrity of parks and protected areas, rangers across the world are exposed to precarious employment conditions and hazardous work environments. We conducted an international scoping review to understand which employment and working conditions are examined in the context of the ranger occupation and to assess whether the concept of precarious employment is used in the conservation, criminological, and environmental sustainability literature on rangers. We reviewed publications from Web of Knowledge, Scopus, ProQuest, and Medline, and grey literature for relevant English language articles published between 2000 and 2021. Our findings are based on the analysis of 98 included studies. We found that the most commonly discussed aspect of rangers' employment and working conditions was the hazardous social and physical work environment, although this was often accompanied by severe income inadequacy, employment insecurity, and a lack of social security, regulatory support, and workplace rights. Such employment and working conditions can cause adverse impacts on rangers' mental and physical health, well-being, and safety, and are also detrimental to their ability to adequately protect biodiversity. We conclude by outlining the need for sustainable solutions and additional research based on established conceptualizations of the precarious employment concept and other related concepts. Lastly, we suggest that governments should acknowledge the importance of rangers through their recognition as essential workers and provide greater support to improve their employment conditions. Supplementary information: The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s10669-022-09845-3.
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The future of inclusive forestry in Nepal depends on forestry professionals who can recognise patriarchal roots of gender injustice as they operate in the ideologies and apparatus of forest governance, and who can resist those injustices through their work. This paper uses the notion of knowledge practices to explore the recognition of injustice amongst Nepal’s community forestry professionals, and the relationship between recognition and resistance, highlighting the inherently political nature of all knowledge practices. By drawing on over fifty interviews and ethnographic insights, this paper goes beyond the typically black-boxed and essentialised ‘forestry professional’ and unsettles the false dichotomy between ‘the professional’ and ‘the personal’. Nepal’s community forestry professionals represent a plurality of knowledges, emerging from unique positionalities and personal experiences; however, the demand for quantifiable, short-term project outputs (attributed to funders and donors) shuts down their opportunities to meaningfully practice their knowledges. This paper articulates how, in order to resist injustices within both forest user communities and forestry institutions, professionals are demanding a greater focus on learning—from the lived realities of forest users, from each other as practitioners, from qualitative engagements with complexity and processes of change, from so-called mistakes, and ultimately from greater reflexivity. Through such learning and reflection comes the opportunity to recognise and resist injustices and create socially just community forestry. This paper urges scholars to go beyond black-boxing those in the forestry sector, and instead to offer solidarity and support in promoting knowledge practices that recognise and resist injustices and thus help build socially just forest futures.
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It is time to acknowledge and overcome conservation's deep-seated systemic racism, which has historically marginalized Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) communities and continues to do so. We describe how the mutually reinforcing ‘twin spheres’ of conservation science and conservation practice perpetuate this systemic racism. We trace how institutional structures in conservation science (e.g. degree programmes, support and advancement opportunities, course syllabuses) can systematically produce conservation graduates with partial and problematic conceptions of conservation's history and contemporary purposes. Many of these graduates go on to work in conservation practice, reproducing conservation's colonial history by contributing to programmes based on outmoded conservation models that disproportionately harm rural BIPOC communities and further restrict access and inclusion for BIPOC conservationists. We provide practical, actionable proposals for breaking vicious cycles of racism in the system of conservation we have with virtuous cycles of inclusion, equality, equity and participation in the system of conservation we want.
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Listening is a pervasive and significant act of conservation research and praxis, mattering greatly for the realisation of conservation agendas, not least its ambitions to be outward looking and inclusive in approach. Yet, the value and role of listening has been barely explored in a sustained and reflexive way. This paper is a preliminary schematic of what it might mean to attend to the act of listening, set within the context of a larger field of listening scholarship as well as more specific manoeuvres to embed relational approaches into the study of people and nature interactions. We explore what it means to 'listen well' within the context of conservation, highlighting the importance of recognising listening as a relationship and our positions and power within those relationships; the need to care for the relationship through respect and empathy; and the building of inclusive relationships of listening by attending to how space and time influences understanding. We offer examples of how researchers and practitioners can create spaces for listening, illustrating our discussion with personal reflections about listening practices gained through our various conservation and research careers. We provide approaches and ideas which help the reader—academic and practitioner—to both understand and articulate the value of listening in conservation and relational values of nature. We hope to inspire the wider use of listening‐based approaches in conservation research and practice, and the recognition and support from senior managers and funders of what is needed to promote long‐term and meaningful relationships between people and nature. A free Plain Language Summary can be found within the Supporting Information of this article.
