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Hope springs eternal, so they say. It is a fundamental part of being human. It is something that we experience regularly. We hope that it does not rain on our walk to work, that in leaving the office late we won't miss our train, that our favorite sporting team will win it's upcoming game. It's an almost daily phenomenon, but something to which most of us give little thought. Despite this oversight, it defines how we live, play and work. Hope can be defined as the belief that our goals can be secured through our own actions, or alternatively, that chance, luck or some universal influence bigger than ourselves will steer us toward something we desire. When considered as this dichotomy of definition, as presented in various dictionaries, the fundamental difference between these two definitions of hope becomes critically important. The first defines an individual's belief that, despite facing challenges, he or she has a sufficient locus of control to achieve a favorable outcome (self‐empowered hope). The second presents as a belief that a goal will only be attainable with input from a force or entity beyond ourselves (fortuitous hope). The definition of hope a person chooses to adopt can define the likelihood he or she will attain their individual goals. Implementing effective conservation research—science translated into action—begins with an individual reflecting on his or her own values and making a decision to act towards positively changing their own behavior, and/or facilitating others to do the same. As such, self‐empowered hope provides the basis for effective conservation, as it is the source of an individual's drive to achieve constructive conservation outcomes, and so it lays the foundation for robust science or evidence‐based practice. Self‐empowered hope also provides the basis for the common vision and sense‐of‐belonging that binds individuals together into the effective collaborations required to mobilize collective action toward a mutual goal. Self‐empowered hope makes us individually and collectively more effective implementers because it reaffirms our ability to chart a course, and arrive at a point, where we are ensuring the persistence of Nature. The definition of hope we choose—the self‐empowered or the fortuitous, or some mix of the two—influences how both individuals and groups frame and enact their conservation research and action, and hence their effectiveness. Since it's inception the discipline of conservation biology (now conservation science) has framed itself as a “crisis discipline,” likening itself to surgery in medicine or to battle in warfare. Use of the term imparts a sense of urgency to stem the decline of Nature. However, the term suggests despair, the very opposite of self‐empowered hope. This negative perspective is counter‐productive and self‐defeating. For example, those marketing the sale of hybrid cars do not encourage us to buy a vehicle by lamenting the dire state of our world or by playing on our personal guilt in contributing toward the global decline of Nature. Rather, they promote the positives, such as the benefit that you can deliver to the planet and the financial savings you will make. We need to reframe our hope from despair to self‐empowered hope so as to ensure a more positive philosophy that is effective in providing a deep foundation that promotes our drive for action. Just as the definitions of hope have been dichotomized and polarized, so too has our perspective on conservation science. For example, a common perspective seems to be to view research and implementation as distinctly separate processes. Accordingly, in enacting our approach to conservation science, research seems to often be conducted without consideration of the ways it can be presented and subsequently implemented to proactively assist in achieving conservation goals. It is hoped that an unidentified implementer will spontaneously hunt‐out our research and apply it to some decision‐making process. A colleague, Kevin Rogers, describes the belief that our research will be implemented without forward planning and effective collaborations as the “Theory of Hope”—researchers recognize the potential importance of their research and of supporting the decision‐making of implementers with robust, practical science, but mostly live in the fortuitous hope that some entity beyond themselves will deliver and interpret their research on their behalf. This pathology of hope in conservation science manifests as a general belief that cataloguing the on‐going, though potentially reversible, decline of Nature through the application of ever more accurate and precise research provides implementers (who have legal, regulatory or moral responsibility for the conservation of Nature) the opportunity to voluntarily locate information useful for delivering humanity from our environmental crisis. The widespread and unwitting adoption of this pathology goes largely unacknowledged. This manifestation of hope can never be effective. We need a new philosophy and a new perspective. We must redefine fortuitous hope to be self‐empowered hope and thereby reclaim the potential effectiveness of our research. A theory of change that moves conservation science beyond fortuitous hope for translating research into action is founded upon two elements. The first is responsibility. We have the capacity to develop and deliver scientific information that provides the foundation for growing, through further research and social learning, our collective knowledge of effective conservation action. This mandates our genuine involvement in delivering solutions. The second is leadership. The conservation science research community has the opportunity to promote self‐empowered hope over fortuitous hope. Further, conservation researchers can become facilitators of fundamental change through humbly enacting the quiet leadership that supports implementers through impartial and timely advice. For researchers to become facilitators of change requires that we: (1) seek‐out and proactively engage with implementers and their challenges; (2) recognize that hypotheses confirmed through increasingly complex but poorly targeted research are no supplement for simple but carefully crafted problem‐focused research that directly informs decision‐making; and (3) present research outputs in user‐useful and user‐friendly ways that are positively framed solutions rather than a quantitative catalogue of on‐going crisis. Napoleon Bonaparte declared that a leader is a dealer in hope. As the public face of our discipline, and the conduit through which robust research is promoted, conservation journals have a fundamentally important responsibility for playing an active role in reframing the pathology of hope in conservation science. This begins with recognizing the importance of problem‐focused research, encouraging and presenting the work of implementers alongside researchers, and replacing the unhelpful catalogues of despair with studies that demonstrate advances in our learning to apply research to the implementation of effective action. This demands that we present positive alongside negative results, and successes alongside failures. It also requires ceasing to perpetuate the philosophy that conservation is a crisis discipline. Liberating ourselves from our reliance on fortuitous hope will promote our individual and collective drive for learning to be increasingly effective. Hope springs eternal, as well it should. Acknowledgments Thanks to Kevin Rogers for introducing me to the Theory of Hope, Jim Manolis for his thoughts on leadership, Kent Redford for his insights on the foundations of effective conservation, and Richard Cowling for his example of how to be an effective pracademic. Thanks to Kent Redford and Phil Levin for their comments on an earlier draft.
Conservation Letters – Wiley
Published: Nov 1, 2013
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