Want to make a change in our world that positively helps biodiversity conservation?

Change is hard, but not impossible.

Guest blog post by Matthew Bowie, who is in the final months of his PhD which focuses on consumer behaviour change and sustainable coffee.

Many of the threats facing biodiversity are the result of human actions. This is simply a fact of the world we live in. However, I see this as a fantastic opportunity to make real positive change. We can individually and collectively create positive impacts for our natural environment by being more mindful of our actions and choices. We can take direct actions like planting native trees but we can also indirectly support biodiversity. By choosing to eat locally, ethically, sustainably, or more plant-based we support the growers, pickers, and producers who protect biodiversity.

So how can we create the change we want to see in the world?

For biodiversity conservation, there are more and more behaviour change interventions being implemented, but their design is rarely informed by the people they try to influence. Poorly designed interventions have a lower probability of success and may have unintended consequences. Building successful behaviour change interventions requires substantial audience research.

However, this can present a challenge for many conservation practitioners who may not be trained in or confident with the appropriate skills. Compounding this, the perennially limited resources and short timelines available to many conservation projects make it often impossible to implement fully-fledged consumer research studies. In the first publication to come from my PhD research, we discuss the potential and pitfalls of co‐designing behaviour change interventions to conserve biodiversity.

An introduction to co-designing interventions in conservation

Co‐design focuses on intervention design, innovating solutions that resonate with and empower the target audience by involving them as contributors rather than mere recipients of behaviour change interventions. Co‐design is a useful and effective approach for gathering audience insights relatively quickly, allowing different voices to be heard when they would otherwise be fully excluded due to a perceived lack of time or resources. To help people take those first steps in creating successful behaviour change interventions we provide an outline and guidance for a seven-step co-design process.

Image: A seven-step co-design process.

We used this seven‐step process with coffee consumers at the University of Adelaide. Coffee agriculture can either decimate or support local biodiversity through different land‐use‐change and production practices. Coffee is also a buyer‐driven globalised commodity, so changes in consumer preferences can result in shifting demands on how coffee is produced. Through two co-design workshops supported by Ecoversity in 2019, we gathered insights from over sixty coffee consumers, informing the design of two prototype interventions:

Image: Prototype experimental design for an intervention using rewards (financial incentives) and choice architecture (more options) to test how end‐user coffee consumer choice can be nudged towards sustainable options.


Image: Prototype experimental design for an intervention using rewards (taste testing events) and choice architecture (default sustainable) to test how end‐user coffee consumer choice can be nudged towards sustainable options. Intervention B (provide information but no taste testing) is included to evaluate the impact of prior information before change occurs, which will happen with taste testing prior to change as is intervention C.


Unfortunately, COVID-19 forced us to delay plans to test and implement these prototype interventions.

The future for co-design in conservation

There is still a lot of work that needs to be done to understand when, where, and how co‐design can be best used to help conserve biodiversity.

For some conservation issues, the human behaviours that need to change will be largely driven by non‐conscious, low‐cognitive‐load (system 1) decision making, and so may not be particularly open to introspection by co‐design participants. Consequently, co‐design may be less useful at producing effective conservation interventions for these smaller, everyday decision based behaviours. Co‐design processes are also likely to struggle with illicit behaviours, so may not apply well to conservation issues driven by illegal behaviours—such as illegal wildlife trade.

Conversely, there will be conservation issues largely driven by conscious, high‐cognitive‐load (system 2) decision making. For these issues, co‐design participants could prove effective for generating insightful and successful conservation interventions—such as which coffee a roaster or trader buys, or how a farmer grows coffee on their farm. However, more real‐world applications and studies are needed to understand how we can best use co‐design in conservation.

Changing human behaviour is complex but when done well it can create real positive outcomes for our world.

More information available about this research at ConservationSP and Bowscovery.

Other researchers involved include: Timo Dietrich, A/Prof Phillip Cassey, Diogo Veríssimo
Partner: Ecoversity (supported co-design workshops and interested in outcomes for UofA sustainability)
Grant Information:
• Ecoversity supported co-design workshops
• M. B. received support to complete a Ph.D. from the Frederick James Sandoz Scholarship.

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