Introduction In many parts of the world, land use decisions made by politicians at the local municipal level of governance result in considerable habitat loss ( Theobald & Hobbs 1998 ; Green 2005 ; Pierce 2005 ). In an attempt to direct infrastructure away from areas of nature conservation value, conservationists have recommended the routine incorporation—or mainstreaming—of conservation plans into land use decision‐making processes and products (e.g., spatial development maps) at the local government level ( Theobald 2000 ; Sandwith 2005 ). Today conservation planning in most parts of the world is conceptualized in the systematic (target‐driven) mold ( Margules & Pressey 2000 ) and framed in terms of biodiversity concepts such as irreplaceability, complementarity, threat, connectivity, viability and ecological and evolutionary processes. Maps refer to areas of priority identified on the basis of irreplaceability, threat or a combination of these, often leading to the identification of areas of different levels of endangerment. In some cases, attempts are made to communicate the value of these planning products to politicians and officials, and to provide training on their use. Unfortunately, with few exceptions (e.g., Pierce 2005 ), these initiatives are not documented or evaluated in the primary literature. A fundamental problem with conservation planning initiatives is the implicit assumption that biodiversity and related concepts are the appropriate ones for communicating the need to safeguard nature. Even in developed countries such as the United States, the level of knowledge and understanding of the biodiversity concept is very low ( Bright & Stinchfield 2005 ; Stokes 2009 ). Certainly, biodiversity is seldom seen as integral to sustainable development, which is mostly conceptualized in social and economic terms only ( Noss 1991 ; Dawe & Ryan 2003 ). In order to communicate biodiversity concerns more effectively to local government decision makers, and to generate spatial products (i.e., maps and plans) and implementation strategies that resonate with them, the following questions need to be asked: to what extent is the biodiversity concept meaningful to decision makers and how do they perceive the roles of nature, conservation and socio‐economic development in their work. An act of communication can be divided into the following components ( Jacobson 1999 ): the sender or the source of a message first encodes the message, usually into words, gestures, or symbols; the message is then transmitted to the receiver, who then has to decode it in order to derive meaning from what has been sent. In our example, conservationists encode their message in the conservation planning products and transmit them to the decision makers who then need to decode them. When the encoding and decoding processes diverge, considerable distortion of the content of the message occurs or the intended communication act may simply fail ( West & Turner 2004 ). When communicating problematic and complex issues (e.g., retain for nature or sustainability vs. develop for economic growth) successfully, the information is then unconsciously classified by the receiver according to mental reasoning devices, or frames, which define the person's understanding of the issue ( Kinder 2007 ). Frames are cognitive structures that help humans to make sense of the world by suggesting which component of a complex reality to consider. Their specific power lies partly in the fact that they are usually unconscious, implicit and therefore operate by stealth ( Van Gorp 2007 ). With regards to communication sciences, Neumann (1992, p. 60) define frames as “conceptual tools which media and individuals rely on to convey, interpret and evaluate information.” In other words, “frames influence opinions by stressing specific values, facts, and other considerations, endowing them with greater apparent relevance to the issue than they might appear to have under an alternative frame.” ( Nelson 1997 , p. 569). Researchers investigate frames at various levels, for example the frames held by communicators (e.g., journalists or conservationists), those prevalent in the media (e.g., in articles, leaflets, or conservation priority maps), those held by receivers, and those available overall in a specific cultural context ( Entman 1993 ; Van Gorp 2007 ). Our study refers to the frames—or reasoning devices—held by receivers, that is, the local government decision makers, and our aim was to assess how the messages sent by conservationists are first understood and then interpreted by them. Entman (1993) provides a framework for analyzing the frames displayed in a text—in our case transcripts of interviews with decision makers—in terms of the following four functional components: problem definition, identification of cause, moral judgment, and proposed solution . Assuming that readers may not be familiar with frame analyses and in order to make the concept more tangible, we apply Entman's framework to a fictitious example of “land transformation” where an area of natural habitat (pristine nature) has been identified for “development” that will transform its status. In this simplistic example, the problem definition of a conservationist's frame could be the destruction of biodiversity, the cause attributed could be economic development or greed, the moral judgment would likely be “unacceptable”, and the proposed solution probably to keep the land in a natural state. Conversely, politicians’ frames may define the problem as lack of delivery of services and employment opportunities, the cause would be a lack of economic development or financial investment, the moral judgment would likely be “desirable”, and the proposed solution to develop