Simon Black – 

It is easy to consider ‘change’ as a slow and often difficult process. After all, humans are creatures of habit, enjoying the comfort of the familiar. Human beings are, however, creatures that have mastered  (or, at least, have developed) the art of adapting; changing our knowledge, decisions, behaviour, environment, relationships. We are beings that not only adapt to what is around us, but we often actively choose to influence what is around us, to find ways to make things better or different. This is why we work in conservation – we choose to make a difference, to change decline into recovery, to protect rather than over-exploit resources or ignore vulnerable species.

In particular, in conservation we have an urgency to act (Martin et al 2012). We need to see change happen in noticeable timescales; sometimes in weeks and months not years. If we want people to believe in the changes we want, then they need to be able to see those changes. Paradoxically, we need to be realistic that population recovery or habitat renewal may take decades. Sometimes we are constrained by natural systems (e.g. lifecycles and breeding seasons) and sometimes we are constrained by having to change people’s attitudes and priorities.


So, what is the challenge? We need to accelerate change by engaging networks of people in making things happen. In terms of the latter,  Herrero (2006) suggests that if cultural changes cannot be observed in short timeframes, then something is wrong. Small sets of changes, taken on and shared by groups of people can generate improvements in a non-linear way, as Hererro terms it, a ‘viral’ spread. This might mean sharing data or practice or supporting tests and experiments, giving feedback or insights or sharing and developing personnel.


To influence others we need to encourage quick, meaningful changes. This might mean adopting new behaviours, new ways of thinking, new habits. For example, the way that we set goals and focus people on purposeful work (to save species and ecosystems) should be influenced by urgency and purposefulness. We should have different types of conversations with team members, funders and stakeholders, focused upon the things are being done to achieve successful conservation outcomes. We need to have honesty about what works and what does not work, what is an obstacle and what might be a potential solution. We need to be open to stepping outside our own technical preferences in order to find effective solutions.


Herrero, L. (2006) Viral Change, meetingminds, UK.

Martin, T. G., Nally, S., Burbridge, A. A., et al. (2012). Acting fast helps avoid extinction. Conservation Letters, 5, 274-280.

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