Conservation Futures: Joining the dots

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28 April 2018

By Adrian Dellecker, Head of Programme, Luc Hoffmann Institute

A recurring theme in the conservation world, particularly ahead of a renewed push to urgently reverse negative biodiversity trends, is that conservationists need to connect better with the ‘outside world’. This ‘world’ includes the numerous areas that impact and are impacted by conservation including economics, agriculture, health, extractives, but also issues like security, migration and human rights. Such an outreach would include new players, new perspectives and new approaches to finally crack business-as-usual and fix humanity’s flawed relationship with nature.

This much is acknowledged. But is this actually happening?

Not very often, it seems, at least not at a pace and scale that will make a difference to the future of biodiversity.

This is why the Luc Hoffmann Institute, together with the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre and other partners have embarked on the Conservation Futures initiative. This seeks to bring leading thinkers and practitioners from diverse sectors to identify and tackle conservation priorities. It also has, at its core, the mandate to think differently, to be organised differently.

Conservation Futures wants to broaden the circle of stakeholders, to connect dots, and find new pathways to the future we want. It seeks positive disruption, to change the discourse and galvanise action. It aims to change the way we do business, to change the way in which conservation is designed.

The first step is to get the right balance of people together at the project design stage, to identify priority issues and areas that are ripe for biodiversity innovation and engage with the key influencers to stimulate global action. ‘Decision-makers’, often lumped together as a nebulous group of bureaucrats and politicians, are in fact everywhere: consumers are decision-makers, as are voters, shareholders, corporate managers, investors, academics and entrepreneurs, as well as international diplomats. Conservation Futures aims to mobilise this untapped force as a whole and support the solutions that are needed at scale.

The initiative’s most recent design meeting, held in March, brought together experts in various fields, from business to behavioural science, technology to finance, all passionate about, but not all necessarily experts in environment. The best, most innovative solutions must emerge from interaction between people of different ages, disciplines, sectors and places who are not usually in touch. Conservation Futures will connect people who would not normally interact. It seeks to facilitate not only discussion, but support follow-up action and foster long-term buy-in.

The workshop used the Three Horizons approach which identifies the innovations and pathways that can help get us from our current business model, horizon one, to horizon three – the future, desired state where biodiversity is valued, conserved and embedded into all aspects of life. In other words, we sought to incubate the innovations that will get us there: horizon two.

One key conclusion that will guide the final design and implementation phase of Conservation Futures is the notion of working around three ‘vectors’ for change: communications, technology, and innovative solutions. The notion of vectors was a recognition that these cannot be siloed workstreams, that each must influence the other and outputs feed off each other.

The group clearly recognised the need to embed strategic communications from the outset. There were interesting discussions on creating the needed ‘pincer movement’ – while nature conservation should be demanded by a large number of people who can loudly manifest their support and build a social movement to spark action, so too should it be supplied in a readily understood form and be actionable by decision makers. Strategic communications must therefore be directed at both of these ‘audiences.’ We need to create the demand for conservation and to supply actionable solutions. This is what Conservation Futures will pursue.

There was also a stimulating discussion around technology’s contribution to the future of conservation. Not just the power of drones for monitoring, but the use of blockchain to make certified supply chains more accessible and trustworthy, or to create cyber currencies that would be backed by natural assets, fundamentally redefining the relationship between people and money, and even wealth. Something that particularly struck me was the huge potential for decentralised information holding. Citizen science and mobile technology and communication have already upended data collection. The control of that data, including the role of artificial intelligence in using it, and the power of decentralised ledgers could fundamentally change the way nature is considered. This is especially true of the newest generation (post-Millennials, called ReGen, Generation Z, or iGen) who do not have the same level of trust in large institutions, including governments and the big tech companies, as previous generations.

Numerous sectors were flagged as having significant potential to shift conservation to a new gear including legislation, business, finance, technology and communications which will be explored by Conservation Futures partners and narrowed down to practical focus areas.

To help solve the conservation challenge, Conservation Futures formally proposes to “mobilise a critical mass of new and diverse actors in support of resolute action to conserve nature and rebalance the relationship between humans and their planet.”

In other words, linear progress is not enough. We need a game changer, a matrix of activity and players. Conservation Futures is gearing up to meet that challenge.

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Email the project team at
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