By Emily Gregg, Lindall Kidd, Sarah Bekessy, Jen Martin, Jennifer Robinson, and Georgia Garrard.
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Biodiversity conservation can often be quite complex on the ground, involving participation from many stakeholders such as scientists, government, industry groups, and advocacy groups. Because of this, conservation scientists and professionals often wish to better engage these stakeholder groups, including members of the public, in an effort to change individual attitudes and behaviours that impact on biodiversity.
A key part of any method of public or stakeholder engagement is communication. When communication forms part of a conservation program or campaign with clear aims and intentions (e.g., to change human behaviour) it becomes strategic communication. Strategic communication can draw lessons from many different disciplines, such as marketing, public relations, and media studies, and use techniques such as branding, message framing or persuasion. Yet engaging with these techniques to change human behaviour has the potential to raise ethical complications or dilemmas, that conservation scientists may not have the experience to reckon with professionally.
We therefore present this paper with the aim of guiding conservation professionals in engaging in ethical and effective communication for biodiversity. We draw on guidelines and recommendations from public relations, social marketing, and advocacy to present and discuss seven considerations for ethical conservation messaging research and practice. We also present guiding questions to assist conservation professionals with reflection on these considerations.
The first three considerations span all stages of communication: be reflexive, engage responsibly and consider power. The others focus on when communicators are defining the problem (ensure fairness in audience targeting), designing the solution (use equitable messages and calls to action and use truthful messaging and authentic messengers), and considering outcomes (consider intended and unintended consequences).
We hope this work assists conservation professionals to reflect on the relevance of these ethical considerations for their own work, leading to more ethical, effective, and sustainable communication for biodiversity conservation into the future.