the land. These exemplary frames are a caricature of reality; those extracted in frame analyses are not as salient and, as mentioned above, held more or less unconsciously. In this study, we first assessed the decoding process by investigating the level of understanding of the terms “biodiversity” and “sustainability” shown by 37 councillors (elected politicians) from four municipalities in South Africa's Eastern Cape Province. We demonstrate that the majority of the councillors have none to little understanding of the term biodiversity, while nearly all relate easily to the “sustainability” term. However, while the term “biodiversity” often elicits in the responses reference to the natural environment, the term “sustainability” is mostly not connected to nature at all. We then identified the prevalent frames held by the councillors regarding issues of nature conservation in land use and development. The analysis revealed that the preservation of nature is perceived as being fundamentally opposed to socio‐economic development and that conservation is frequently interpreted in frames of being a socially unjust endeavor, disrespectful toward people and lacking realism. We use these insights to provide recommendations on how conservationists should proceed to reframe biodiversity issues in order to more effectively mainstream conservation plans into local land use decision making. Context This study is a component of the formative research phase of a project on mainstreaming conservation planning products into municipal land‐use planning processes using social marketing ( Wilhelm‐Rechmann & Cowling 2008 ). Social marketing is “… the application of commercial marketing technologies to the analysis, planning, execution and evaluation of programs designed to influence the voluntary behavior of target audiences in order to improve their personal welfare as well as that of their society” ( Andreasen 1995 , p. 7). We wish to emphasize here, that social marketing is a strategy for behavior change and therefore encompasses a much more fundamental approach than simply changing wording or an advertising message. While advertising is the most visible component of the marketing approach, the less visible components, for example, customer research, product development, channel development, are the basis on which advertising may become effective ( Wilhelm‐Rechmann & Cowling 2008 ). The formative research phase is the key component of the social marketing approach since it investigates how the clearly circumscribed target group relates to the behavior change that will be promoted ( Cowling & Wilhelm‐Rechmann 2007 ). In South Africa, as with most other countries in the world, the responsibility for decisions on land use lies with locally elected municipal councillors ( van Wyk 1999 ), with various obligations for consultation and compliance with provincial and national legislation. For example, national legislation (a biodiversity act and a local government act) stipulates that biodiversity concerns have to be accounted for in land use planning processes. However, at least in the Eastern Cape, implementation of this legislation is limited. Our study area comprises four coastal municipalities in South Africa's Eastern Cape Province. All are included in the planning domain for the Subtropical Thicket Ecosystem Planning (STEP) Project, a conservation planning project aimed at identifying priorities and implementing actions for safeguarding subtropical thicket ecosystems ( Pierce 2005 ). These ecosystems are rich in endemic species and comprise the south‐western part of the globally recognized Maputaland‐Pondoland‐Albany hotspot ( Steenkamp 2004 ). User‐useful and user‐friendly conservation planning products were developed for the STEP domain in participation with local government stakeholders ( Pierce 2005 ) and used in training workshops with officials. Since 2009, a new suite of products, the Eastern Cape Biodiversity Conservation Plan, has complemented and continued these efforts ( Berliner 2007 ). The aim was to build the capacity of officials to use the planning products to steer development away from conservation priority areas and thereby achieve socio‐economic development goals in a way that safeguards nature. All of the municipalities are characterized by huge disparities in wealth and land ownership, and high levels of poverty and unemployment. The overwhelming majority of inhabitants in each municipality are black (African or colored), vote for the African National Congress (ANC, the ruling party in South Africa), and live in impoverished conditions; most of the wealth is owned by a minority of whites who invariably vote for the Democratic Alliance (DA, the official opposition party). Two of the municipalities can be regarded as having medium capacity in governance, and two as having poor capacity. All four are under great pressure from urbanization driven by migration to the coast of wealthy whites seeking improved lifestyles, and impoverished blacks seeking employment. The colonial history and apartheid past of South Africa related in various ways to the use of natural resources and to activities aimed at “preserving” natural resources, that is, conservation ( Adams & Mulligan 2003 ; Beinart 2003 ; Cousins 2007 ). Invariably, interests of the local populations were at best ignored (e.g., Carruthers 1995 ), for example, local populations were forcefully evicted from and denied access to protected areas. Thus, conservation is tightly connected with the still existent and increasing socio‐economic divide between the small predominantly white upper class and the predominantly black majority of poor people, as described above. Conservation has long sought novel and socially appropriate