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 Zoos and Aquarium, but our department also evaluates, monitors, and researches how our programs help school children, families, teens and early career adults: 1) discover science content and learn scientific skills, 2) inspire connection and wonder with wildlife, and 3) protect wildlife through conservation action and stewardship.

One of our on-going research projects occurs at Central Park Zoo. In the Summer and Fall of 2018 we wanted to learn how interested and concerned our visitors are about wildlife and the places that they live. We also wanted to know if their visit inspires them to protect wildlife and wild places. We used three items on a Likert-scale to measure concern and awareness about wildlife and the issues they face, and we asked another Likert-scale question about how inspired they were to protect wildlife.

Lessons Learned:

We found that visitors are 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.

We have decided to take this information to test different messaging strategies with our educational interpretation team to see if we can increase visitor inspiration to protect wildlife at the Central Park Zoo. Interpretation at informal learning centers like zoos and aquariums is used to create experiences that are organized, relevant, and enjoyable. We have found through research at our parks that this team provides visitors with positive, interactive learning experiences about wildlife, the environment, and environmental careers. Therefore, we plan to leverage their energy and interactions to inspire conservation action among our visitors.

Our educational interpretation team is comprised of teen and adult, staff and volunteers who interact with the public in small groups. We will test three different interpretation framing strategies at two stations: 1) content framing or awareness building of an issue, 2) framing a solution to the issue as a collective action (e.g. what the organization is doing), and 3) providing a specific solution to a problem that visitors can act upon. One of the educational stations will be about Bird Friendly Coffee and another will be about Wildlife Trafficking.

We are currently in the process of working across our parks to develop the lesson plans and activities for these interactive educational stations and we look forward to what we will find!

Rad Resource: Central Park Zoo Audience Research 2018 Executive Summary

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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