In conservation we are faced with a whole host of pressing issues that human actions cause, but we are short on time and money. Whether climate change, the wildlife trade or any number of other conservation challenges, we need to figure out the most effective ways of changing human behaviours that harm the environment. Evaluating our projects is really important if we want to learn from them and improve future interventions. Unfortunately, this can be difficult. Our research explores better ways to evaluate conservation projects that work to change human behaviour.
We evaluated a campaign that tried to persuade people in São Tomé and Principe to stop eating sea turtle meat and eggs. This campaign involved a variety of activities, including television advertisements and even a cooking contest. Unusually, we measured both behavioural outcomes like attitudes or consumption, and conservation impacts, like sea turtle poaching. We found a decrease in self-reported sea turtle egg consumption and a decrease in the poaching of adult sea turtles. However, multiple challenges arose in the evaluation. The special questioning techniques we used to measure consumption complicated the analysis, and simultaneous law enforcement could also have affected poaching rates. In the article we explore how these factors alter our confidence in the role of the campaign. Our recommendations for future projects include combining different outcome measures to triangulate hard-to-measure behaviours and using theory-based evaluation methods.