December progress update

Due to the curiosity and generosity of a great many people working in and around the field of conservation, we have been on an amazing journey of listening and learning.  What started as informal discussion among friends in the Adirondack mountains has turned into a national exploration of many possible futures where conservation achieves new levels of scale and effectiveness, but also ones in which it slides into irrelevance. We have definitely uncovered many interesting ideas for future change and action in this complex and challenging field.  Since August we have interviewed over 150 people in a very diverse set of disciplines, roles and geographies.  Thank you all for your time, your candor and your imagination.

If you examine the list of current participants, you will see that we have tried to look at conservation from as many different angles as possible.  Each person we spoke with gave us three or more other great thinkers and practitioners to reach out to.  Walking this network of professional and personal contacts has been thrilling and also humbling to see all the great work being done.  Among others, we have spoken with conservation biologists, ecologists, advocates in NGOs large and small, practitioners in many geographies, land trust managers, state and federal agency representatives, philanthropists, funders, environmental historians, economists, psychologists, and philosophers, religious leaders, graduate students, directors of museums (art, science and natural history), botanical gardens and zoos, editors of journals, educators and community organizers. 

Many have a vision for how innovations today spread into mainstream practice, such as the use of market-based mechanisms to bring new funding streams to conservation or tapping into the potential of genetic engineering and synthetic biology to deploy highly effective means of stopping invasive species spread. Many stressed the importance of preserving wild areas where nature is left to manage itself. Methods for engaging with corporations are controversial but showing some promise.  Meanwhile, the need to work collaboratively and to engage a broader set of stakeholders was endorsed across the board.  In general, the ways forward are not see as either/or propositions but the layering of new approaches on a foundation of effective and important work that has been showing progress for decades.  Most agree that change is needed, in fact inevitable, in this field.

The next stage of this effort is synthesis of all we have heard and read into a scenario building framework using our unique structuring methodology called Future Mapping.  We will publish the initial framework by the end of January.  We are also in discussions about possible conveners for a national and regional workshop series in 2016.  We look forward to your feedback on the synthesis and hope that you will be able to participate in a workshop before too long.