I submitted an article to Africa Geographic earlier this year and received a fantastically positive response. The one problem, however, was that the content wasn’t positive enough about how conservation actually works so I was asked to edit it a bit – add some sunshine and glitter – and resubmit. I have yet to do so because, quite frankly, I disagree with focusing solely on the success stories or on the positive side of absolutely everything.
Here is an article on Biodiversity Science by the founder of Animus Conservation stating why he thinks we should focus on the success stories, raising some relevant points. I agree that, in an effort to highlight the importance of conservation and show it’s not a total waste of money as well as inspire the younger generation to be more environmentally conscious, it is very important to talk about and share stories of success.
But how do you learn not to do something if no one has made that mistake before?
That is why I think it is crucial to put equal emphasis on both the failures and successes in conservation. Not only do we learn from our own mistakes but sharing the word about what didn’t work will help let others in a similar situation know they’re not alone (which is quite nice when you think you’ve just gone and wasted a bunch of donor funding) as well as inform those about to embark on a similar project. Sharing of failures could also elicit advice from people/projects who have done something similar and have had success.
A big problem is that many conservation organisations are terrified of losing funding if they fail to implement what they said they would (because the donors are actually the ones in charge). This affects the PR and marketing of the conservation organisations who try to always share positive stories (unless something or someone dies, or if a terrible story will raise funding). The people furthest removed from actual conservation are the ones that are determining what information we share within our own community; not all conservationists know each other so media is an important information-gathering tool.
Why are we trying to portray a perfect picture when all conservationists know that things rarely go to plan or work first time? Why does the media get to decide what story is more important than another?
It is dynamic field and none of us can preempt what will be the best strategy except Trial and Error. What if we had access to sufficient Trial and Error stories so that we could reduce the amount of error we have to go through? Now that sounds like sensible conservation to me.
Here are some links for further, interesting reads around this subject: