A review of the grey literature finds that behavioral campaigns to reduce illegal wildlife trade are increasing but many use poor evaluation methods, undermining any claim to actual behavior change.
Illegal and legal wildlife trade are major drivers of biodiversity loss. Conservation NGOs are increasingly involved in behavior change campaigns to reduce the demand for wildlife products. In their new paper ‘Characterising the efforts to reduce consumer demand for wildlife products‘ Verissimo and Wan (2018) review the grey literature (reports that are not published in peer-reviewed journals) of wildlife trade behavioral change interventions. They find that behavioral interventions run by NGOs are increasing (nearly 40% of the reviewed studies take place during the past 8 years) and have predominantly focused on the Asian continent on issues such as trade in elephant tusks, rhino horns, sharks and wildlife products used in Chinese medicine such as pangolin, bear and tiger parts.
A key finding of the paper is that for many of the studies the evaluations of the reported interventions are not robustly designed. Few report the outcomes or impact of the campaign i.e. what is the actual effect, and many use evaluation designs that do not incorporate a counterfactual. A counterfactual is a measure of what would have happened without the intervention and without it we really don’t know if the intervention was effective. We do not know if these campaigns are having the desired impact or worse yet, a negative impact, such as increasing the demand of a wildlife product.
A well-planned behavioral intervention in any domain will include evaluation metrics but evaluation isn’t always easy and may add considerable cost to a project. Nevertheless, the authors demonstrate the incorporation of evaluation in conservation behavioral interventions is increasing and we might as well be doing it right.