ways for reaching conservation goals and South Africa is often cited as frontrunner of innovation (e.g., Suich 2009 ). However, the socio‐economic situation has changed little since the first democratic election in 1994, for example, the Gini‐coefficient, an international inequality measure, has barely changed or even increased between 1994 and 2004/2008 ( The presidency of SA 2009 ). It would therefore be tempting to explain hostile reactions of predominantly black local politicians to conservation in light of these historical facts. While understanding of this history has been informative for the development of the questionnaire, we would like to highlight that in accordance with the marketing approach the sole effective source for authoritative information of how the target audience relates to the behavior change envisaged is the target audience itself (e.g., Andreasen 1995 ). Many of our interviewees were active participants in the liberation struggle, were detained, tortured or lived other atrocities. However, despite experiencing at times dramatic oppression and discrimination during the apartheid years, some of the interviewees showed surprisingly positive opinions about the conservation of nature. Methods Data collection One of us (A W‐R) interviewed 37 (29 ANC, 8 DA) of the 60 councillors in the four municipalities. The interviews were based on a questionnaire that was developed using insights gained from 25 interviews with experts in the land use planning sector in the Eastern Cape. The questionnaire consisted of seven background questions (age, cultural background, etc.) and 10 open‐ended questions; it was extensively pretested with councillors and politicians of the Eastern Cape, social science academics and practitioners (e.g., Gillham 2005 ). The questions focused on understanding how the interviewees perceived the role of environmental considerations in a land use planning context. A W‐R opened the interviews with a brief description of her background, the mainstreaming project and the STEP biodiversity priority maps. At no stage in the interview did she provide any explanation or comment on the concepts of biodiversity and sustainability. She closed the interview with the following questions: “Would you give me your own and personal definition of what the word “biodiversity” means to you?”; the identical question was repeated using “sustainability” instead of “biodiversity.” The term “sustainability” is widely used in political discourse in South Africa and is a core concept of the country's environmental legislation. We investigated this term for two reasons: (i) in order to compare response behavior to a term that is widely known, and (ii) to assess the extent to which the sustainability concept could be used in the mainstreaming process as a surrogate for biodiversity. The wording of the questions was deliberately chosen to accommodate explicit and implicit aspects of the two concepts and to include intuitive components. When it was clear that interviewees did not have a readily available understanding of the term, A W‐R prompted for an intuitive description of what the term might mean to them. The questions were located at the end of the questionnaire to ensure that the rapport between interviewee and interviewer had developed to the point that sincere replies to such socially inappropriate “testing”‐questions were possible ( Keats 2000 ). Indeed, only one of the interviewees reacted in an angry manner. All interviews were recorded with the permission of the interviewee and transcribed for the purpose of analysis. The interviews took place at a location of the interviewee's choice, mostly in municipal offices, and took between 20 and 90 minutes depending on the interview flow. The interviews were conducted between September and December 2008. Data analysis We used the recordings and transcripts to assess (i) whether councillors could provide a definition of the terms biodiversity and sustainability, (ii) to what extent the definitions provided were consistent with standard, textbook definitions and (iii) the extent to which they referred to the natural environment. We then extracted from the recordings and transcripts the frames held by the councillors regarding issues of nature conservation in land use and development. We did this by identifying the passages in the transcripts that referred to the environment and associated issues. We then used discourse analysis ( Wood & Kroger 2000 ) to reveal the detailed meaning of these passages and their components, and, following Entman's (1993) framework, we classified the components into problem definition, identification of cause, moral judgment, and proposed solution. We excluded the frames entertained by single individuals as well as those not pertaining directly to nature, and clustered the remaining frames into groups that emerged from the analysis. Lastly, we re‐examined the transcripts and recordings for a broader frame on the relationship between natural environment and development: we defined “losing our nature” as the problem and extracted the causes identified, moral judgments, and proposed solutions attributed by councillors to this predefined problem. Results Only 11 (30%) of the 37 councillors could spontaneously provide a definition of biodiversity, based on a pre‐established concept. Of these 11, only five (14%) provided a reasonably correct definition, while none offered a textbook definition. A further 21 (57%) needed prompting before they could provide an intuitive definition. Five (14%) were unable to provide any definition at all, even after prompting. However, of the 32 councillors that did provide definitions (with or without prompting), 30 (94%) did include aspects of nature and