What counts as conservation talk?

I am taking a break from writing about Cyberlab today, since I have been in a work retreat this past weekend and trying to move forward with my research project. I am getting ready to dive into data collection, and one of my methods includes a focus group composed of professionals in various fields and organizations that have some relationship to the conservation mission. The goal is for us to develop a rubric for what counts as conservation talk when you are watching family discourse at live animal exhibits.

With that in mind, I have been doing a lot of thinking and reading about conservation, what it means, how it is talked about, where it happens, what mission it carries, and what does it really mean to different public audiences in Free-Choice Learning settings. While doing so, I stumbled across Oregon Public Broadcasting’s “Think Out Loud” show about the value of Nature. Guest speakers were Michael Nelson (Professor of environmental ethics and philosophy at Oregon State University) and Cathy Macdonald (Oregon Director of conservation programs for the Nature Conservancy). They carried on a short but interesting conversation that added a whole new dimension to my thinking as I design a conservation message intervention for one of the activities my recruited families will go through.

The main discussion revolved around the intrinsic versus utilitarian value of nature, how such values align with the conservation message and which would be best used to deliver a resource conservation message to various audiences. Nelson is a co-author on a recent paper emphasizing the point that, when given the opportunity to express intrinsic value, people tend to really do it. The problem lies in cross-disciplinary confusion about what intrinsic value means; therefore, the professional conservation community is missing out when they do not incorporate an intrinsic value component to their framework of thinking.

I see both intrinsic and utilitarian values as equally useful tools in spreading the conservation message, but how do we accomplish that? Say in live animal exhibits such as the touch-tanks I will be doing my research on. Light bulb went on! I think I can have a most focused way to create a background for my rubric as I watch the families’ discourse and can classify what kinds of values they are expressing, intrinsic or utilitarian, and use that as baseline data for our focus group discussions. If adding intrinsic value to an animal is an indicator of some conservation awareness or a firm component of conservation mission, then we can’t disregard that kind of discourse during family interactions.

That brings me back to my dilemma now as to what kind of intervention to design so as to purposely expose participating families to a conservation message. Do I focus on the utilitarian aspects or intrinsic aspects or both? How can we combine it all within this rubric-creating exercise? Moreover, how can it all relate to the literature suggestion that experiencing live animals in exhibits generates a level of conservation awareness in visitors? I am sure the nature of qualitative work will help guide the phases of research based on the collected data itself. I am super excited to start putting all these thoughts into solid research activities to generate solid and novel tools to be used within the same research and to generate original results about what family conservation talk looks like in free-choice learning settings. That would add an exciting new dimension to what we already know about biological talk at touch-tanks by previous research from Shawn Rowe and Jim Kisiel, and add conservation talk to the body of knowledge out there. At least, I hope so.

What about you? Do you think that the conservation field can benefit from incorporating intrinsic value in their activities a little more and making it a solid component for their mission?