In thinking about the theory of change that drives the program of the NGOs involved in tiger conservation and restoration that we read about, I am drawn immediately to how different it is from that of groups who, given the Red Knot example, seem both to be working in both a radically different conservation environment and in a diametrically opposed direction: it would seem the main[i] tiger groups in the stories are working top-down, while a group like RARE is working bottom-up.
At least part of these differences could, at the risk of oversimplification, be rationally organized along a couple of continua that will help us tease out the knots (Red or otherwise) that conflate closely related options for action and their requisite theories of change. Those continua might be defined in a number of ways, but I suggest here the following:
Object of conservation: High value (HV) species ------- Low value (LV) species[O1]
Object of behavior change: Large target (LP) population ------ Small target (SP) population
In this case, the high value object species is the tiger and the low value object species is the Red Knot. The human target population for the tiger is small – the poachers – while the target population for the Red Knot is large: all the residents of the areas nearby Red Knot nesting / resting and feeding areas.
In the (LV-LP) case of low value species and a large human population that is, in aggregate, indirectly causing harm to the resource – quite likely without even knowing or caring that they are doing so – bottom up action (public education and the building of support) seems the most appropriate “behavior change model.” While it is certainly possible to “protect” the Red Knot habitats, it may well not be feasible, either economically or politically. But it may be possible to create public awareness and government support by monetizing the resource (both species and habitat). Society and species need to be brought face to face, despite temporality and distance.
By contrast, with a rare, high value species and a small human population (HV-SP) that is personally, directly and consciously acting to harm that resource, top-down action (regulation and enforcement) would seem to be situationally appropriate. The interaction of poacher and product (not exactly like predator and prey, since in this case the product is a predator!) is, in the end, one-on-one[ii] and the motivation of the individual is intense and very localized in both time and space (need or greed at the moment of kill). While this is more a “market problem,” it implies not just a potential solution, but its complementary obstacle: how to decrease demand when there is really no singular, accessible population to engage. Thus the theory of change must include where pressure can be effectively applied: at the supply end. In this case the resource needs to be de-monetized in order to be saved.
In the analysis above we have ignored most aspects of species habitat so as to focus on species preservation and the species-human relationship. Of course some species are mistakenly taken to be mere habitat – valuable lumber trees in the forests of Brazil or Myanmar, for example – and so we sometimes think of habitats in the ways just discussed. But habitat as gestalt, as ground – the emergent synergy of abiotic factors and the biotic community – is quite more than that. So, when considering the preservation of habitat – critical for success in species preservation – at least two other factors not represented above are important: the contiguity and the cash / use value of the habitats in question.
In the case of the tiger, there are numerous, non-contiguous, and thus non-related habitats, while in the case of the Red Knot (and other migratory species) the habitats essential to survival as a species are time-contiguous, even if not space-contiguous, and thus not truly separable from one another in some sort of special, triage management sense. How might this affect the NGOs theory of change?
Also, a case might also be made for consideration of the socio-cultural context within which the conservation / restoration program operates. While no country has only one strand in its socio-political web, states with less established democratic traditions and more centralized, authoritarian governments are likely to be more effective as partners in top-down strategies, whereas those with strong “people power” traditions will be more open to a bottom up campaign of demand change. Again: To what extent should such “real world” concerns be factored into an NGO’s theory of change?
[i] As I noted in my post of 11/27: “There is an NGO ecosystem, and in it you have the fast-reproducing r-species organizations, concentrating on tactics and maintaining their "edge," their "purity," against both the true enemy AND the more entrenched and larger NGOs that are working "within the system," represented in the current metaphor by the K-species, which are more substantial, long lived and cautious. The r-NGOs come and go, and by their very existence goad the larger, more conventionally influential K-NGOs to stay closer to their original mission than they might otherwise.”
[ii] This would not be the case where game is “driven” to its capture or death (think bison or dolphins) or destroyed willy-nilly (think seine nets and cyanide or dynamite fishing) but we are containing our analysis to the present case.