the natural environment in their definitions. On the other hand, 35 (95%) of the councillors could spontaneously provide a definition of sustainability. However, of these, half (49%) provided definitions that did not refer in any way to nature or the natural environment, only five (14%) accorded major importance to the protection of nature for achieving sustainability. None of the interviewees referred to the commonly used triad of ecological–economic–social sustainability; of the seven interviewees we prompted with the triad terms, none showed clear indication of recognizing them. One councillor explicitly chose to exclude the perspective of the “nature watchdogs” from the definition. In the frame analysis, over 60% (23) of the interviewees showed a general frame regarding the natural environment and development issues that is constructed as follows: when “losing our nature” is defined as the problem then the cause attributed to this is the need for development, both for subsistence or economic reasons (identification cause). Given that development is the unequivocal priority, the moral judgment suggested by the frame is that losing nature is at best sad but unavoidable. A solution to remedy this predicament is impossible. This frame applies to the overall relationship between the natural environment and development, forming a backdrop against which the following three, more conservation‐specific frames need to be interpreted. Three frames specific to the conservation endeavor emerged from the analysis; we termed these “injustice” (23 occurrences), “disrespect” (18 occurrences) and “utopian” (10 occurrences). Most prevalent among councillors is that conservation is perceived and framed as being socially unjust (problem definition) by either maintaining or re‐establishing the former racist or colonial system (identification of cause) in which poor, predominantly black people were denied access to assets and services held by predominantly white people. The moral judgment proposed is that this is unacceptable and the obvious solution is to reject conservation. Councillors also frequently hold frames of conservation as being disrespectful. The causes identified are two‐fold: on the one hand conservationists’ way of communicating is seen as aggressive and disregarding of arguments other than their own; on the other hand, conservation is seen as disrespecting the needs of people, especially the poor, by trying to prevent development. The latter component is clearly linked to the injustice frame above. Similarly, the moral judgment proposed is that this is unacceptable and the obvious solution is to reject conservation. The third conservation‐specific frame identifies conservation as a utopian endeavor (problem definition) because conservationists naively fail to understand the real issues, namely hunger, unemployment, access to basic services etc. (identification of cause) which is mostly pitiable (moral judgment); therefore, their arguments can simply be ignored (proposed solution). These three frames, injustice, lack of respect, and utopian endeavor pertain directly to the conservation communication issue and can at least partly be addressed through the choice of appropriate means of communication. Discussion Conservation, especially the establishment and maintenance of protected areas in developing countries, is controversial as it implies in many cases a decrease in livelihood for the local, often impoverished population. Providing socio‐economic benefits from conservation projects to the local population will evidently increase the chances of conservation projects being successful. However, existing critical frames, reasoning devices about conservation, for example, that conservation is a utopian endeavor, may be independent of such benefits and not all conservation projects will be able to provide substantial socio‐economic benefits. Appropriate communication is therefore essential if conservation is to become an element of mainstream thinking. Our study demonstrates the need for assessments of stakeholder's perceptions and understanding of nature, the natural environment, and conservation prior to developing and implementing strategies aimed at reducing biodiversity loss ( Knight 2006 ; Cowling & Wilhelm‐Rechmann 2007 ; Cowling 2008 ; Schelhas & Pfeffer 2009 ; Stokes 2009 ). The results of such assessments also form the basis on which appropriate communication should be developed. Our results show that decision makers have a poor grasp of the biodiversity concept; therefore, using the term and concept of biodiversity is, on its own, unlikely to be effective to communicate about mainstreaming biodiversity maps, as decision makers cannot decode the information—“… indeed, a message transmitted but not received has little value.” ( Peters 1997 , p. 45). The current practice in South Africa (and elsewhere) of attempting mainstreaming exclusively biodiversity planning and priorities into local spatial development plans (e.g., Theobald 2000 ; Sandwith 2005 ; Berliner 2007 ) is, therefore, unlikely to be successful and could be greatly enhanced if the communication material resonated with the informational needs and perceptions of the local audience. Moreover, the sustainability concept is not a possible surrogate for biodiversity or a useful means to further its protection: the majority of decision makers did not perceive biodiversity, nature and the natural environment to be a component of sustainable development. Attempts to mainstream biodiversity maps at the local government level are further thwarted by the frames prevalent among decision makers regarding nature conservation in land use and development. Conservation messages are interpreted in frames that imply they must