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Using Behavior Change Approaches and Strategies to Support Wildlife Conservation for Development

June 20, 2023

Illegal wildlife trade is a complex issue involving multiple actors, such as poachers, processors, distributors, consumers, policymakers, and law enforcement. Furthermore, defensive and retaliatory killing in human-wildlife conflict (HWC) incidences poses a threat to wildlife and livelihoods, a growing concern globally. To address these challenges, behavior change techniques hold significant potential but are currently underutilized and primarily focus on consumers in wildlife commodity end-markets. 

The World Bank, through the GEF-funded Global Wildlife Program (GWP), collaborated with TRAFFIC to host a training workshop as the first of a series of virtual technical discussions and knowledge exchanges to support GWP countries as they bring behavior change more effectively into their projects.

The training introduced examples of behavior change priorities and strategies that might be employed as part of a holistic package of measures addressing illegal wildlife trade routes and supporting human wildlife coexistence and nature-based tourism solutions. 

The seminar brought together more than 40 participants, representing 30 projects from GWP including GEF-8 from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The facilitators were Gayle Burgess, Behaviour Change Programme Lead and Sarah Ferguson, Nature Crimes Convergence Lead from TRAFFIC. 


The speakers presented a range of theories and frameworks (listed below) that can be applied to promote behavior change for wildlife conservation. 

I. Behavior Change Benchmarks 

The potential for successful behavior change interventions can be increased by the application of benchmarks. These were described by Gayle Burgess, TRAFFIC, as follows: 

1) Enabling environment – this can either be:

(i) identify what barriers exist (for example a prohibition, a law, or a penalty) that prevent negative behaviors.  

(ii) identify what benefits you can bring in or amplify in relation to the positive behavior you are encouraging. 

2) Insight and targeting – conducting social research to understand what the target audience thinks, feels, believes, and does, (i.e., insights) to develop profiles or archetypes of the target audience. Targeting includes defining the main user groups and the most persuadable groups (which may or may not be the same).

3) Theories and Frameworks – there are many behavior change theories and frameworks, however, two practical ones highlighted for the purpose of wildlife conservation were, (i) the behavioral change checklist (GEF STAP), and (ii) the Social and Behavior Change Communication (SBCC) Demand Reduction Guidebook (USAID). 

4) Messengers and Messaging - good practice guidelines are available to help people do the right thing and increase their engagement in the initiative. For messengers, using celebrities may not always be the best choice. Sometimes, identifying people who have authority or peers who relate to the target audience might be more relevant (TRAFFIC).

5) Repetition, Adaptation, Reward – when designing a behavior change initiative, think about a person’s behavioral journey as a continual cycle and then plan the interventions. A pre-test of the marketing campaign is useful before a roll out, so you can adaptively manage.

II. The EAST Framework

Another framework presented by Rhys Lim, Digital Media Behavioral Scientist, Mind, Behavior, and Development Unit (eMBeD), World Bank, was the ‘EAST Framework’; which is a useful model to encourage sustainable decisions and choices: 

  1. Easy- make new desired behaviors easy to adopt and take away frictions that stand in the way of adoption.   

  1. Attractive- make people pay attention to the desired action by highlighting it, making it attractive and personal. People who personally identify are more likely to engage.

  1. Social- showing what other people do will help make the target audience more likely to engage. 

  1. Timely- understand when people engage best and engage them at that moment. 

III. Levers of behavior change

Philipe Bujold, Center for Behavior & the Environment Manager at Rare, presented on levers of behavior change (RARE), which include social influences, information, emotional appeals, rules and regulations, choice architecture and material incentive. These can help create regulatory, social, and context structures to influence those decisions towards desired outcomes. 

Additionally, participants were also presented with the science of changing behavior for environmental outcomes, which includes three types of choices that people face during decision-making which can lead to negative behaviors. These choices are: 

(i) Low consequence decisions for which the personal cost of making the wrong choice is minimal.

(ii) Unfamiliar, high consequence decisions that make decision-makers feel as if their choices could lead to significant livelihood implications and that often build off information-related biases.

(iii) Decisions where cooperation is key because positive outcomes depend on the actions of an entire community. People tend to behave selfishly if they believe others will do the same, or if they will not get caught.

For each of the above choices, the type of intervention differs, which is why understanding these choices is important for behavior change practitioners. 

Following the presentation of these frameworks and theories, participants joined breakout groups to share their experiences on behavior change interventions. 

Participants shared their challenges around finding alternatives to negative behaviors such as poaching and encroachment and highlighted successful digital campaigns that were adopted to persuade communities away from wild meat consumption and engagement of local youth in patrolling activities. There was an interest in learning more about social research to inform the design of behavior change initiatives.  

Another workshop building on this behavior change training will be conducted in October 2023.