EPE TIG Week: Testing Ways to Inspire Conservation Action by Shuli Rank

Hi everyone, my name is Shuli Rank and I’m a Research and Evaluation Associate at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). WCS runs the Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, New York Aquarium, Prospect Park Zoo, and Queens Zoo, and conducts local and global conservation and research activities in 16 priority regions around the world. The focus of my work is primarily on the impacts of visits to our New York City (NYC) Zoos and Aquarium, but our department also evaluates, monitors, and researches impacts on participants of our school, family, children, youth (14-24 year-olds), and adult programs as well as on volunteers, and staff.

In the summer and fall of 2018 we learned through on-site surveys with our Central Park Zoo visitors that this group is highly concerned about wildlife and the issues that they face, but their visit did not inspire as much intention to help wildlife as we hoped. During the summer at all five of our NYC parks, we have teen volunteer and educator led activity stations – Quests – to engage our visitors in enjoyable and educational experiences about wildlife, our parks, our global work, and conservation. In 2019 at Central Park Zoo, we developed two Quest stations to explore how messages delivered by a live interpreter can inspire visitors to take action on behalf of wildlife. Interpreters discussed a conservation issue – the illegal wildlife trade – or a conservation solution like Bird Friendly® coffee – and then presented conservation action content in one of three conditions: 1) what individuals can do, 2) what WCS is doing, or 3) what individuals can do and what WCS is doing. Each interaction ended with the visitor group receiving a wallet-sized card handout with more information about what visitors can do on their own.

A trained interpreter interacted with family groups of visitors using positively framed messages at both stations. For example, in discussing what happens to the animal during the trade they would say that the animal gets “taken” or “turned into” something, like a pet, or a coat, instead of using words like “killed”, “captured”, or “hunted. Interpretation focused on the solution, re-targeting the information to share the “good news” about actions that can help.

Lessons Learned:

Visitors tended to recall more information about actions they can do (individual) than actions that WCS does to help wildlife, suggesting the importance of sharing information that is relevant and meaningful for visitors. These most memorable messages included avoiding wildlife and wildlife products by choosing something else, opting to buy Bird Friendly® coffee, and leaving notes for store managers about stocking Bird Friendly® coffee.

As WCS preps for the upcoming season, our interpreters will be ensuring that any action messages that we share are personally relevant to visitors since this is a key component in empowering visitors to act.

Rad Resource: These inspired how we spoke about the Illegal Wildlife Trade and Bird Friendly coffee!

Climate Interpreter, a community of practice for informal science educators; and  Frameworks Institute, specializing in research on public communication about social issues.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Environmental Program Evaluation TIG Week with our colleagues in the Environmental Program Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our EPE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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