ICCS Research

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Research Themes

Our research is focussed around three themes: understanding resource user incentives, accounting for social-ecological system dynamics and planning for effective and socially just conservation. The first theme addresses the drivers and motivations behind human behaviour towards the environment, the second theme addresses the feedbacks between individual behaviour and the wider social and ecological system within which they are embedded, the third theme addresses how best to design, implement and evaluate interventions to alter human behaviour and hence slow the rate of biodiversity loss. Our fourth, cross-cutting theme concerns building capacity for conservation.

Theme One

Understanding resource user incentives

Here at ICCS, understanding resource user incentives lies at the core of what we do. This theme addresses the drivers of biodiversity loss and the factors that motivate humans’ behaviour towards the environment. Understanding the social, economic, cultural and political contexts in which decisions are made is critical to developing effective interventions, for these complexities influence & incentivise unsustainable resource use at all levels. Such an approach also requires recognition and understanding of the social norms, values and belief systems that underpin societies, as resource use decisions are rarely made in isolation of these systems or without a degree of social acceptability. When addressing resource user incentives ICCS always collaborates with practitioners and policy makers to enhance understanding, in doing so we ensure our research remains relevant and that results support the development of robust conservation strategies that truly tackle the underlying drivers of biodiversity loss.

When understanding what motivates human behaviour, ICCS believes in an interdisciplinary approach. We adopt and adapt learning from fields such as economics, public health, marketing and psychology and apply robust scientific methodologies to answer our questions. Recent examples of our work include using Brand Attachment analysis to understand the motivations of rhino horn and ivory consumers in Vietnam, employing the Unmatched Count Technique to profile illegal resource users in Cambodia and Discrete Choice Experiments to understand societal value placed on environmental well-being in a No Net Loss Biodiversity offset project in Uganda.

Current members of the group working on this theme include:

Melissa AriasWilliam Arlidge |Hollie Booth | Stephanie BrittainDan Challender Laur Kiik| Munib Khanyari |  Emiel de Lange | E.J. Milner-Gulland |Rodrigo OyanedelMichael t’Sas Rolfes | Vian Sharif | Diogo VeríssimoHannah Sackeyl


Theme Two

Planning for effective and socially just conservation

Changing human behaviour is at the heart of conservation practice but the most effective means of achieving this can depend hugely on the local economic, political and historical context, as well as social institutions, norms and beliefs. Yet, despite the challenge of negotiating such complexity, the design of many conservation interventions remains based on expert opinion and experience, often under the guise of ‘best practice’. Although, in certain contexts, this can be beneficial and help to reduce the initial costs associated with intervention implementation, such an approach can also encourage a reliance on status quo solutions, which may not be appropriate in every context.   

At ICCS, much of our research focuses on supporting practitioners to develop evidence-based conservation interventions through the investigation of the drivers and motivations behind natural resource use (see Theme 1) and the application of empirical and modelling-based predictive methods to assess the likely impacts of interventions. Such predictive approaches allow for comparisons to be made between the likely outcomes of multiple credible intervention options and enable interventions to be tailored to the local context. Recent examples of this approach include an assessment of different options for REDD+ benefit sharing in Cambodia and an investigation of anti-poaching interventions in Uganda.

researchDespite repeated calls for greater use of evidence in conservation, rigorous assessment of the impacts of conservation programmes remains the exception rather than the norm. As such, there is currently a lack of authoritative evidence on which interventions offer the most effective routes to tackling conservation problems. At ICCS, much of our research aims to address this issue by adding to the evidence base on which policy makers and practitioners can draw, as well as working with practitioners to design and implement quantitative assessments of their impacts. Recent or current examples include the assessment of the impact of public health initiatives on the conservation of mountain gorillas in Uganda, an assessment of livelihood-focussed interventions in West Africa, an evaluation of community monitoring in Madagascar and a rapid review of the cost-effectiveness of different anti-poaching interventions.

In addition to the behavioural impacts of conservation programmes, it is equally important to have an understanding of the impacts on human well-being. ICCS has collaborated on the recent development of guidelines for practitioners on evaluating the social impact of their programmes and much of our research focuses on supporting practitioners to ensure that conservation interventions are not only effective, but also socially just.

Current members of the group working on this theme include:

Melissa Arias | Julia Baker | Emilie Beauchamp |Hollie Booth | Stephanie Brittain | Dan Challender Tom ClementsLaur Kiik | Emiel de Lange | E.J. Milner-Gulland |  Michael t’Sas Rolfes | Henry Travers |Diogo Veríssimo


Theme Three

Accounting for social-ecological system dynamics

A social-ecological approach to biodiversity conservation believes that effective conservation requires anMapping understanding of the social processes that drive change, how people and the environment interact and how conservation decisions change these interactions.  Understanding these systems, the linkages between them and what influences the behaviours of actors in the system, can enable us to make conservation decisions which are more likely to succeed.

Importantly, systems thinking means accepting unpredictability and uncertainty, and acknowledging a multitude of perspectives. ICCS employs social-ecological approaches across a range of scales from understanding what influences the behaviours of fishers locally, through to developing methodologies to assess conservation projects at regional and national scales.

Social-ecological systems are difficult to measure in reality as they are highly complex and constantly evolving. Evaluations can therefore be difficult, if not impossible, in some cases in the real world. ICCS therefore often utilises modelling as a way to best reflect our understanding of the real world. Computer models can then be used to account for uncertainty and identify, for example, where unintended feedbacks might occur, or where changes in environmental indicators might not represent reality. By adopting different approaches, across a range of scales, ICCS aims to use robust theoretical frameworks to account for complexities in social-ecological systems to provide a basis for improved conservation decision making.

Current members of the group working on this theme include:

Melissa AriasWilliam Arlidge | Emilie Beauchamp |Hollie Booth |Mike Burgass | Munib Khanyari Cecilia Larossa | E.J. Milner-Gulland |  Alegria Olmedo Castro | Rodrigo Oyanedel |Stephanie Brittain Thomas Pienkowski Joseph Poore |  Michael t’Sas Rolfes | Hannah Sackey


Our Projects

Details of specific projects that members of the group are currently working on (as well as previous projects) can be found in the Projects section.


See where we work here