Communication Skills for Conservation Professionals / Edition 2

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Whether you are managing wetlands, protecting endangered species, or restoring ecosystems, you need to be able to communicate effectively in order to solve conservation and resource management problems. Communication Skills for Conservation Professionals can help you do just that—it is a practical and inspiring book that provides user-friendly guidance on achieving conservation goals through effective communication.
Following introductory chapters that draw on research from communication, psychology, sociology, and education to highlight elements critical for effective communication, the book describes how to gather background information and target audiences, explains how public relations can influence attitudes and behaviors, and outlines how to design and conduct a communications campaign. In addition, it provides step-by-step guidance for using print, broadcast, and electronic mass media; demonstrates methods for developing public talks, interpretive brochures, exhibits, and trails; and explores long-term conservation education strategies for students and adults.
This second edition of a widely praised book, originally published in 1999, includes new material on working with stakeholders, volunteers, and other groups to multiply conservation success. It also expands on the use of electronic media with examples of conservation Web pages, blogs, e-newsletters, and other new media. The book’s citations have been updated to include a host of Web sites and other electronic sources useful for planning and implementing communication programs.
Communication Skills for Conservation Professionals is a valuable addition to the conservationist’s toolbox that will help scientists, managers, concerned citizens, and students communicate more effectively.

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Editorial Reviews

executive vice president and chief conservation officer - John G. Robinson
"Effective conservation action depends on clear communication to a range of different audiences. Susan Jacobson knows her audience and writes, and communicates with the same clarity that she espouses in this book."
Wadsworth Endowed Chair in Conservation Science - Dee Boersma
"Conservation is a people problem. To find solutions, people must communicate their values, wishes and knowledge. Communication Skills for Conservation Professionals provides a guidebook for anyone starting, improving or evaluating a conservation program. Communication skills are often the determinants of our failures and successes."
Affiliate faculty, Colorado State University - Michael Whatley
"In Communication Skills for Conservation Professionals, Susan Jacobson presents a series of approaches to solving natural resource problems that allow those who were part of the problem to now be part of the solution. Her cookbook of examples should satisfy all who desire to use communications as a tool to improve resource conditions. This is a must-read for natural resource managers."
Associate Professor of environmental education and communication - Michaela Zint
"If you have been searching for a resource to design communication programs that contribute to conservation goals, then this book is for you. Supported by real-world examples of successful programs domestically and abroad, Communication Skills for Conservation Professionals offers jargon-free, practical suggestions for planning, implementing, and evaluating a variety of communication programs. "
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781597263900
  • Publisher: Island Press
  • Publication date: 6/26/2009
  • Edition description: Second Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 480
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan K. Jacobson is an award-winning professor of wildlife ecology and conservation, and director of the Program for Studies in Tropical Conservation at the University of Florida.

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Read an Excerpt

Communication Skills for Conservation Professionals

By Susan Kay Jacobson


Copyright © 2009 Susan K. Jacobson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-59726-390-0



Reduce your carbon footprint! A fed bear is a dead bear! Only YOU can prevent wildfires!

We want people to save, conserve, or restore plants, animals, and ecosystems. Our pleas and warnings are part of the communication process aimed at changing people's conservation awareness and attitudes and, ultimately, their behavior.

Consider the following examples of effective communication leading to conservation:

• Tourists interacting with dolphins decreased inappropriate behaviors, such as touching dolphins, after exposure to a communication program in Australia.

• Data collected and shared electronically by local bird-watchers through BirdSource, a collaborative Web site of the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, helped identify the Montezuma Wetlands complex in New York as an Important Bird Area. This in turn enabled conservationists to obtain $2.5 million from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund for habitat acquisition and restoration.

• A study concluded that public education about ways to coexist with black bears would be more cost effective than spending money on nuisance-bear translocation.

• Communications in parks have improved public compliance with litter reduction and off-trail behavior, as well as reduced threats to sea turtles and shorebirds.

• Interpretive messages about fire ecology for visitors to Yellowstone National Park influenced positive attitudes and beliefs about fire and forests.