Conservation issues are often complicated by sociopolitical controversies that reflect competing philosophies and values regarding natural systems, animals, and people. Effective conservation outcomes require managers to engage myriad influences (social, cultural, political, and economic, as well as ecological). The contribution of conservation scientists who generate the information on which solutions rely is constrained if they are unable to acknowledge how personal values and disciplinary paradigms influence their research and conclusions. Conservation challenges involving controversial species provide an opportunity to reflect on the paradigms and value systems that underpin the discipline and practice of conservation science. Recent analyses highlight the ongoing reliance on normative values in conservation. We frame our discussion around controversies over feral horses (Equus ferus caballus) in the Canadian West and New Zealand and suggest that a lack of transparency and reflexivity regarding normative values continues to prevent conservation practitioners from finding resilient conservation solutions. We suggest that growing scrutiny and backlash to many normative conservation objectives necessitates formal reflexivity methods in conservation biology research, similar to those required of researchers in social science disciplines. Moreover, given that much conservation research and action continues to prioritize Western normative values regarding nature and conservation, we suggest that adopting reflexive methods more broadly is an important step toward more socially just research and practice. Formalizing such methods and requiring reflexivity in research will not only encourage reflection on how personal and disciplinary value systems influence conservation work but could more effectively engage people with diverse perspectives and values in conservation and encourage more novel and resilient conservation outcomes, particularly when dealing with controversial species. La Necesidad de la Reflexividad Formal en las Ciencias de la Conservación Los temas de conservación se complican con frecuencia debido a las controversias sociopolíticas que reflejan los valores e ideologías contrapuestos relacionados a los sistemas naturales, los animales y las personas. Los resultados efectivos de conservación requieren de administradores que involucren a un sinfín de influencias (social, cultural, política, económica y ecológica). La contribución de los científicos de la conservación, quienes generan la información a partir de la que dependen las soluciones, se ve restringida si no pueden reconocer cómo los valores personales y los paradigmas disciplinarios influyen en sus investigaciones y conclusiones. Los retos para la conservación que involucran a especies controversiales representan una oportunidad para reflexionar sobre los paradigmas y los sistemas de valores que apuntalan la disciplina y la práctica de las ciencias de la conservación. Los análisis recientes resaltan la continua dependencia en los valores normativos en la conservación. Encuadramos nuestra discusión en torno a las controversias que rodean a los caballos ferales (Equus ferus caballus) en el oeste de Canadá y en Nueva Zelanda y sugerimos que la falta de transparencia y reflexividad con respecto a los valores normativos sigue impidiendo que quienes practican la conservación encuentren soluciones de conservación resilientes. Sugerimos que el incremento en el escrutinio y en las reacciones negativas con respecto a muchos objetivos de la conservación normativa necesita métodos formales de reflexividad en la biología de la conservación, similares a aquellos requeridos para los investigadores de las ciencias sociales. Además, dado que la mayoría de la investigación y de las acciones de conservación siguen priorizando los valores normativos occidentales con respecto a la naturaleza y la conservación, proponemos que la adopción de los métodos reflexivos de manera más generalizada es un paso importante hacia investigaciones y prácticas más socialmente justas. La formalización de dichos métodos y la necesidad de tener reflexividad en la investigación no sólo promoverá la reflexión sobre cómo los sistemas personales y disciplinarios influyen en la conservación, pero también podría involucrar de manera más efectiva a las personas con valores y perspectivas diferentes en la conservación y alentaría a tener resultados de conservación más novedosos y resilientes, particularmente cuando se trabaja con especies controversiales. 