Reflections on ICCB

Aug 2, 2023 | General

Exhibition booth for Human Nature with tables, banners and a tv presentation.  Leaf decoration over the entrance.

You may have spotted on social media that I was at the 31st International Congress for Conservation Biology in Rwanda last week.  It was a really good trip, good to do all the things we’ve learnt to appreciate about in person events recently.  (And of course, now recovering from all the exhaustion that comes with that too!)

Here are some of my highlights and reflections

Talking about social science

A real highlight was days packed with conversations about social science.  I had a stand where people could come to find out more about Human Nature and the work I do.  And it was great to have so many conversations – with people very new to social science who wanted support, with social scientists keen to share the work they do, and with people who were just supportive of getting more social science into conservation.  I guess it’s the humanness of these conversations – that in person the talk ebbs and flows depending on the particular individuals and their interests – that’s what is so satisfying. 

Running in person training

One of the pre-congress training sessions was my chance to run the first in-person Human Nature course!  This is quite a milestone.  The group was really diverse in terms of the locations they worked in, the topics they studied and their career stages.  There were discussions and sharing of experiences and questions.  The group connected and learnt from each other, as much as from the new content I presented.  It wasn’t all smooth sailing – power cuts meant that we were without slides for much of the day.  I also owe thanks to the participant who presented their work whilst I had a cough sweet to regain my voice!  It was a really enjoyable day, and so good to hear the value it gave to the participants.

Collaboration, not competition

I’m a firm believer in collaboration, not competition, and this principle was out in force as I met several people who deliver very similar work to mine.  It was great to recognise where we each held specialities, and to know that in future I can direct people to a different organisation if they are better suited to meet their needs.  So, if you’re interested in social science in hyper-arid habitats, social science in China, or behaviour change campaigns in conservation organisations, let me know as I can signpost you in the right direction.

Discussing the future of conservation social science

One of the specialist groups which last week was the Social Science Working Group of the Society for Conservation Biology (SSWG).  SSWG were celebrating 20 years since they formed, and held a symposium of inspiring speakers, followed by a discussion around the future direction and needs of conservation social science.  It was good to learn more about the SSWG, connect with the other members, and be part of their visioning exercise to consider the future.  Watch this space – I suspect there is more to come on this topic!

Valuing people

Another reflection – which will also need future exploration – is around how conservation values people.  I’ve noticed that there seem to be two broad approaches – one which is to see stakeholders and people from communities as receivers of information and initiatives designed by scientists or conservationists; and the second to see communities and stakeholders as core to the development of initiatives.  I heard narratives from both these approaches whilst at ICCB.  One presenter, Kayla Cranston shared her ambition that conservationists be able to say “the community told me we need the thing I’m saying we should do”.  Integrating community views from the start of a project idea does not mean that scientific evidence doesn’t get heard.  Rather that the people who are most strongly connected to a place, species or issue are heard throughout. 

And my final highlight was the closing party.  Where again power cuts did not stop play.  As the power failed, the band’s drummer continued to drum whilst a leader on the dance floor set a routine for others to follow – with lots of people giving it their best.  And a final moment of unity once the power was restored singing “I will survive” as we all prepared to head back to our normal lives, recharged with the energy of the congress. 

If you were at ICCB what were your highlights and reflections?  Let me know.

A big thank you to SCB for organising, to the presenters and delegates for their thought provoking and inspiring conversations.  Hopefully see you in Brisbane in 2025.


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