Every year the World Wildlife Fund in Washington, DC hosts a one-day symposium on a relevant environmental topic. This year happened to be behavior change. As a budding conservation psychologist and strong believer that human behavioral studies are key to conservation success, I was very excited about this event! Not only would I get to hear very interesting talks, but also the publicity that a big NGO like the World Wildlife Fund brings to this field is very helpful for advancing the integration of behavioral sciences into conservation.
During my internship at the World Wildlife Fund this summer I had the opportunity to sit in on the planning committee meetings this summer for this amazing event.Seeing the behind-the-scenes of such an event was very eye-opening for me as someone who loves planning events. Engaging with the planning committee complimented my internship nicely which focused on conducting a literature review and developing a practitioner's guide on how to design and implement behavior change interventions for conservation. After the summer, I departed for the next semester of my master's but was fortunate enough to return to DC to attend the symposium on December 4th. The event was everything I had expected and more. Fortunately, for those who couldn't attend, most presentations, a full agenda and speaker bios are posted online here.The symposium consisted of four sessions.
Session One: Tap into Behavior Science
Dr. Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke University and the keynote speaker and gave a humorous and insightful talk on the irrational nature of human behavior and provided insight on how methods for influencing human behavior. Next up was Dr. Nicole Ardoin, a professor at Stanford University, anchored Dr. Ariely's behavioral science to environmental issues. Her research focuses on environmental behavior as influenced by environmental learning and motivated by place-based connections. Both of these talks did a great job setting the stage for the following sessions by providing an overview on human behavior and how it can be integrated into the environmental sciences.
Session Two: Design for Change
This session featured phenomenal talks by Elspeth Kirkman (The Behavioral Insights Team), Dr. Jeni Cross (Colorado State University) and Sarilani Wirawan (Rare) about frameworks for designing and implementing behavior change interventions. These women provided step-wise frameworks for designing conservation interventions that are scientifically grounded. I loved how they were able to breakdown these complex processes into tangible components and steps to facilitate conservationists in designing their own interventions. The conservation community needs more of this please!
Interested in viewing the presentations from Session 1 and 2? Check them out!
Session Three: Set into Action: Lessons Learned
Session three was full of illustrative case studies to help ground the content from the previous session. The session began with Gayle Burgess from TRAFFIC who explored the power of behavior change science in curbing ivory consumption in China. We then had a case study from outside of conservation from Dr. Amy Bucher from Mad*Pow a behavior change group. Amy brough in examples and insights from the health and well-being sciences to help illustrate areas where behavior change has been an effective tool. Finally, the Julie Ipe from the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (a UN Foundation Subsidiary) closed the session with an incredible talk providing examples of immensely creative behavior change interventions ranging from telenovelas in Guatemala featuring 'clean cookstoves' to competition cooking shows in Nigeria (Called Shamba Chef--check it out!). This session was my favorite. These women brough high energy and outlined the examples of successful behavior change!
Session 4: The Impact of Visuals
The final session of the day was a real crowd-pleaser. This session focused on the role of technology, particularly visuals for motivating behavior change. Ronan Donavan, National geographic Explorer, discusses the power of photography for conjuring empathy and inspiring people to care about nature. Next up was Dr. Jeremy Bailenson who specializes in virtual reality technology for educating people on conservation issues. VR was totally new to me and I was fortunate enough to get to try it. What a surreal experience! Though personally I think nothing compares to the real thing! If you live near nature, get out there and enjoy it! The final talk of the day was presented by Dr. Beth Karlin who was so enthusiastic you forgot you had been sitting in an auditorium for 7 hours. Beth discussed the power of film for conservation. Her passion, knowledge and enthusiasm couldn't be missed!
Summary: I am so grateful I was able to fly to D.C. for this symposium. I was so inspired by all the presenters and I was able to talk to many of them which had me fan-girling a bit but I managed to keep it together. There is so much conservation has left to learn from a variety of disciplines. The presenters brought in excellent examples from conservation and otherwise about the power of behavior change. As someone who already drank the 'behavior-change Kool-Aid' I hope this symposium was able to convince others the importance of behavior change science. Humans are nature's biggest threat--behavior change sciences can help us mitigate further environmental destruction! Below is a video of the afternoon sessions as well as a photo gallery with additional pictures from the event!
Did I mention there was an after party that featured 'smog tasting'? Check out the gallery for more pictures from the symposium!