Putting people back in the picture: a social research agenda for a social-ecological approach to conservation planning
The implementation of successful conservation actions is often limited by the inadequate consideration of the social systems within which conservation is embedded. As such, understanding the enabling social factors of effective implementation is a central goal of conservation. By identifying and accounting for these social factors, planners can develop a social-ecological approach to conservation that better accounts for the dynamic interactions between people and nature. Such an approach is particularly important for understanding the complex multi-actor, multi-priority systems increasingly common in conservation. Furthermore, a social-ecological approach can highlight contextual information that can better link regional planning with local action.
In this thesis, I develop a social research agenda for a social-ecological approach to conservation planning. First, I ran a workshop bringing together conservation researchers and practitioners to better understand the implementation gap. The workshop highlighted how the implementation gap is still very real in conservation, and the importance of considering conservation planning from a social-ecological perspective. Second, using a seascape in New Zealand as a case study, I developed a social research agenda for a social-ecological approach to conservation planning. The social research agenda consists of three key stages to identify and involve stakeholders: (1) map knowledge exchange in the conservation network to understand the governance system; (2) crowdsource spatial values to understand actors and identify place-based conservation opportunities; and (3) integrate citizen science to include local knowledge in planning processes. This agenda demonstrates how social network analysis, crowdsourced social mapping surveys, and citizen science can strengthen conservation planning by identifying the enabling social factors for successful implementation. Finally, I describe how this social research agenda could be integrated in conservation planning to understand and account for the social systems within which conservation is embedded. While broadly applicable to conservation around the world, this agenda remains flexible for local and regional contexts.
This thesis addresses a critical gap in conservation theory and practice by defining a social research agenda for planning processes. As such, this agenda will provide explicit guidance to conservation researchers, planners, and practitioners on how to undertake conservation planning from a social-ecological perspective. By identifying the enabling social conditions for feasible conservation actions, this social research agenda can increase the likelihood of achieving successful conservation outcomes.