Conservation goals focus on biological problems, but solutions lie with people. Conservation strategies must increasingly focus on affecting people's beliefs and behaviors toward the environment. Conservation communications are an important tool for influencing people and thereby achieving conservation goals. Public support is a primary factor in the success of ecosystem management plans in the United States. Protection for endangered species depends on political considerations and therefore the public. For example, rearing endangered Florida panthers in captivity is a biological challenge. Yet the public decides whether to allocate required funds, reintroduce additional panthers in Florida, or conserve land needed to sustain the large carnivores. The panther's fate depends on how managers communicate with public groups and decision makers to raise concern and support for panther conservation.

Lack of an effective communications strategy doomed one panther recovery program goal of reestablishing panthers in northern Florida. Twenty-six animals were experimentally released in Osceola National Forest to test habitat suitability for reintroduction. The experiment was a biological success—the habitat was suitable. Yet poor communications by the agencies fueled local landowner opposition, and a minority caught the attention of the media through its own Kids Not Cougars communications campaign. Now, an interagency Florida Panther Outreach Working Group made up of federal, state, and local organizations and agencies has formed to help ensure a better outcome for future panther recovery efforts.

Think of a difficult conservation problem you have encountered. More than likely, people are part of the problem and communications will be part of the solution. Effective communications are essential for influencing conservation policy, changing people's behaviors, garnering funds, or recruiting volunteers. On a broad scale, the fate of our wildlands and natural resources depends on effective communications for a diversity of audiences and settings.

Why Communicate?

We communicate nearly all the time whether we are conscious of it or not. Even a lack of communication is communication. To carry out successful conservation programs, we must better understand how to engage audiences and effectively communicate conservation goals.

Recent trends emphasize the need for conservation communications. For example, the number of constituents, or stakeholders, of public lands and natural resources is multiplying. As a result, conflicts in land management continue to grow in concert with demands of diverse interest groups. Imagine the varying viewpoints on a proposed wildlife refuge from the following stakeholders: landowners concerned with property rights, politicians concerned with votes, businesspeople concerned with the tax base, hunters concerned with access, preservationists concerned with protecting the ecosystem, animal rights activists concerned with individual animals, and parents concerned with outdoor recreation opportunities. Stakeholders' interests often overlap and conflict.

Constituents of wildlife agencies are shifting. In the United States, from 2001 to 2006 the number of anglers and hunters dropped by 10 percent, while the number of wildlife-watching participants increased by 8 percent. The U.S. "public" is growing more ethnically and racially diverse, speaking different languages and viewing wildlife through different cultural lenses. Nearly a quarter of U.S. citizens identify themselves as Black, Hispanic, Asian and Pacific Islander, or American Indian. The "thumb generation" with iPhones and BlackBerrys has almost unlimited access to information, but it often lacks access to the outdoors and spends little time outside developing an interest in nature. Because of this complexity, effective communication is one of the most critical strategies for conservation and land management.

Some public opinion trends show promise. The public is concerned about wildlife and the environment. A 2007 Gallup poll found that 69 percent of U.S. citizens worried a fair amount or a great deal about the extinction of plants and animals. In a similar poll, 70 percent of the public thought that the government should do more than it is doing to try to deal with global warming. A poll conducted in forty-six countries by the Pew Research Center found that people in countries ranging from China and India to Peru and Canada rank environmental degradation as the greatest danger in the world, more than threats such as terrorism and AIDS.

These findings may reflect our increasing exposure to conservation issues. Information is available from the Internet, print media, radio, television, satellite, cable, and other communication media. Images of oil spills coating seabirds or of unemployed loggers posed with their families are beamed instantly into living rooms or downloaded to home computers. Yet public knowledge about conservation is still limited. Researchers have found that the views of most Americans are based on little ecological understanding and that concern for wildlife is largely confined to attractive and emotionally appealing species. Public knowledge about the environment is a mile wide and an inch deep. A Roper poll found that 56 percent of adults in the United States say they want to help the environment but don't know how and that just 2 percent qualify as environmentally literate.

If conservation efforts are to thrive, communication initiatives must build on existing positive attitudes toward the environment to expand the public's narrow focus and limited knowledge. Improved ecological understanding should inform public decisions and actions. Communications efforts can enhance all aspects of this transformation.

Conservation organizations and natural resource agencies rely on good relations with the public. Opinions and actions of concerned individuals and groups influence environmental agendas and the survival of these institutions. Organizations and agencies must be sensitive to their many audiences. The goals of most wildlife agencies and organizations in the United States include the need to communicate with their wildlife-oriented constituencies. For example, one of the Wildlife Society's four principal objectives is "to increase awareness and appreciation of wildlife values." Yet resource managers often have considered public information and education programs superfluous.

