Advancing the integration of human behaviour into biodiversity decision-making

Selinske, M 2019, Advancing the integration of human behaviour into biodiversity decision-making, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University.


Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Advancing the integration of human behaviour into biodiversity decision-making
Author(s) Selinske, M
Year 2019
Abstract Reversing biodiversity loss is one of the great challenges that we face as a society. Human behaviour, individually and collectively, is the driver behind this loss; hence understanding and changing human behaviour is key to preventing further degradation of biodiversity. It is increasingly recognised that the social sciences have much to contribute towards a more effective knowledge-, theory- and evidence-base to underpin biodiversity conservation. While there is already a body of work within the conservation social sciences literature that contributes knowledge and understanding of the human and social elements in social-ecological systems, further research specifically focussed on human behaviour is needed. Greater integration of insights from psychology into conservation science, policy, and practice is necessary, but multiple challenges exist.

This thesis builds on existing literature bases in the social sciences and conservation psychology and engages insights from other disciplines to advance the integration of human behaviour into conservation science and practice. To do this, I specifically: outline methods to prioritise human behaviours impacting biodiversity and demonstrate them with case studies; use a novel elicitation method to generate effective interventions and implementation considerations to change a specific high-impact behaviour; undertake a systematic literature review to examine the existing methods used to predict human behaviours; and evaluate the behavioural outcomes of financial incentives in conservation programs.

I first assess the level of uptake of psychology in conservation science. I find that while there is an increase in psychology literature in conservation journals, it is modest compared with background growth in the conservation literature. This lack of engagement from the field of psychology in biodiversity conservation issues may stem from the complex nature of behaviours that impact biodiversity and the inherent difficulty in changing them. In consideration of these findings, I suggest ways to further integrate the two disciplines.

Drawing on the first chapter's recommendations, I elicit from experts a prioritised list of behaviours that impact biodiversity. To achieve this, I use a structured elicitation method known as a modified nominal group technique to elicit opinions during a workshop of conservation experts and stakeholders in Victoria, Australia. These experts provided relative estimates of the impact of individual behaviours on Victorian biodiversity and, additionally, the plasticity or changeability of the behaviour. This list provides guidance for the Victorian Government to consider and could be used to inform behaviour change strategies for the benefit of biodiversity in Victoria.

From this list of prioritised behaviours, I select beef consumption - a major driver of global biodiversity loss - and use this as a case study of how to identify effective interventions for behaviours that impact biodiversity. I undertake a policy Delphi expert elicitation, in which I engage experts in creating a prioritised list of behaviour change interventions and develop an understanding of the important barriers to, and requirements for, implementing these various interventions. Of the 20 interventions identified, I find that there was general agreement that changing social norm messaging, offering beef alternatives, and targeting food providers were likely to be feasible and effective in reducing beef consumption.

Next, through a systematic review of the literature, I investigate tools and approaches that can be used to predict human behaviour in the environmental sciences. These methods are used in a variety of settings, including foreseeing environmental challenges arising as a result of human and social behaviours, ex-ante evaluation of environmental interventions, and designing behaviour change programs and policy changes aimed at changing behaviours. I find that a large number of methods are in use, but they use quite different interpretations of prediction itself (i.e. explanatory versus anticipatory prediction). While the uncertainty in such predictions is likely to be substantial, this is not always taken into account and, additionally, there is a general lack of evaluation of the predictions. Based on my findings, I make recommendations to strengthen the decision-making relevancy of this research by standardising reporting and transparency practices. Substantial research effort is required to build the capacity to make robust, defensible recommendations about human behaviour in environmental systems that are relevant to policy and practice.

Finally, I evaluate ex-post the use of financial incentives in behaviour change programs focussed on private land conservation. I look across three case studies that use varying levels of financial incentives to engage landowners in private land conservation. I find that from the perspective of the landowner, financial incentives can be useful for creating added value to program participation, but they are not necessarily what drives participation and may have little impact on the long-term stewardship of these properties.

This thesis outlines critical ways for the biodiversity conservation sector to improve its effectiveness through methods and approaches that explicitly incorporate human behaviour. More broadly, this research contributes to the development of a conservation behaviour research agenda to inform future conservation interventions.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Global, Urban and Social Studies
Subjects Environmental Management
Environmental Sociology
Conservation and Biodiversity
Keyword(s) Conservation psychology
Biodiversity conservation
Conservation behaviours
Conservation prioritisation
Environmental psychology
Conservation behaviour change
Expert elicitation
Private land conservation
Beef consumption
Anticipatory prediction
Explanatory prediction
Predicting human behaviour
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Created: Tue, 26 Nov 2019, 12:54:05 EST by Adam Rivett
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