Horn shavings from the Critically Endangered saiga antelope, for sale at a traditional Chinese medicine shop in Singapore. Photo credit: Hunter Doughty.

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Conservation efforts often aim to change unsustainable human behaviour, but many of these efforts are ineffective. This includes interventions combatting the unsustainable or illegal wildlife trade. Efforts to target consumer behaviour, for instance, are increasingly common though a lack of widespread effectiveness has led many to critique the often rushed or unstructured design process of these interventions.

In fields like public health, where interventions have been implemented for longer, the process of designing a behaviour change intervention is considerably more detailed than the average wildlife trade intervention. Public health intervention designs also often make use of both robust data evidence and human behavioural theory, since using both of these inputs increases the likelihood an intervention will be impactful. This could be particularly true for interventions targeting sensitive behaviours (e.g. the purchase of illegal orchids) or behaviours that are intertwined with complex social or tradition-based factors (e.g. using traditional Chinese medicine products that come from an endangered species).

So why have conservationists not more extensively followed the design process example from public health, especially when there are so many relevant frameworks and literature in use? One reason is that the exact steps a public health implementer takes during this design process are often opaque or based on their own experience and training. For example, exactly when or how an implementer determines which is the most useful theory for them to employ, is often implementer-specific. As such, in order for conservationists to be able to make full use of this design process, and thereby create interventions that are more likely to succeed, we needed an easily reproducible process accessible to conservation.

In this manuscript we thus walk-through the design process that we used to create a country-wide evidence- and theory-based intervention targeting consumers of a Critically Endangered antelope used in traditional medicine. Through this manuscript we highlight: 1) how using these steps gave us a unique, actionable intervention approach (which informed a final design that had measurable impacts on its target consumers in Singapore), and 2) how combing theory and evidence provided a critical foundation for understanding complex social factors around our target behaviour.