Only recently have conservation professionals tested the use of public communications as a tool to meet specific natural resource goals. For example, to better manage park visitors, researchers compared the influence of interpretive techniques on the attitudes of visitors to Ohio state parks. They found that both brochures and personal interaction with park staff increased visitors' knowledge about park management objectives and resulted in more positive attitudes about preventing problems such as illegally cutting trees, picking wildflowers, and trapping animals. Park visitors reached by communications efforts expressed greater concern for helping achieve management objectives.

Communications efforts can succeed where regulations or disincentives for negative behaviors have failed. Managers at Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica trained local guides to keep ecotourists from harassing nesting sea turtles. They achieved their management goals through the use of a communications program for tourists and residents rather than through increased physical barriers or heightened enforcement, which were not feasible in the park.

As a conservation professional, you must include among your communication skills the ability to market your organization's products—its mission, policies, services, and goods. Marketing entails sparking public interest in the objectives of land management and environmental initiatives. Communicating with the public and decision makers helps increase their long-term support and leads to appropriate behavior and sound conservation policy. Like two sides of a coin, institutional goals must be integrated with the public's concerns; likewise, institutions must influence public opinion to support their conservation mission. Researchers have shown that appropriate communications can shift public support, improve pro-environmental behavior, reduce vandalism, decrease poaching, increase visitor satisfaction, and influence policies and decisions that affect public lands and natural resources. Can you afford not to communicate?

What Is Communication?

Communication is the process of exchanging ideas and imparting information. It involves making yourself understood to others and understanding others in return. If you send a message—verbal, visual, or written—that the intended receiver does not understand, communication has not occurred. Consider the conservation message "It's good to protect biodiversity." The Nature Conservancy discovered that this simple message was not compelling to the public. Based on research with focus groups (discussed in chapter 5), half the audience had no idea what biodiversity was and the other half provided mostly erroneous definitions. Yet participants did reveal that they perceived value in nature conservation and concepts like the "web of life." The Nature Conservancy had three options: change its message, target a more knowledgeable audience, or educate its constituents. This example demonstrates how much effort is needed to understand target audiences and the likely impact of messages and products; otherwise, time and resources are wasted. No wonder public relations is a multibillion-dollar industry.

Communication involves both interpersonal processes such as personal interaction and conversation and mass media approaches such as newspapers, magazines, radio, television, telephone, mail, books, films, mobile exhibits, billboards, and agricultural extension publications. It also involves electronic media such as the Internet and satellite conferences. The public receives much of its environmental information through mass media channels. A survey of teenagers in England, the United States, Australia, and Israel revealed that mass media (not school!) were students' most important sources of information about environmental issues. An international Live Earth concert was broadcast on seven continents to raise awareness about climate change by bringing together environmental advocates from politician Al Gore to musician Shakira. People watching the concerts on TV could text-message on cell phones to lobby for the reduction of carbon emissions by developed countries. Yet impersonal technology is often less effective than interpersonal and hands-on activities in influencing attitudes and behaviors. Selecting the appropriate communications method based on your audience and the goals of the communication effort is critical. The theories and approaches that are the basis of good communication are described below and throughout this book and apply to all forms of communications for conservation—speeches, press conferences, interviews, Web sites, blogs, public events, brochures, interpretive signs, and education programs.

Communication Theory

Much of communication theory is derived from disciplines such as psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Designing effective communications is complex. Understanding the potential detours inherent in the communication process helps in successfully navigating toward conservation goals.

Early models illustrate communication emanating from a source (fig. 1.1). The source sends a message through a medium, such as a poster or television program, to a receiver who responds and decides what action, if any, to take.

This simple model ignores the noise and distortion to which most messages are subjected. New communication models include an encoding stage in which the original message is translated and conveyed to the receiver via a channel and a decoding stage in which the receiver interprets the encoded message and responds (fig. 1.2). Both encoding and decoding are critical stages in the communication process. The channels selected for your communication may be interpersonal approaches through speeches and participatory demonstrations, electronic media through cable and airways, or the print media through newspapers and books. The channel you select will affect the encoding and decoding of your conservation message.