be countered or ignored. Clearly, there is a need to reframe the conservation message when communicating with decision makers in our study domain, and probably in many other contexts, and to put a greater emphasis on how we communicate ( Weber & Schell Word 2001 ; Orr 2006 ). Issues of great concern to conservationists—for example, biodiversity loss, species extinction, the role of biodiversity in sustainable development, and the need to sacrifice short‐term economic growth in favor of biodiversity protection—are unlikely to resonate with decision makers in our domain and in much of the developing world. There are at least three things that can be done to improve the effectiveness of communication for mainstreaming biodiversity maps. Firstly, the potential of conservation plans to achieve conservation outcomes alongside development needs to be exploited in order to counter the prevailing frame of contradiction between nature and development. Instead of rejecting development, systematic conservation plans can contribute to accommodating both, development and conservation, by steering activities that cause habitat loss to low‐priority sites ( Pressey 1998 ; Pierce 2005 ). Note that our project is concerned with the preservation of biologically precious parcels of land in the municipal land use planning processes. Development will usually be accommodated in this context and there will typically be costs incurred by choosing low‐priority over high priority sites. However, the maps provide at least the opportunity of considering different sites for development and of including conservation arguments in the consideration. We maintain that decision makers will be more inclined to be supportive of nature conservation initiatives when they are presented with options for achieving conservation and development goals that incur reasonable costs—and deliver reasonable benefits—to both endeavors. This will also go some way to countering problems about conservation as perceived by decision makers (it is unjust, disrespectful and lacks realism). Secondly, the conservation sector needs to establish trustful, long‐term relationships with local government, as opposed to once‐off training events or the simple provision of information ( Roux 2006 ), which furthers the perception of a disrespectful top‐down approach. Research on risk communication has shown that, especially in less information‐rich environments, people tend to rely foremost on assessments of the credibility of the information source to evaluate information ( Peters 1997 ; Pornpitakpan 2004 ). A co‐operative, respectful, and pro‐active involvement of conservationists in land use planning processes will support a re‐framing toward less suspicious and negative perceptions of conservation. Thirdly, attempts to mainstream biodiversity in land‐use planning decision making will be considerably improved if the maps would include ecosystem services and refer to a nontechnical term that highlights the aspect of “service provision” from nature to people ( Chan 2006 ; Cowling 2008 ). Clearly, which terminology is most suitable should be determined by the end‐users (planning officials) as well as decision makers (councillors). In line with the social marketing approach that forms the basis of our research, we therefore suggest that conservationists undertake assessments amongst stakeholders (officials, consultants, members of civic organizations, decision makers) of their understanding and perceptions of nature, the natural environment and conservation, and use this information to develop a number of alternative conservation planning products. The final choice of product could be made in focus groups representative of the intended audience ( Morgan & Krueger 1998 ; Kotler & Lee 2008 ). The situation we describe refers to South African coastal municipalities. As described above, it is tempting in the South African context to assume that objection to conservation is simply due to the historical abuse of conservation to further discriminatory practices. Our analysis shows, that the prevalent frames are more complex and offer a number of avenues for conservationists to counter unfavorable thought processes. Likely similar situations prevail throughout much of the developing world, where the effects of colonialism interact with traditional and modern westernized cultural frames. The perceptions, understanding and frames held by target audiences warrant investigation at the outset of conservation projects ( Knight 2006 ; Cowling & Wilhelm‐Rechmann 2007 ; Cowling 2008 ; Schelhas & Pfeffer 2009 ; Stokes 2009 ). Plausibly, even in the developed world inappropriate communication and unfavorable frames may undermine the effectiveness of efforts to mainstream biodiversity. Understanding of biodiversity issues is low in the United States ( Bright & Stinchfield 2005 ; Stokes 2009 ) and likely in other countries too. Frames of conservation being, for example, a utopian endeavor, we speculate, may be prevalent throughout the developed world. Addressing conservation projects from the perspective of those on whose actions the realization of the conservation goal depends, will likely improve conservation effectiveness. Appropriate communication is a key component of such an audience centred approach. Acknowledgments We gratefully acknowledge all our interviewees for their time and openness. We acknowledge the National Research Foundation, the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and the South African National Biodiversity Institute for financial support. Shirley Pierce and Werner Rechmann provided useful comments.
Conservation Letters – Wiley
Published: Feb 1, 2011
Keywords: ; ; ; ; ; ;
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