保护问题时常因社会政治争论而变得复杂, 这些争论反映了人们关于自然系统、动物和人类相互矛盾的哲学观和价值观。有效的保护成果需要管理者涉及社会、文化、政治、经济以及生态等各方面的影响。如果保护科学家不能认识到个人价值观和学科范式对其研究及结论的影响, 那么基于其提供的信息所获得的解决方案也只能产生有限的贡献。关于争议物种的保护挑战为反思保护科学学科和实践的范式及价值体系提供了机会。近期也有分析强调了保护长期依赖于规范性价值观。本研究围绕加拿大西部和新西兰关于野马 (Equus ferus caballus) 的争议展开讨论, 指出规范性价值观中透明度和自反性的缺失持续阻碍着保护工作者得到有弹性的保护解决方案。我们认为, 目前在保护生物学研究中越来越多的审查和对许多规范性保护目标的抵制, 突显了正式的自反性方法的必要性, 类似于社会科学研究者所用方法。此外, 鉴于许多保护研究和行动仍在优先使用西方关于自然和保护的规范价值观, 我们建议应更广泛地采用自反性方法, 这是朝向更具有社会公正性的研究和实践迈出的重要一步。将这些方法正式化并要求研究考虑自反性, 不仅会鼓励反思个人和学科价值体系如何影响保护工作, 还可以更有效地让具有不同观点和价值观的人参与到保护工作之中, 并鼓励更新颖和更具弹性的保护成果, 尤其是在处理有争议的物种时。【翻译: 胡怡思; 审校: 聂永刚】
Goals play important roles in people's lives by focusing attention, mobilizing effort, and sustaining motivation. Understanding conservationists’ satisfaction with goal progress may provide insights into real‐world environmental trends and flag risks to their well‐being and motivation. We asked 2694 conservationists working globally how satisfied they were with progress towards goals important to them. We then explored how this satisfaction varied between groups. Finally, we looked at respondents' experiences associated with goal progress satisfaction. Many (94.0%) said “making a meaningful contribution to conservation” was an important goal for them, with over half being satisfied or very satisfied in this area (52.5%). However, respondents were generally dissatisfied with progress to collective conservation goals, such as stopping species loss, echoing formal assessments. Some groups were more likely to report dissatisfaction than others. For instance, those in conservation for longer tended to be less satisfied with collective goal progress (log‐odds ‐0.21, 95% credibility interval (CI) ‐0.32 to ‐0.10), but practitioners reported greater satisfaction (log‐odds 0.38, 95% CI 0.15‐0.60). Likewise, those who are more optimistic in life (log‐odds 0.24, 95% CI 0.17‐0.32), male (log‐odds 0.25, 95% CI 0.10‐0.41), and working in conservation practice (log‐odds 0.25, 95% CI 0.08‐0.43) reported greater satisfaction with individual goal progress. Free‐text responses suggested widespread dissatisfaction around livelihood goals, particularly related to job security and adequate compensation. While contributing to conservation appeared to be a source of satisfaction, slow goal progress in other areas – particularly around making a living – looked to be a source of distress and demotivation. Employers, funders, professional societies, and others should consider ways to help those in the sector make a difference whilst making a living, including by prioritizing conservationists' well‐being when allocating funding. This support could include avoiding exploitative practices, fostering supportive work environments, and celebrating positive outcomes. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved
In recent years, conservationists have been taking an increasingly holistic, interdisciplinary approach to conservation science, utilizing many methodologies and techniques from the social sciences. Reflexivity is one social science technique that holds great potential to aid in the continued advancement of conservation science but is not yet commonly recognized or applied by conservationists. Here we establish a systems-based framework for conservation science and couple it with a discipline-specific definition of reflexivity to enable the integration of reflexivity into future conservation projects. We outline the four major tenets of reflexivity for conservation science, declaring that conservation science i) is informed by personal values, ii) requires true partnership, iii) must contend with its own history, and iv) demands progress. We present practical reflexive techniques that conservationists can use to adhere to these tenets and to foster research-informed conservation efforts that are more collaborative, resilient, and diverse.