Gatekeepers regulate the flow of information from source to receiver. Different channels have different gatekeepers. For example, suppose you speak to a reporter about your organization's new project to save endangered orchids. The reporter encodes your message in the form of a newspaper article. A gatekeeper in the form of an editor must accept the story for publication. Perhaps the last three paragraphs will be cut owing to a shortage of space. The receivers, individuals perusing the paper over their morning coffee, will decode the article based on their own experience—why should orchids interest them? If you do not catch their attention, they will not read it.

Feedback in the form of action from the receivers allows the source to adjust the message; thus, receivers also are senders if their response is captured in some way. However, sources must be listening in order to modify their communications on the basis of the receivers' feedback. For example, an agency that fails to respond to constituent anger about changes in a hunting policy will have more problems than an agency that listens and understands the needs of all its constituents. Researchers in upstate New York found that the communication process itself—whether through conversations, group surveys, or a citizens task force—improved satisfaction with the wildlife management agency, even when the management outcome was the same. Public agencies, fueled by tax dollars, must respond to public wants and needs. Unless an agency or organization understands its diverse clientele and aligns its products and services to public desires, the agency and its mission are doomed.

Elements of Communication

The vital elements of the communication process are the source, encoding, the message, the medium, decoding, the receiver, and feedback. An understanding of these components can help you design effective conservation communications programs. Failure in any step of the process destroys the entire effort. Ensuring that each component is appropriate for your situation is one key to success.

The Source

The source of the message is the central person, organization, or agency doing the communicating; for example, an agency director gives a public speech on management changes, a ranger leads a guided walk, or an organization publishes a fund-raising brochure or launches a Web site. The source knows how it wants the message to be received, yet it cannot guarantee how the receiver will interpret it. For example, during a speech, the speaker's body language, looks, voice tone, and vocabulary influence how the audience receives the message.


Excerpted from Communication Skills for Conservation Professionals by Susan Kay Jacobson. Copyright © 2009 Susan K. Jacobson. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1Communications for Conservation
- Why Communicate?
- What Is Communication?
- Communications Programs
- Last Words
Chapter 2. Influencing Public Attitutes and Behaviors
- Unerstanding Attitudues and Motivations
- Influencing Behavior
- Last Words
Chapter 3. Designing a Public Communications Program
- Planning
- Implementation
- Evaluation
- Last Words
Chapter 4. Researching Audiences Using Quantitative Approaches
- Audience Research Goals
- Research Methods
- Last Words
Chapter 5. Audiences Research Using Qualitative Approaches
- Group Interviews and Meetings
- Focus Groups
- Public Meetings
- Brainstorming
- Nominal Group Technique
- Delphi Technique
- Improved Nominal Group Technique
- Qualitative Observation Techniques
- Professional Judgement
- Case Studies
- Visual Techniques
- Participatory Rual Appraisal
- Naturalistic Inquiry
- Last Words
Chapter 6. Communication Strategies and Actions
- Political Activities
- Public Information Activities
- Promotional Activities
- Organizational and Group Activities
- Educational and Interpretive Activities
- Last Words
Chapter 7. Communicating with Groups
- Facilitating Group Discussion and Decision-Making Activities
- Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Activities
- Building Partnerships
- Coordinating Volunteer Programs
- Planning a Volunteer Program
- Recruiting Volunteers
- Retaining Volunteers
- Rewarding Volunteers
- Establishing a New Organization or Group
- Holding Conferences and Symposia
- Last Words
Chapter 8.  Using Mass Media
- Mass Communications
- Mass Media Approaches
- Last Words
Chapter 9. Methods and Materials for Interpreting the Environment
- Defining Interpretation
- Goals of Interpretation
- Interpretive Programs and Characteristics
- Developing an Interpretation Program
- Interpretive Methods
- Personal Interpretation
- Public Presentations
- Giving a Guided Walk
- Last Words
Chapter 10. Conservation through Education
- Roots of Education for Conservation
- Conservation Education Programming
- Conservation Education for Children
- Conservation Education in Schools
- Programs for Adult Learners
- Programs for Mixed Audiences
- Conservation Education in Parks
- Conservation Education in Communities
- Challenges Facing Conservation Education
- Last Words
Chapter 11. Evaluating and Monitoring Program Sucess
- Why Evaluate?
- Internal and External Evaluations
- Formative and Summative Evaluations
- Types of Information Collected during Evaluations
- Planning an Evaluation
- Data Collection for an Evaluation
- Last Words

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